Howth (Co Dublin) and Castletownbere (Co Cork) - premier whitefish ports in Ireland

“In the context of fisheries it is astounding that such uncertainty remains at this late stage of Brexit given that the consequences will be worse for Ireland than any other EU member,” Lorcán Ó Cinnéide of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association has told Inshore Ireland.

Ó Cinnéide believes that the Brexit process has stalled because the UK refuses to appreciate that the issues arising are not as simple as were thought at the start “and prospects worsened when they decided in January 2017 to leave the Single Market and the Customs union which was not required by the referendum vote.”

“The UK’s fishing industry and the Brexiteers want to ‘reclaim’ their waters, give higher quotas to fishermen within their 200-mile zone and less to others — including Irish fishermen who have shared these waters for years.

“The Irish catching and processing sectors want to retain full access to these waters and retain our share of the catches. It is not the Common Fisheries Policy that decimated Hull and Grimsby, it was the outcome of the Icelandic Cod wars in the mid- seventies,” Ó Cinnéide believes.

Unique opportunity

He is critical of those who argue that Brexit offers a unique opportunity to renegotiate the CFP, saying it would be a “serious mistake” to see Brexit as an opportunity for Irish fishing and a reason for re-negotiating our share of fish quotas or even to leave the EU altogether.

“It is overwhelmingly in Ireland’s national interest to remain in the EU, and it would be a very unfortunate time now to pick fights with the very people whose interests coincide with ours as regards fisheries.

“Moves by the Irish government and the industry to work with EU and other countries with similar interests represent the only logical direction to take right now. “

Free trade arrangements

He says Ireland clearly wants to maintain the free trade arrangements in fisheries products which he believes are crucial for the Irish industry, mindful of the high level of trade with Britain itself and that a great deal of our seafood exports to continental Europe and the wider world are shipped via Northern Ireland and Britain.

“While the fisheries aspects of the draft transition arrangements have been agreed – maintaining the status quo until 2020 – there is no certainty that the overall transition deal will be agreed. This means the UK could ‘crash out’ next March with no security over access, quota or trade arrangements.”

This, he says would be very serious, particularly in relation to mackerel and Nephrops [prawns] processing and exporting, two of Ireland’s most significant fisheries.

Questions without answers

The EU published a Note to Stakeholders on April 9, 2018, advising just what the detailed implications of a no-transition outcome would be.

“This does not make for pretty reading. Making a working assumption for now that a transition deal will be agreed somehow, but the big question is what happens in 2020 and beyond?”

“Will trucks of fresh fish from Castletownbere to Madrid be subject to customs checks and more bureaucracy if transiting Britain?

Will trucks of frozen mackerel fillets leaving Killybegs be subject to the same going through Northern Ireland and again in Britain and France on their way to the continent?

Will Irish pelagic vessels be able to target mackerel west of Shetland or will Irish prawn trawlers be allowed to fish in the Smalls as they do now? And what about tariffs on exports to the UK? These are the real questions critical to Irish, French, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, Danish fishermen and processors.”

Ó Cinnéide believes it is vital that Ireland Inc – industry, government, representative organisations – use the opportunities and mechanisms which he says have been built up through EU membership.

“We must work closely together to sort out these issues while lobbying hard and effectively at EU level. Our national position is we must preserve the existing arrangements in all these issues”.

Ó Cinnéide is nonetheless satisfied that a lot of detailed work is ongoing at every level:

“The Irish industry has had to elbow its way to the table to ensure that seafood interests are given due representation at a national level. The Irish government has had to do the same in influencing the Barnier negotiating team which is conducting the talks on behalf of the EU – and us.

“Most of the representative organisations have been making selective and effective alliances at European level, most notably through the European Fishing Alliance, but also through other structures. There is regular coordination with Minister Creed and his department to ensure that the Irish seafood position is advanced. The Marine Institute and BIM have also conducted detailed analysis to further DAFM’s arguments”.

Ireland’s fishing representatives recently had an “extremely positive” meeting with Taoiseach Varadkar, Tánsiste Coveney and Minister Creed during which all critical issues were discussed in detail. Ó Cinnéide says it is clear from those discussions that “fisheries is a priority for government in the negotiations”.

“And so we go forward with strong government support; the proof of the pudding, as usual, will be in the eating.”

Policy document
In the run up to the Brexit vote in 2016, the Socio-Economic Research Unit produced a Whitaker Institute policy brief that outlines the likely implications of a Brexit vote on Ireland’s ocean economy.

The following is taken from an article by Daniel Norton and Stephen Hynes, SEMRU, NUI Galway published by Inshore Ireland (13.3, 2017):

The current fish landings from UK waters by other EU member states, including Ireland, based on the data from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, (STECF) which is the advisory body for the EU Commission on fisheries management.

Ireland is reported to have landed 298,130 tonnes, valued at €356.6m from all waters. The share of these landings from UK waters was 80,022 tonnes, valued at €80.9m (this includes one shared fishing ground off the Louth coast between the ROI and the UK). These figures represent a share of 27% of landings by volume and 23% of landings in value.

Landings in UK waters by all EU member states was 1.18 million tonnes in 2015; 53% of which was landed by non-UK member states. The largest takes after the UK was Netherlands (with 14.3% of landings); Denmark (13.7%) and France (8.5%). The 1.18 million tonnes landed from UK waters represents 30% of the EU’s catch in the NE Atlantic.

Affected species
Focusing on Ireland, the top six species most affected by loss of access to UK waters would be mackerel (46,464 tonnes); nephrops (4,916 tonnes); herring (11,297 tonnes); horse mackerel (7,789 tonnes); whiting (2,461 tonnes) and great Atlantic scallop (791 tonnes). These six species represent approximately 90% of Irish landings from UK waters in both tonnes and value.

For migratory species such as mackerel, horse mackerel and herring, management on a co-operative basis between the EU and UK and any other relevant third countries will be required as specified under the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. It may be therefore difficult for the UK authorities to exclude non-UK vessels from fishing for these species in UK waters.

In summary, approximately 640,000 tonnes or approximately 15% of EU landings in the NE Atlantic are up for negotiation within the Brexit negotiations. What the final outcome will be for fisheries in European waters is still hard to envisage at this stage.