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We can’t beat the system unless WE change the system

In a Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting this week with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) Independent TD Michael Collins raised several questions of concern regarding the Irish fishing industry and in particular the current crisis in the inshore sector, the threat to Irish pelagic stocks (with the Minister in talks with EU/Iceland regarding access to Irish waters), and the continuing lack of a bluefin tuna quota for Irish fishermen.

Watching the video and listening to the responses to the questions by senior DAFM official Sinead McSherry it was interesting to note several points - - particularly her statement that the Minister is not permitted to directly enter any form of negotiations with any non EU nation and any such ‘talks’ must be carried out by the EU Commission on behalf of the Member State in question.

Regardless of the DAFM opinion I think most people in the Irish fishing industry will find it hard to believe that at no point has Minister McConalogue had direct (either formal, informal or through a third party aside from the Commission) contact, first with Norway and more recently with Iceland, in relation to deals for these non EU nations to catch fish in Irish waters.

It should also be noted that even in the case of the EU Commission representing Ireland in such talks, they (the Commission) can only base their representations on what they are being told by the Irish minister and if he says that Ireland consents to access (in the current case of Iceland) then the Commission will proceed with negotiations on that understanding - - which personally leaves me believing that, much against the wishes of many in Ireland, this Iceland deal is probably already a foregone conclusion and Charlie McConalogue is just waiting for the opportune moment to make the announcement and, given his track record, it will probably be another ‘St Patrick’s Day massacre’ during the holiday weekend when he’ll be on his Government jaunt flight to Kenya and unavailable for comment while all hell is breaking lose back at home).

In several previous IFSA articles I questioned why would Icelandic vessels want to travel all the way down from their traditional blue whiting grounds in the Faroes to fish west of Ireland and I have since heard the claim that blue whiting in Irish waters are of better quality and higher in oil content - - sorry, but I’m still not buying that and I think once they have their foot in the door in Irish waters and set up a track record it will only be a few short years before another EU Commission deal or quota swap will take place (probably involving the Netherlands no doubt) that will result in Icelandic boats catching mackerel in Irish waters - - and meanwhile the Irish pelagic fleet’s quota share for blue whiting and mackerel in these same waters will continue to reduce year on year.

Sitting (or should that be ‘shitting’?) on a pot of gold

Aside from blue whiting or mackerel, it was the DAFM official’s response in relation to the question of an Irish quota for bluefin tuna (BFT) that most caught my attention as, according to Ms McSherry, any agreement to allow Ireland BFT quota would: a) need to be a qualified majority vote of the other Member States, and b) the amount of quota allocated would have to be deducted from the other nations’ shares so as to keep within the overall EU BFT TAC.

So if this is the way things are officially done regarding tuna (and probably unofficially done in regard to all other fishing sector matters) then surely Ireland will always be the loser, and not just in BFT.

Here we have Ireland with probably the biggest and resource-richest EEZ in the entire EU and with the smallest quotas in the EU and if we demand a fairer share then the other nations must agree by majority rule to give us some quota.

On what planet can this be described as an equal and fair system? - - and naturally once again it highlights the complete farce of the EU Commission’s cheek to even utter the words ‘level playing field’….

Would the Dutch, French or Spanish meekly accept this EU system if they were in Ireland’s situation?

At the end of the day Ireland is never going to achieve any ‘fair play’ if, in essence, the system is set up to be unfair.

A massive example of this is the concept of ‘zonal attachment’ which is defined as “Quotas, or catch shares, should correspond to the share of the fish stock biomass present within a country's Exclusive Economic Zone” (Society for Conservation Biology report, January 2020).

It would appear that zonal attachment is an often acceptable argument to the EU Commission for most member nations - even when in discussions with non EU member nations such as Norway and Iceland who justified giving themselves hugely excessive mackerel quotas as they argued that the fish was “heavily present” in their waters.

But during the Brexit debacle, the Irish right to zonal attachment was completely dismissed by the EU Commission and left Ireland paying the highest price in lost quotas pay back than any EU nation and now once again, with huge numbers of bluefin tuna feeding in Irish waters for eight months of the year, zonal attachment is thrown out the window in any debate between Ireland and the EU Commission - - - and we’re told we can’t have any quota unless the other countries agree to give us some…. ???

And while our Government continues to tell us that we must be “good EU citizens”, not once do they ever entertain the idea, or even the notion, that ‘fair play’ with regards the Irish fishing industry’s position in an EU context is nothing more than a cruel joke that has every other EU nation laughing while ‘poor’ Ireland struggles on and watches its fishing industry going down the pan.

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