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EU Commission failing Ireland

Is the EU Commission failing Ireland as a Member State in ‘deals’ with outside fishing nations?

To ‘chase with the hare but run with the hounds’ is an old Irish saying that generally describes someone who is working on both sides of argument with the eventual aim of benefiting their own interests and not necessarily either of the sides in opposition.

Editorial Comment

Cormac Burke, IFSA Chairman

It would seem, from an Irish viewpoint, that the EU Fisheries Commission is guilty, to some extent at least, of taking this position when it comes to access to Irish waters for non EU Third Countries with pelagic interests.

Fishing stock advice from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, is one of the cornerstones upon which the EU Fisheries Commission claims to base its aim of sustainable fishing and of EU Member States staying within MSY (maximum sustainable yield) for all of the various species of fish that are commercially targeted.

According to the Commission’s own website, EU Member States are “legally bound to manage fish stocks at sustainable levels under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)” and that “sustainable fishing has made substantial progress in the EU based on ICES advice”.

However, it would appear that while this cornerstone law is imposed with rigid control on every EU Member State, a more relaxed attitude is taken by the Commission when it comes to considering deals with outside nations who wish to fish in EU waters, particularly those waters belonging to Ireland.

And it should also be remembered that the Commission has a track record when it comes to not living up to its own standards, as seen in the Brexit deal when previous pillars of the CFP such as zonal attachment were dismissed in making Ireland foot the majority of the bill in the payment to the UK while other EU nations got off relatively lightly in comparison.

Currently, with nations such as Norway and Iceland, for example, who have given themselves quotas far beyond the recommended EU/ICES advice, the EU Commission has and continues to, be willing to sit down and discuss such Third Countries being allowed catch some of their quota in Irish waters with, as evidenced in the past, no return whatsoever to Ireland but a benefit to Dutch-owned EU nation flagged vessels to get access to Norwegian waters.

Apparently if a Third Country wishes to award itself a huge quota that exceeds the same ICES advice but then has problems catching that quota in its own waters then the EU Commission is still willing to sit down and negotiate a deal with them - - and thereby totally ignoring the mandate of only working within the remit of ‘sustainable fisheries’ that they claim is practically an EU Commission religion.

In these cases, where is the EU Commission’s duty to uphold its own faith in the ICES model and shouldn’t any approaches from those who flaunt the laws of the EU fisheries system not be chased from the room, never mind be invited to sit down to the negotiating table?

And even if the deal with Third Countries in question involves species quotas that are within ICES advice, does the EU Commission not have a moral obligation to get the most beneficial result possible for Ireland as a Member State and not some other EU nation that pays nothing into the deal?

Crunching numbers

This argument will be very much to fore with the recent strong rumours that Iceland plans to negotiate a deal with the EU in a proposal to be allowed access to Irish waters supposedly to fish for blue whiting but with many in the industry believing that this is only a ploy to get negotiations underway and actually to reach their real aim of being allowed target mackerel in Irish waters as they can’t fill their massive self-awarded mackerel quota in their own waters.

And, in relation to mackerel in Irish waters, it must be kept in mind that the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the Irish pelagic fleet is now down to just 52,385 tonnes, reflecting this year’s 2% reduction on ICES advice plus a further 2.6% reduction as part of the ongoing Brexit ‘payback’.

And understandably while the EU Commission must ‘mind it own business’ regarding Norway, also seemingly unable to fill its self-awarded mackerel quota in its own waters, doing a deal with the UK to catch mackerel there, the Commission must seriously look at the blue whiting scenario and the ramifications of any new ‘deals’.

The blue whiting situation is, pardon the pun, a different kettle of fish.

Of a total Western Waters TAC of some 1,355,933 tonnes the Irish pelagic fleet gets a minuscule 4% (53,776t) and Norway, although not exceeding ICES TAC advice in this case, has a huge quota in comparison.

Norway already has access to Irish waters for blue whiting under an EU/Coastal States deal agreed in 2006 but they want to be allowed catch 150,000t, worth 45 million euros, inside the Irish 200-mile limit and are making this demand to the EU Commission as their ‘traditional right’ and that no compensation of any sort should be paid to the EU or to Ireland in return.

Ireland naturally is fighting even the notion of further access for Norway in Irish waters and indeed are insisting that the 2006 Coastal States deal to give Norway this so-called ‘traditional right’ to Irish waters was unconstitutional in the first place and needs to be reviewed.


Norway’s recent deal with the UK to be allowed catch a large portion of their mackerel quota in those waters saw payment in return to the UK pelagic industry in the form of a new annual Norwegian/UK mackerel quota transfer worth some 36 million euros.

Therefore a benchmark has been set and the question is being posed by the Irish fishing industry at this time as to the need for the EU Commission to take a strictly ‘business approach’ in any blue whiting deals with Norway and, in a similar vein to the UK, demand a payment of real value to the Irish industry in return before any access is considered.

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