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CFP - the Crooked Fisheries Policy

Editorial comment – Cormac Burke, Chairman, IFSA

Having recently spent much time going through the lengthy EU 2015 report on the review of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) “Policy Department B Structural and Cohesion Policies” compiled by the European Parliament’s Directorate-General for Internal Policies, I cannot help but be shocked by how far apart the promises and PR ‘spin’ of the CFP is away from the actual reality that fishermen, particularly those in Ireland, must endure every day.

Even the title of the report indicates that it is not meant to be located easily by the average person doing a web search for “CFP review” – and this should be indication enough that such a report is only intended for presentation to NGOs and pro EU bodies to window dress what continues to be a disastrous management system for the European fishing industry.

Words and phrases such as “transparent”, “fair fishing opportunities” and “viability and competitiveness are essential for economic sustainability” are rife throughout this report but, as fishermen, in Ireland in particular, are well aware, the governing of this industry is nothing even approaching transparent or fair and certainly never gives any consideration to the fact that “viability and competitiveness are essential for economic sustainability”, particularly for inshore fisheries and the rural coastal regions.

The Report

Here I have extracted just some of the many sound bites in this report:

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) requires EU Member States to use transparent and objective criteria including environmental, social and economic criteria when allocating fishing opportunities.

“The CFP shall contribute to a fair standard of living for those depending on fishing activities, bearing in mind coastal fisheries and socio-economic aspects.

“This recognizes the importance of small-scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen.

“Member States are encouraged to provide coastal communities with preferential access to resources and, similarly, coastal fishing activities shall be promoted, raising society’s awareness of the operators and their activity

“The objectives of the 2014-revised CFP establishes the set of criteria to use when allocating fishing rights among operators, and provides concrete examples such as: (a) the impact of fishing on environment; (b) history of compliance; (c) contribution to local economy; and (d) historic catch levels.

“More common feature driving worldwide allocation systems is the historic record of catches. This forms the basis for allocation and of crucial importance is the reference period; i.e., length or duration and whether a fixed or rolling reference period.

“The rationale behind catches history is to be fair to traditional groups engaged in the fishery by giving them preferential access over newcomers.

“Fisheries activities shall foster a competitive industry and ensure a fair standard of living for fishing communities and the CFP shall provide ‘conditions for economically viable and competitive fishing capture and processing industry and land-based fishing related activity’.

“Viability and competitiveness are essential for economic sustainability.”


My question is does anyone, in any sector of the Irish industry, actually believe that the CFP is delivering on what it promises?

Indeed, far from carrying out its commitment to protecting sustainable fisheries and ensuring a fair living for fishermen, the actual fairness part of the ‘Policy’ was firmly locked away when the EU went about its BREXIT negotiations last December and threw Relative Stability (its own CFP cornerstone) out the window while they protected their bigger players by shafting Ireland in foisting upon it the biggest share of the burden of quotas returned to the UK and, in doing so, flew in the face of the CFP’s own promise of an EU-wide “fair and competitive” industry.

And, in spring and summer just past, as Norway and Faroes broke the Coastal States Mackerel Stock Management agreement by giving themselves a huge quota increase, where is the protection from the EU by imposing sanctions on Norway, for the rest of the pelagic fishing nations in the Coastal States body who will now have to carry the burden of a reduction of quota to maintain the balance?

The answer to the question why the EU has not challenged Norway is that, based on the same script as the BREXIT strategy is that since the UK left the EU, Ireland is now the biggest percentage shareholder of the EU mackerel quota and therefore the EU will happily allow Ireland to be forced to take the brunt of the quota hit – again!


Almost since its inception, the Common Fisheries Policy has been repeatedly challenged by the industry throughout the EU (with the exception of Ireland who’s Government has repeatedly shown that it lacks the guts to challenge the EU on any issue) – proof enough that it has always been a case of the core principles of the policy being set by civil servants with the assistance of NGOs with very little input from the industry itself.

The above-named report was written in 2015 as a summary of the CFP review of 2014 and, with the next review to begin in 2022 and run until 2027, can Ireland honestly expect anything new when it is blatantly obvious, after BREXIT and the Norway mackerel issue, that the EU Commission, under the influence of some of its fishing super power Member States, are more than happy to throw Ireland ‘under the bus’ every time there needs to be a so-called ‘shared’ quota reduction?

CFP and Ireland’s inshore fisheries

The one phrase of this report that jumps out is that of “the CFP shall recognise the importance of small-scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen” – this, to say the least, is ironic when Irish inshore fishermen live in an era of every single fishery, either traditional or new, is shut down or severely restricted so much as to make it not viable – wild salmon, eels, mackerel, inshore herring fisheries, sprat, and more recently, crayfish opportunities in the south west areas --- and this is all, in my opinion, part of an operational strategy to force all inshore boats into a single crab fishery which, with nothing else to diversify into seasonally, will lead to an eventual collapse of this fishery and these boats left tied to the wall with nothing left to diversify into and where will the EU/CFP “recognition of the importance of small-scale fishermen” be then?

Far from the CFP’s commitment to “provide coastal communities with preferential access to resources” there continues to exist a clear abuse of the EU/CFP’s powers when quotas and rules are applied under the CFP and enforced by Ireland’s regulatory authorities when in fact the CFP has no jurisdiction in Irish inshore areas.

To quote my learned colleague Gregory Casey, people are not made aware that the CFP and the TACs and quotas granted under that Policy can relate only to Ireland's European waters stretching between the Baseline and 200-mile limit.

“The EU has no right whatsoever to regulate quotas to Ireland in respect of fish stocks lying inside of Ireland's Baseline having regard to the fact that all such waters are under the care of the Inland Waters of the Irish State and having precisely the same status under the Maritime Jurisdiction Acts as Lough Corrib or any other Inland lake,” he said, further adding that the EU’s quota system for EU waters apply only to those waters lying within the Exclusive Fisheries Limits of the State and accordingly, fish that are caught inside of the Baseline should not be applied against Ireland's quotas.

What this means in practice is that Ireland’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) whose powers apply to and are based on the implementation of the CFP and EU Regulations related to the CFP within Ireland's Maritime Jurisdiction & EU waters within that jurisdiction, have NO power to apply EU Regulation to fishing or fish stocks in Ireland's Inland Waters - in other words, in the vast area of waters lying between the median high water mark and the Baseline all along the south coast from Carnsore Point to just inside the Fastnet and stretching north from the Fastnet to Malin Head.

“Moreover, ICES can have no power relating to fish stocks that lie inside of Ireland's Baseline for precisely the same reason -- although these waters are salt water and are the sea in its common everyday meaning, they form no part of Ireland's or the EU's Maritime Jurisdiction and are the sole responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland. The Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021 of 22nd July 2021 doesn't change any of this by even one iota,” he concluded.


And so, in this inshore issue alone, there is a clear case of EU/CFP laws being applied in direct breach of the Irish Constitution, to water areas that are the jurisdiction of the Irish State and its citizens, and NOT the EU powers – why are our political representatives not screaming this from the rooftops? And why is this Government hell bent on its continuing strategy of giving everything that belongs to the people of this nation to its EU masters?

The only way justice might be served in this case is if the maritime population of Ireland mount a legal challenge against this Government for not protecting its own marine jurisdiction and resources that belong to Irish citizens, and mount a challenge against the EU Commission for unlawfully enforcing its CFP in regions where its powers clearly do not extend to.

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