Fisheries organisations are urging Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to negotiate hard on their behalf as fishing quotas for 2024 are finalised at the December EU Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.
The two-day meeting which began yesterday and will conclude this evening, looks to agree on the total allowable catches for each species in EU member states under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Minister McConalogue flew to Brussels from Dubai where he was attending the final days of COP28.
Speaking this morning from Brussels, Minister McConalogue said significant progress has been made on key fish quotas for Ireland.
“My objective, as always, is for TACs (Total Allowable Catches) to be set in line with scientific advice so that our stocks can be sustainably fished and provide a secure future for our fishing fleet and the coastal communities dependent on it,” he said.
“I have invoked Ireland’s Hague preferences to ensure Ireland’s quota entitlements are maximised.
“I am satisfied, following the work done over recent days, that we will deliver sustainable quotas and, where necessary, take steps to protect vulnerable stocks. Over the coming days, I will continue to engage with Commissioner Sinkevičius to ensure that Ireland’s priorities are protected.”
The Hague Preferences give Ireland an increased share of traditional stocks such as cod, whiting, haddock sole and plaice when TACs reduce below a specified level.
CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation Aodh O’Donnell, who is in Brussels for the council, said Ireland needs to be very vocal about its needs.
“Ireland needs to push really hard to defend its fishing rights and we have a poor track record on doing that. We have had significant engagement with the minister but we need to be more vocal.”
Mr O’Donnell said Irish fishers have been impacted severely since Brexit .
“With Brexit the EU transferred 25% of fishing opportunities to the UK and 40% of that came from Ireland which is totally disproportionate. That has led to decline in volume of fish caught, the decommissioning of part of the Irish fleet and instead of growing the sector we are facing shrinkage and decline.”
He also said that Irish fishers only catch 15% of all that is taken in Irish waters.
“There is an armada of fishing vessels catching large quota in our waters, when our fleet is tied up in port. It is really galling to see non-EU countries catching three times the size of our quota (for blue whiting ) in our waters.”
Mr O’Donnell said Ireland certainly needs to get compensated with extra quota for access that is being allowed for non EU fleets from the UK and Norway.
Under the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy however, EU fishing fleets are given equal access to all EU waters and fishing grounds subject to their allocated fish quotas
Sean O’Donoghue of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, who is also in Brussels, said there are two big issues yet to be decided which are vital to Ireland.
“There is extra mackerel (quota) to be divvied out and we expect to get a share of that which will alleviate a small proportion of the damage done to us when we lost mackerel in Brexit.”
“We also hope to get more under the ‘Hague Preferences’.”
The ‘preferences’ were initially a recognition of the underdeveloped nature of the Irish fishing fleet and the heavy control responsibility for Irish waters in the EU.
Mr O’Donoghue also welcomed the fact that deals on next year’s fishing have been agreed between the EU and third countries like Norway and the UK, which allows the Fisheries Council to finalise the TACs for member states tomorrow.
Last year, and every year since Brexit, there were delays with third country agreements beyond the council meeting, which meant EU fishing fleets did not know their TACs until early in the New Year.
In 2022, Irish vessels landed 157,000 tonnes of wild fish, valued at first sale at €296m.