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Ireland green with envy as other governments support their fishing industries

Cormac Burke, IFSA

The Irish fishing industry can only look on jealously as it is looking likely that the Spanish Government is committed to taking on board their fishing industry’s appeal (as reported by The Fishing Daily 26/4/24) for ‘exceptional’ support from both Government and the EU Commission.

Citing a tough period for the industry arising from market instability as a result of the COVID pandemic, Brexit, the Russian/Ukraine and Israel conflicts, and rising operating costs, Spanish Fisheries Confederation (CEPESCA) is asking for support for their sector from their politicians and for the case to be put forward to the EU Commission not only for an extension of existing measures (under EMFAF) to December 2024, but for additional support measures.

Spain, and particularly its Grand Sol fleet, has indeed been severely hit in recent years and, in 2021, CEPESCA estimated that the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement would cost their demersal fishing industry €54 million over the following five years in lost access and quotas in UK waters.

In their recent letter to Government, CEPESCA states that the Spanish fishing sector is part of the solution for a sustainable and healthy future, emphasising the need to recognise the fundamental role that fishery products play due to their high nutritional value and low carbon footprint, making them an important element in achieving global social and climate goals - - these are all highly acceptable arguments being put their Government and to the EU Commission, but the Irish Government continues to show zero interest when the Irish fishing industry makes the same case.

It is a widely accepted fact that no EU Member State’s fishing industry has suffered greater losses than Ireland in recent years, with the Irish industry being dealt the blow of some 30% loss of quotas, 40% decrease in processing and the demersal fleet now reduced to only being allocated 15% of the EU quotas in Ireland’s own waters whilst the remaining 85% in Irish waters is given to other EU nations.

But the €54 million that the Spanish industry would lose as a result of Brexit over five years must be put into comparison with what Ireland has been dealt from Brexit and that the losses to to the Irish fishing industry far exceed €54m and it is a loss EVERY YEAR going forward (in just the pelagic sector alone) and not just over a period of a few years.

The annual financial loss to the Irish demersal and inshore fleet also far surpasses other EU nations, evidenced by the fact that even after decommissioning one third of the fleet, there is still not enough quota for the fleet to remain viable for the long term unless something changes urgently.

Just one example of Spanish Government attitude towards support for their fishing industry includes the fact that last year a closure of their horse mackerel fishery was ordered as the stock was deemed to be in jeopardy, and immediately a financial compensation package was given by Government to the vessels involved - - when such a closure is ever announced in Ireland, there is zero compensation even considered or discussed by the Irish Government, as has been seen over the years in numerous cessations of many different species’ fisheries.

Such support measures are not restricted to Spain and it has been seen all across EU Member States in recent years that various Governments will take steps to either give financial aid to their industry out of State funds, or will stoutly defend their fishermen’s case at EU Commission level - - a passion and dedication which is never seen in Irish political or civil service circles.

The latest CFP reforms by the EU Commission lean strongly on the aim “to eliminate fishing subsidies that may contribute to overcapacity and overfishing” - - but the case for the current crisis in the Irish fishing industry is not a demand for overcapacity nor for a wish to overfish but a plea for equity and justice in the EU CFP framework and nationally, for a genuine and constructive use of Ireland’s €600m EU BAR fund money (rather than return up to €200m of it unused to the EU in the near future); taking up the option of the available EU fuel subsidy fund that all other EU Member States are giving their fishermen; and, most of all, a demand for an Irish Government that will finally begin to show some pride in their coastal communities and support in the fishing sector of an island nation with the richest waters in Europe rather than participate and drive on what appears to be a strategic winding down and eventual closure of an industry whilst giving away its resources, that belong to Irish citizens, to other EU nations without any apparent benefit to Ireland.

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