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Beware the ides of March

Is history about to be repeated with blue whiting access in Irish waters for non EU vessels?

In Shakespeare's play ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘beware the ides of March’ was a forewarning that was given to Caesar about the 15th March, the day on which he was assassinated.

It is very possible that the Irish fishing industry is about to again be hit with another sniper shot this month with Minister McConalogue’s apparent ‘radio silence’ on the negotiations with Iceland for access into Irish waters to target the huge abundance of blue whiting stocks that are present.

In the recent Dáil debate on fisheries McConalogue refused to give Independent Ireland party leader Michael Collins a direct answer on the possibility of an EU deal underway to give access for the Icelandic fleet into Irish waters for blue whiting and while initially saying he was “fighting against this” he soon after said he was “trying to get Ireland the best deal possible out of ‘this’”.

He therefore is not denying that such a proposal is on the table, nor is he denying that he is in negotiations on this subject and, despite his regular claims to the media that he is in constant communication with the Irish fishing industry representatives nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed the Irish industry has every right to be fearful as, almost exactly to the day this time last year, the Minister was displaying the same vagueness about a deal for Norway to gain access for blue whiting and, in the two weeks preceding St Patrick’s holiday weekend, several Norwegian vessels were constantly fishing in the international waters just on the very edge of the Irish EEZ.

Then, on the very eve of St Patrick’s Day (Friday, 17th March 2023), Irish industry representatives got less than one hour’s notification of a Zoom meeting in which they were told that the deal had been done and, by Sunday night the Norwegian fleet were fishing in large numbers in Irish waters - - how convenient that they were already just at the border and ready to come inside to fish.

The uproar by opposition political parties and from the industry itself was of course stymied by the fact that the Dáil was closed for the holidays and the minister was out of the country.

And so, as we tick down to another national holiday weekend, fears are rife of another ‘St Patrick’s Day massacre’ with the Dáil closed and the minister due to be in Kenya at the time.

The true value of ‘deals’

While the deal for Norwegian access was sold as a ‘benefit’ to Ireland the fact remains that the payment for Norway to be allowed catch 114,000 tonnes of blue whiting in Irish waters was access for Arctic cod in Norwegian waters but the only beneficiaries of this would transpire to be Dutch-owned demersal vessels flagged in various different EU member states and Ireland’s so-called ‘benefit’ was a paltry amount of Atlantic Scandic herring quota - - a fishery which, as recently claimed by the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA), “could take a significant hit to its rate of reproduction as soon as 2026 if current levels of overfishing are allowed to continue”.

So in exchange for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of blue whiting in Irish waters, Ireland has been given a small slice of a quota of a fishery which could very well be greatly reduced or even completely closed in the next twelve months.

This year Norway are being allowed catch 195,000 tonnes of their overall +320,000-tonne blue whiting quota in Irish waters — and if Iceland also get access then it will also likely be another huge amount taken from Irish waters - - - and meanwhile Ireland, the owners of this vast resource of fish wealth, must continue with its EU pittance of quota in its own waters of 60,000 tonnes.

If there are to be any ‘deals’ done, either now or any time the future then they MUST see a sizeable allocation of pelagic quota transferred to Ireland which will be of genuine and tangible benefit to the Irish fleet, the Irish processing sector and the economies of the coastal communities.

EU and Ireland are a ‘soft touch’ for outside negotiators

As it seems we are on the verge of a deal that will see Iceland join Norway in Irish waters, it would appear that the naivety of EU negotiators becomes even more obvious with Norway this week attempting to move the goalposts.

Norway is only allowed to catch 66% of their vast blue whiting quota in Irish waters but, as reported by The Fishing Daily this week, Pelagisk Forening, the Norwegian Pelagic Association, has asked the EU’s Directorate of Fisheries to consider whether there are grounds for ‘redistributing’ zone access for the purse-seine group for blue whiting in Irish waters (EU waters).

Speaking to Norwegian fishing news outlet, Kystmagasinet, General Manager of Pelagisk Forening, Mariann Frantzen said, “We have been informed that there is more zone access than quota left, so we believe this should be possible.” 

She added that as Norway does not have the opportunity to fish blue whiting in British waters, therefore it is important that the zone access in the EU is used as best as possible. 

“We have therefore asked that any redistribution be assessed quickly,” she said. 


But the EU (and Ireland) must recognise this for what it actually is: the Norwegian industry once again speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

When zonal attachment suits Norway then they say we are declaring autonomous quotas (as in the case for mackerel).

But when fish are not available in their zone or in the international zone then they say zones should not matter so if you have a quota you can catch it where ever you wish…

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