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The two faces of the EU’s BREXIT ‘deal’ for Ireland

“The EU Commission’s own double standards on ‘relative stability’ and ‘zonal attachment’ has made a farce of all ‘fair’ fisheries management” – Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA)

By now the infamous ‘deal’ that, as a result of the European Fisheries Commission’s BREXIT negotiations with the U.K., sees Ireland paying the heaviest penalty of all EU Member States in terms of loss of quota, has reached every corner of the Irish fishing and seafood industry.

But, as well as the outrage in Ireland, the contradictions between how the EU fisheries and quota sharing has been managed in the past, and how this same ideology was excluded in the recent negotiations remains the ‘elephant in the room’ that no one, outside of the Irish fishing industry, is prepared to confront.

On the face of it, EU Commissioner Virgininijus Sinkevicius expects Ireland to accept the totally unjust outcome of the EU/Brexit negotiations as a ‘fait accompli’ (Oxford Dictionary: ‘something that has already happened or already been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them no option other than to accept it’) but Ireland, and the thousands of people in Irish rural coastal regions who rely on this industry, are demanding justice.

The term ‘relative stability’ (discussed in a recent IFSA article) is one example of a standard by which EU fisheries management was based for decades but was wholly ignored during the ‘burden sharing’ process by the same EU Commission when coming up with a deal that would see Ireland take on the biggest share of the burden of the EU conceding quota back to the UK.

But worse still is the exclusion by the EU Commission of another keystone – ‘zonal attachment’ which in fact was the UK’s successful basis for its Brexit negotiations on fisheries.

Technically described as ‘Two countries sharing two fish stocks are considered – with the zonal attachment of both stocks varying randomly. The typical scenario is where one country is the dominant for one stock and, while each country has no incentive to co-operate on the stock in which it holds a minor share but both countries would have incentive to co-operate if the stocks were jointly managed’(Source: Norwegian School of Economics).

In loose terms this means that a country should have stronger entitlements to stocks that are in their waters – something that the EU Commission has consistently refused, over many years, to recognise in the case of Ireland’s miserly 3.9% share of EU quotas, despite physically owning 11% of EU waters.

But the plot thickens when one drills down into what the EU Commission agreed to with the UK which included 15% reduction of many Irish demersal and pelagic species’ quotas in Ireland’s own waters (including the waters off the west coast) whilst other member states only lost 6% or less in the same deal.

Most suspicious of all, is when one looks at the deal in the English Channel between U.K. and France – a hotspot of plaice and black sole where, one would expect under the U.K.’s zonal attachment claims, they would be entitled to at least 50% of the quota but in the end were given by the EU just 0.9% of additional quota (from 29.1% to 30%).

Whilst Ireland holds no quota in the Channel, one might wonder what is the relevance of this information until it becomes clear that both France and the Netherlands hold majority quota shares in plaice and black sole in the English Channel and that therefore this has been a poorly veiled attempt by the EU Commission to make sure that these nations didn’t suffer quota loss (in UK waters) whilst Ireland was the ‘whipping boy’ (in its own waters!).

“The EU Commission’s own double standards on ‘relative stability’ and ‘zonal attachment’ has made a farce of all ‘fair’ fisheries management,” said IFSA Chairman Cormac Burke, adding that it will be difficult for Ireland to view any future EU Commission standards with anything other than suspicion.

“We can see from the outcome of the English Channel quota deal that there are many questions that need to be raised on the actual ‘management’ by the EU Fisheries Commission when it openly appears that politics and lobbying powers (outside of Ireland) are influencing decisions instead of, in the EU’s own CFP statement “to aim to ensure that fishing is economically and socially sustainable” (source:

“How is Ireland expected to maintain an ‘economically sustainable’ fishing and seafood sector when the very lifeblood of the industry is being sacrificed on the EU alter whilst other EU nations gain as a result?” he added.

Ireland wants answers

In an open question to the EU Commissioner the IFSA Chairman says that the Irish fishing industry demands some accountability for this ‘deal’:

“I want the EU Commissioner to openly document what methodology was used in arriving at a burden sharing solution where the ‘share’ of the burden has fallen so unfairly on Ireland? Was it randomly picked member state to protect bigger interests?

“And, I would also ask the Commissioner to make public what approval came from the Irish Government for such a deal? I ask this question because, unsurprisingly, there is currently is deafening silence in Ireland with no one in authority willing to say that Ireland agreed to this deal,” Mr Burke concluded.

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