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Time for Minister to show some backbone

As the dreaded December Council quota talks loom ever nearer it is incredible to even consider that Ireland is likely to see even more quota reductions of certain species based on ICES scientific advice.

Given the massive hit that the Irish catching sector has suffered in the past eleven months, that we could possibly see even more revenue potential taken away from Irish fishermen is outrageous to say the least.

2021 has seen pelagic/polyvalent quotas down by 30%, demersal quotas reduced by almost 20%, and an inshore sector consistently hampered at every effort to diversify into alternative opportunities – these have all combined to result in the worst year on record for the Irish fishing and processing sectors.

Before we all declare war on ICES’ scientific advise recommending cuts in certain species I have witnessed first hand in Brussels the many occasions over the years when this same body recommended quota increases to stocks that they considered to be in good shape and well above MSY – but, a bit like our Government at budget time, any bad news is enacted by midnight that night but anything nearing positive news is kicked down the road for twelve months or so.

However, in a Marine Times’ article (December issue) Brendan Byrne, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers & Exporters Association (IFPEA) offers a glimmer of hope which, if acted upon by the Minister and his DAFM advisors, could at least lessen this possible additional ‘hit’ to the catching sector.

In his proposal Mr Byrne highlights the fact that while the whole concept of trying to get the ‘burden sharing’ issue reopened by the EU Commission (when it seems clear that no one outside of Ireland is willing to discuss this) remains vital, it is highly unlikely to even get a mention in these few weeks running up to the December Council meeting.

Therefore, and in light of immediate EU/ICES cuts to Irish quotas, he suggests that Ireland’s Minister and officials push for a “leveling up” i.e. that the EU Commission be forced to give consideration of the recent past unfair burden sharing in the return of quotas to the UK when Ireland suffered double the loss of any other EU Member and therefore to give at least some small sense of balance, that when the ICES recommend quota cuts hit the table, then Ireland should be given a much reduced reduction and other nations take a percent or two higher than the ICES proposal.

This, from an Irish perspective at least, would seem a logical and perfectly fair claim to make – but this proposal will only get serious consideration at EU Commission level if our Minister and his officials “buy into” it and themselves believe it to be a cause worth fighting for.

The thought of Charlie McConalogue coming out in the media for the second January in a row with statements like “we fought tooth and nail” and “its tough on our fishermen but we have to follow EU Commission rules” doesn’t bear thinking about and might actually be the straw that breaks the camel’s back as far as this industry is concerned.

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