Coastal States Abusing Mackerel Sharing

At just €1.3bn, the value of the entire Irish seafood sector is lower than the consolidated turnover of just one large Dutch seafood business at €1.4bn. That’s according to the chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), Aodh O Donnell.

O Donnell says the latest BIM figures show how badly Irish catches have fallen and says the seafood sector here is at a crossroads.

“Non-EU member Norway has a similar population to Ireland but enjoys seafood exports 20 times greater than us. We are being starved of access to our own marine resources. It’s time for the Irish Government and the EU to change this and deliver for Ireland’s seafood sector.”

Some Non-EU Coastal States in Western Europe are taking advantage of the flawed negotiation process and fishing an unfair share of pelagic species like Mackerel and Blue Whiting claims O Donnell. The Coastal States include Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and – since Brexit – the UK. O Donnell says Norway and the Faroes have a record of “setting themselves inflated unilateral quotas in non-compliance with scientific advice. This seriously threatens the health of these economically critical stocks.”

These Coastal States enter negotiations with the EU every year, but the flawed system allows them to avoid committing to any sharing agreements. For example, the mackerel coastal sharing consultations have again failed to deliver by the March target date. This suits Norway, Faroe Islands, and Iceland, because they are not bound by any multilateral agreed measures at the Coastal States. They are then free to fix quotas unilaterally at whatever level their industry wants.”

“Norway, in particular, refuses to allow the Coastal States process to come in under the North East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NEAFC), which is based in London. Within NEAFC, agreements would be bound by more stringent rules and rights. More crucially, they would also be bound by the obligations and potential sanctions of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. “

“Equally guilty in this respect is Faroe Islands. Worse still, the Russian Federation’s fisheries in the North East Atlantic still appears to be protected and encouraged by Norway in all Coastal States consultations.”

O Donnell says it’s time for the EU to act more forcefully in these negotiations to protect the interests of member states like Ireland. “The EU has an impressive Coastal States negotiating team, but they need a stronger political mandate to achieve a better outcome for EU members. In addition, the process needs a more sustained focus and earlier copper fastening on all three separate strands: TAC Setting, Sharing Arrangements, and Access.”

“Blue whiting remains the major currency and bargaining chip in negotiations with Norway. Uniquely, Norway needs to access the EU/Irish EEZ to catch their enormous Blue Whiting quota because it is now denied access to the UK waters. Norway’s catches are mainly taken in the Irish EEZ with a total share reported catches exceeding 25 %. At the same time, Ireland’s catch share of blue whiting in our own EEZ is just 3 %. This is ridiculously low given that the stock spawns primarily in waters to the West of Ireland.”

O Donnell says the IFPO is of the firm view that the EU should make any access to its waters for mackerel and blue whiting conditional on quota sharing arrangements with Coastal States. The EU should make clear in those discussions that the Commission will not agree “mutual access” on blue whiting to Norway, until Norway agrees a quota sharing arrangement for all pelagic stocks.

This access to the Irish EEZ must be conditional on agreement that ensures that unilateral quotas are not set for any pelagic species. Access to the 200-mile EEZ for Blue Whiting must be conditional on overall sharing agreements and delivering a meaningful distribution to Irish fishermen. We cannot stand idly by as Ireland’s seafood industry dies while the sector flourishes in other EU and non-EU states. The time to act is now.