Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs where he gave an update on negotiations and answered questions on UK-EU negotiations and the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020.
The Minister took questions in relation to the withdrawal talks from the members of the committee but on the issue of fisheries he did not offer a particular focus except to say that the mandate Michel Barnier has is a very tight one in terms of trying to protect the existing access and quota share and that the EU fleet has to UK waters.
He said the UK has politically made significant promises to their fishing industry in terms of increased access to extra fishing opportunities and extra catches which created “a very difficult negotiation and a landing zone that is quite hard to envisage quite frankly for now.”
“Michel Barnier has spoken yesterday to eight different fisheries ministers to try to get a sense from them as to their views on the issue and I think this is a big obstacle and I don’t think the British Government should underestimate the strength of feeling on fisheries of many of the Atlantic States.”
Minister Coveney said that negotiations were being made more difficult by the UK government’s belief in Zonal attachment which would lock the EU fleet out of British waters.
“These are shared stocks. They are not British fish or EU fish. They are fish that swim between the two jurisdictions. And so to draw a line down the sea and say the fish on our side are our fish and the fish on your side are yours is a ridiculously simplistic way of looking at things.”
In his example of a migratory fish stock the Minister referred to mackerel on which he said “nobody owns the stock” and it is a transitory stock that moves between territories.
He said that most of the fish caught in Scottish waters by Irish fishing boats and British fishing vessels are mackerel that spawned off Galway, grew into juveniles off the coasts of Mayo and Donegal and then after reaching the maximum product was mainly caught by both fleets in UK waters.
He said he believed it would be better to have cooperation between the UK and the EU in the long-term interest of sustainability and maximising profitability rather than Member States catching juvenile or immature fish in their own waters just to fill quota shares and putting the future of these fish stocks at risk.