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Ireland demands action against Norway mackerel - as EU fails to do anything

Last May Norway and the Faroe Islands announced it was taking a huge increase of the shared mackerel TAC, with Norway increasing its share by 55% in defiance of the long standing Coastal States agreement (of which Ireland is a member).

This has resulted in a new overall TAC for Norway of in excess of 300,000 tonnes and currently there is a glut in the Norwegian pelagic processing industry so big that it is believed that Norwegian processors are running out of supplies of cardboard cartons (to place the frozen blocks of mackerel in) and this has led to thousands of tonnes top quality human consumption mackerel currently being churned into fishmeal for animal feed.

The reality is Norway engaged in sharp practice – but equally is the case the Irish failed to take counter action – as have the EU , its light feel kickback always from the EU in terms of fisheries

Given that the other members of the Coastal States and EU Member States are outraged at this ‘quota grab’ by Norway which will mean that everyone else will have to suffer yet another quota cut to balance the books if the overall quota is to remain within scientifically-advised MSY status, there has been much anger in the Irish industry that today (Sept 6th 2021) two Norwegian vessels full of mackerel have been allowed to enter Killybegs Harbour to offload their catch.

While Norway is claiming that, despite disagreement with other nations, their mackerel is within MSY status, everyone else (within the EU at least) is classing it as ‘black fish’ i.e. illegally caught fish and therefore classing those vessels as being IUU (Illegal, Unregulated & Unreported) operators.

But, critically the EU control authorities are treating them as no different to any other mackerel quota from their own member states.

After these two vessels were turned away and refused to land in Iceland and then landed in Faroe Islands last week before catching a further 1,100 tonnes several days ago, some have commented that the Irish fish factory who bought this fish should not have done so - however, there are certainly some mitigating circumstances here, especially that the EU Commission, since this situation arose last May, have made no genuine attempt to challenge Norway on their self awarded quota increase and indeed there has been a serious lack of leadership from within Ireland’s own pelagic industry to advise Irish processors against dealing with Norwegian pelagic vessels - no leadership until now that is, when it appears that its too late on this occasion at least.

While Ireland’s catching sector will always be the priority in this industry, the fact remains that processors are facing a 12-month period of raw material supply reduction by at least 30% and when an opportunity arises for quality fish at reasonable price then they can’t be blamed, when they have not been advised to the contrary, to do the best for their company.

But surely the fault here lies with the EU Commission, Ireland’s Marine Minister and the Department of Marine for allowing these circumstances even take place.

However, without any action the situation was always going to arise whereby these fish would come on the open market and be eventually purchased , in good faith and without any malice intent.

In this instance, and with rumours of protests against the vessels being allowed to land in Killybegs, the Norwegian Government issued a statement to the Irish Government over the weekend to say that any interference of their vessels would be considered a diplomatic incident and, as always, our Government and Dept Marine immediately caved in and panicked and instructed that there should be no effort of hinderance to the arrival and landing.

It’s just a pity that our Government wouldn’t show equal concern that the Irish fishing industry is in crisis as it does to the vessels and governments of other EU and non EU nations.

If, as earlier mentioned, our Minister and Department sent out a clear statement to the EU that Ireland will not accept what it sees as ‘black fish’ being brought into Irish ports then naturally the Irish processing sector would support this.

And, one must ask, if an Irish pelagic vessel tried to land mackerel that was clearly above and beyond the EU TAC, would he not be arrested and charged on the spot by Irish authorities?

Is this a further sign that the coastal states agreement is just not working.. that the EU quota policies are not working, that the marine sector is not as important to the EU as is having Norway part of the EEA?

If the EU Commission, and our own Dept Marine, had any backbone they would declare the Norwegian pelagic fleet as participants in IUU fisheries and then, under the EU regulation, no IUU vessel is allowed land its catch in ANY EU country, which would mean no landing of mackerel, blue whiting or sandeel by Norwegian vessels in any of the EU nation’s ports.

And if Ireland is not happy with the lack of action by the EU Commission, it could take its own steps by demanding a national blocking of all Norwegian salmon imports into Ireland.

However, there is another point worth considering here - once Norway broke the Coastal States mackerel stock management agreement and gave itself a rise in quota, the other Coastal States’ member nations will have to carry the burden of the loss of quota — but with the U.K. no longer part of the EU, Ireland will, without doubt once again be set to be the biggest losers as there is ‘no appetite’ within the EU Commission or other Member States to support Ireland’s shocking loss of mackerel quota - just as there was no sympathy for Ireland when it was left with the lion’s share of the burden of quota loss as a result of the BREXIT fiasco.

This is set to become a very serious situation and while some are demanding blockades to stop these vessels landing in Ireland, other people are claiming it will cause huge disharmony among the Irish fishing and processing sectors, I believe that the opposite may be true as the pelagic sector, both catchers and processors, may now jointly demand immediate action from the Irish Government and the EU Commission to make an intervention.

The problem here is not as simple as who buys the fish from Norway, it is far more complex - - it’s our regulators failing to enforce, it’s our policy makers failing to take decisions and it’s our fishery representatives at producer level failing to drive home the message of equality and level playing field for all.

Cormac Burke,

Chairman, IFSA

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