Negotiations to agree 2019 fish catch and quotas in European waters concluded before sunrise in Brussels today, and have been described as a “very good outcome overall for Ireland” at 30%, giving increased value to €260m.

While a 32% drop in nephrops (prawns) in Area VII (west and south coasts) “is disappointing”, we managed to keep the high survivability exemption for prawns, and can carry forward 10% from this year’s quota,” Francis O’Donnell, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation told Inshore Ireland. 

Hague Preferences (whereby Ireland and the UK get elevated quotas for some key species when reductions are proposed) “were secured” along with significant increases for monk (25%), megrim (6%), haddock (92%), whiting (406%) and cod in Area VI remaining static at 16 tonnes.

The state of stocks in the Irish Sea is a mixed picture with cod increasing by 16% but prawns are down by 32%. Whiting however has increased by 811% from a very low base, along with common sole by almost 400% and hake by 28% in Areas VI, VII.

Exemption 

Noting the 32% decrease in nephops in Area VII, Sean O’Donoghue, CEO Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation agreed the reduction was “somewhat mitigated” by exemption from the landing obligation.

From January 1, all species are subject to total catch limits and quotas.  Implementation, as set out in the Commission’s proposal “would have had large negative consequences for Ireland’s whitefish and pelagic sectors” as the ‘choke species’ factor [where lack of quota for some species caught in mixed fisheries force early closure of other fisheries] could have triggered the closure of many species in early 2019, he warned.

The picture is less positive for pelagic species: herring is down 53% in Area VII and mackerel is down 20% in Areas VI and VII. Overall, pelagic quotas are down 12% across all EU waters.

Agreed last month by the EU/Norway and  the Faroes, the reduction is based on “erroneous scientific advice”, he said. Since 2011, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has advised that the fishery has been in decline.

This is “contrary to the entire fishing industry view and is yet another major mistake in the mackerel advice”, he added.

“I am very concerned that ICES does not have a fit-for-purpose quality assurance scheme in place. There have been far too many mistakes over the last number of years and it is undermining confidence in the scientific advice.”

ICES has agreed to carry out a re-evaluation of the mackerel advice in early 2019.

O’Donoghue added however that the outcome was “generally positive in the circumstances” and described the talks as “the most challenging Irish fisheries have ever faced”.

But he warned that a hard Brexit would potentially throw “everything agreed” into disarray.

It is “imperative to have the guarantees around fisheries honoured with Brexit continuing to cause major turbulence in the industry,” he said.

He paid tribute to the “role and commitment” by fisheries minister Michael Creed and his officials for working closely with the industry “taking on board our concerns and delivering a sustainable and economically viable package of measures for 2019”.

Balanced outcome

Minister Michael Creed described the deal as a “balanced outcome, delivering sustainability objectives” that would ensure a “strong result for fishermen” against the Brexit backdrop.

“My primary ambition….was to set quotas for Irish fishermen that will support livelihoods….and at the same time respect the scientific advice for stocks.”

Wasteful discarding

Our Fish , a charity that works to end ‘overfishing and wasteful discarding’ has however slammed EU fisheries ministers for “failing to end decades of overfishing.

“This should have been the year in which fishing quotas finally followed scientific advice. Instead we saw another absurd all-night meeting behind closed doors where ministers haggled over fishing quotas…,” remarked Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director of Our Fish.

European citizens have been ignored, and all the evidence that shows ending overfishing will deliver healthy fish stocks, more jobs and security for coastal communities, she added.

“Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013 included a commitment to end overfishing  by 2015, or by 2020 at the latest. The latest assessment shows however that over 55% of North Sea and Atlantic fish stocks are still overfished.

“Experts said at this rate the EU will not meet the 2020 deadline,” she warned.