Chair of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, Trudy McIntyre, says a ministerial decision to exclude trawling by fishing vessels over 18 metres from inside 6nm from January 1, 2020, will achieve the best balance within the industry.

Speaking in a personal capacity, she thanked Minister Creed “for taking the brave decision to undertake this review in the first place. Clearly not everyone will be happy with outcome of this review; however it is difficult to argue against the rationale given by the Minister supporting the decision he has taken.”

A public consultation from April 30-June 11 2018 attracted over nine hundred submissions and represented a ‘wide diversity of views’.

Marine minister Michael Creed said there was “a compelling case” for this decision exclusion:

“I am satisfied that there are sufficient fishing opportunities for these vessels outside of six nautical miles.”

He added that the ecosystem, including nursery areas and juvenile fish stocks, would benefit the exclusion zone.

“I am conscious of the exclusive reliance of small-scale and island fishermen on inshore waters and the benefits this change will bring for these fishermen.”

These measures will also provide “further sustainable development of the small-scale inshore and sea angling sectors which government has committed to in the Programme for a Partnership Government.”

A transition period of three years (2020-2022) will apply for vessels over 18 metres targeting sprat. A total allowable catch of up to 2,000 tonnes, reflecting a reduction on recent years will be permitted, reducing to 1,000 tonnes in 2021.

Industry reaction

The National Inshore Fishermen’s Association and the National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation have described the initiative as ‘undoubtedly the most significant policy decision made in the history of the State’ in terms of supporting the inshore fishing sector.

‘From a social, economic, environmental and moral perspective, this was the right decision for Minister Creed to make.

‘After decades of damaging and discriminatory policy decision by his predecessors, [Minister Creed] has at last recognised that Ireland’s fishing industry is made up of more than just 184 over 18m boats and has provided a vital lifeline for the many inshore fishermen that keep our industry, our Irish fishing heritage and our small coastal communities alive,’ a statement reads.

The restriction is expected to divide opinion across the sector, and some owners of larger vessels ‘will have understandable and genuine grievances with the inconvenience it will undoubtedly cause them.’

Acknowledging the difficulties experienced by a few large operators, the NIFA and the NIFO say some perspective can be gained on the distribution of Ireland’s fishing resources by the announcement in mid-December that quotas worth an estimated €260m have been secured for Irish vessels, the vast majority of which will ultimately be caught by the over 18m segment ‘when the rest have to survive on pitiful amounts of  fish left in inshore waters’ or target some already over-exploited non-quota species.

‘Ultimately though the disparity of wealth derived from our national quota species can’t continue to be ignored, ring-fenced fisheries, generous grants and allocations of very valuable quotas to a small number of vessel owners have ensured that a chasm has opened up between the “haves and have nots” in the fishing communities around Ireland.

‘Ring fencing a small strip of our inshore waters will hopefully go some way towards redressing the balance and achieve a more fair, balanced and sustainable future for the most neglected in our industry,’ the statement concludes.