The Chief Executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has expressed his concern ahead of the annual meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers that a sector already reeling from the chaos surrounding Brexit could now face further serious challenges and potential hardship. The negotiations to set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for 2019 take place in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday next (December 17th and 18th). The all-too-real possibility of a hard Brexit and the potential subsequent implications for fisheries after March 29th, 2019 has cast a very dark shadow over these Fisheries Council quota negotiations.
Guarantees for 2019
KFO Chief Executive, Seán O’Donoghue commented: “While we had been quite encouraged by the first tranche of documents delivered by the negotiating teams and subsequently approved by the UK cabinet, we are now very concerned in light of developments in the UK that there is a real possibility of a hard Brexit after March 29th. It is crucial that the Council, in reaching agreement for the 2019 fishing opportunities make a clear and unequivocal statement that these arrangements apply for the entire 2019 calendar year, irrespective of what happens with Brexit.
“Ireland’s two biggest fisheries, mackerel (60%) and nephrops / prawns (40%) are hugely dependent on access to UK waters with the overall dependency for all stocks of over 30%. We cannot countenance a situation whereby this access might stop on 30th March 2019 due to a hard Brexit. It is incumbent on Council to ensure that this will not happen and I am calling on Minister Creed to make this a priority during the negotiations. For us, the crucial issue remains that the linkage between access and resources to the wider trade issue be at the heart of a post Brexit arrangements for Irish fisheries sector thereby delivering an outcome which is acceptable to us.”
Of major concern to the KFO and the wider industry, is the landing obligation which will enter its final phase in 2019 when all species subject to TACs and quotas become subject to Article 15 of the Common Fisheries Policy. The prospect of “choke species” paralysing the Irish fishing industry is a very credible threat with knock-on effects for a vast array of sustainable fisheries, hitherto able to function normally, being caught in the slip-stream.
Mr O’Donoghue continued: “Implementation of the landing obligation, as laid out in the Commission’s proposals, will have large negative consequences for Ireland’s whitefish and pelagic sectors as the “choke species” factor could trigger closure of most fisheries in the early months of 2019. There is a significant risk of such closures extending to valuable pelagic fisheries due the whitefish by-catches. It is not acceptable or economically sustainable for entire sectors of these fleets to tie-up for such long periods and would have disastrous knock-on effects for the processing industry, markets at home and abroad as well as peripheral fishing communities. The solution on the table at the moment of unallocated by-catch TACs will only lead to “Olympic fishing” and the early closures of sustainable fisheries.”
Proposed cuts to key stocks
Nephrops in area 7 is the second most important economic species after mackerel for Ireland. The Commission’s proposal is for a 32% reduction which is significantly more than the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice. It takes no account of differential percentage uptake by the Member States or the socio-economic implications of such a huge reduction. Furthermore, the separate TAC on Porcupine nephrops should be removed as this stock unit is in a healthy state.
Just last month, the EU, Norway and Faroes signed a tripartite agreement setting the TAC for mackerel for 2019 at 653,438 tonnes - a 20% reduction on this year’s TAC. While the KFO was disappointed, it wasn’t surprised at the outcome given that the scientific advice issued at the end of September was recommending a much larger reduction of 61%.
Mackerel and ICES
Regarding the mackerel outcome, Mr O’Donoghue said “I am confident the scientific advice is incorrect and that there still is a very healthy mackerel stock in the North East Atlantic contrary to the ICES advice which states it has been declining since 2011. This is yet another major mistake in the mackerel advice not to mention the mistakes made last year and again this year on Atlanto Scandia herring. I am very concerned that ICES does not have a fit-for-purpose quality assurance system in place. This must be addressed as matter of urgency. There have been far too many mistakes over the last number of years and it is undermining confidence in the scientific advice. At least, ICES has now agreed to carry out a re-evaluation of the mackerel advice in early 2019.”
The KFO expects, as in previous years, after the usual battles - particularly with the newly proposed by-catches where a zero TAC has been set - with other Member States that ‘The Hague Preferences’ which see Ireland and the UK getting elevated quotas for a number of key species when reductions are proposed - will be delivered. The loss of these allocations in 2019 would amount to 1,222 tonnes of fish with a direct value of €2.4 million.
The KFO will be meeting Minister Creed and his advisers in Brussels ahead of the talks and indeed, on a regular basis during the Fisheries Council negotiations to support his endeavours to deliver the best deal possible in terms of sustainable and economically viable fishing opportunities for Ireland for 2019.