Growing concern of a hard Brexit overshadows annual fisheries talksAs the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting in Brussels gets underway (17-18/12) to agree 2019 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas, the “all too real possibility” of a hard Brexit is on the table.

“Potential subsequent implications for fisheries after March 29 has cast a very dark shadow” over the negotiations, remarked Seán O’Donoghue, chief executive, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation.

While encouraged by initial Brexit text approved by the UK cabinet, the KFO is now “very concerned” with latest developments.

“It is crucial that the Council, in reaching agreement for 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 highly dependent on access to UK waters and dependency of all stocks is over 30%.

“We cannot countenance a situation whereby this access might stop on March 30,” he warned.

The KFO chief executive has called on fisheries minister Michael 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 [is] at the heart of post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish fisheries sector thereby delivering an outcome which is acceptable to us.”

Proposed cuts

Nephrops in Area 7 (roughly west and south coasts) face a proposed Commission reduction of 32% “which is significantly more” than scientific advice.

“It takes no account of differential percentage uptake by the Member States or the socio-economic implications of such a huge reduction,” O’Donoghue warns.

A separate TAC on ‘Porcupine’ nephrops should be removed as this stock unit is in a health state, he added.

A tripartite agreement (EU, Norway and Faroes) agreed last month set the 2019 TAC for mackerel at 653,438 tonnes, a 20% reduction on the 2018 TAC. While the KFO was disappointed it was not surprised at the outcome, given that scientific advice recommended a much greater reduction of 61%.

O’Donoghue believes this advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas is incorrect and that the stock in the North East Atlantic is in a healthy state. ICES however contends the stock has been in decline since 2011.

” I am very concerned ICES does not have a fit-for-purpose quality assurance system in place. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”