The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed to focus all his energies on protecting Irish fisheries ahead of Brexit and to immediately withdraw a flawed mackerel sharing review on which important time and resources are being squandered.
UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice has already claimed that British fishermen will catch hundreds of thousands of tonnes more fish after Brexit while Ireland, which shares 47 out of its 50 Total Allowable Catches (TAC) with the UK, stands to lose catastrophically from an EU without Britain. Some 31% of 2015 Irish catches come from UK waters with the two main species for Irish fishermen, mackerel and nephrops, requiring anything from 40% to 60% access to British fishing grounds.
With Irish seafood exports to the UK worth in excess of €71million annually and the shared resource which the fisheries sector uniquely represents between both countries, the Irish fishing sector is perilously positioned as the high-end negotiations around Brexit continue apace.
Speaking ahead of a ‘Seafood Sectoral Civic Dialogue’ on Brexit to discuss the potential impact on Irish fisheries, KFO Chief Executive, Seán O’Donoghue said with the unprecedented and particularly demanding challenges presented by Brexit, it’s even more baffling why a ludicrous review is playing out in tandem with this issue causing unnecessary distraction. He called for the Irish Government to make fisheries a top priority in the negotiations around Brexit and to ensure that the sector is not used as a bargaining chip in reaching a final outcome. Given the importance of the negotiations, he questioned why a wholly unnecessary review was being undertaken into mackerel quota in the first instance.
He added that this review into the distribution of additional mackerel is pitting different producer organisations against each other at a time when Ireland needs to be focused on the Brexit issue more than ever. The KFO has always believed that the course of action being adopted by Minister Michael Creed is fundamentally flawed and endeavours to penalise the Refrigerated Seawater (RSW) sector in a disproportionate and unfair manner.
“It could see the fishing industry in the North West deprived of more than €10million of a mackerel catch in 2017. It’s since come to light that the scientific advice used to calculate the 2017 TAC was erroneous meaning a sizeable cut of 13% on the 2016 catches rather than the 14% increase it had previously advised. Aside from the obvious embarrassment of such a mistake in estimating stock size, it has created huge uncertainty for our members who are trying to run businesses and provide employment.
“We will be writing to Minister Creed to inform him in no uncertain terms, that we will not stand idly by and allow hard-won quota to be taken from us when we have endured a 15% cut in mackerel quota last year and now the prospect of further reductions in light of the revised scientific advice. We will be formally asking him to withdraw the review in light of these developments while also underlining that there was no basis whatsoever, other than parochial, for the review in first place.
Mr O’Donoghue continued, “when an increase in the Irish mackerel quota was mooted, the Minister appeared open to the idea of making it available to 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector who have a mackerel entitlement for no reason other than purely parochial.
“If that were allowed to happen, it would result in the loss of jobs at sea in Donegal as well as employment ashore in the highly developed pelagic industry in the North West. Moreover, it ignores the fact that those 27 vessels who stand to benefit from this ludicrous review have already been boosted by a mackerel tonnage percentage increase of 750% since the year 2000,” concluded Mr O’Donoghue.
The Irish RSW fleet in Killybegs has invested heavily in specialised vessels which has played a major role in developing a mackerel fishery in this country and establishing a credible track record in catching mackerel prior to introduction of Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and quotas system in 1983. Without this excellent track record, Ireland’s current 21.2 % percentage share of the western TAC would probably be only in the region of 1% to 2%.