The Director-General opened the answering session by saying the fallout of Brexit could have been worse as the UK was looking for a lot more than they ended up getting. She said that the UK had wanted to take all the unused allocated quota from EU Members States as well as a larger slice of important fish stocks.
On the issue of ‘Relative Stability’ she said that the Commission will not be touching the “Pandora’s Box” as the other EU member coastal state will not entertain the possibility of changing it, and it is not the Commission’s position to make such a proposal. She said it would be up to Ireland to bring the topic to the Council of Ministers.
She said that the situation that the Irish fishing industry has found itself in due to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is of great concern to her and her colleagues in DG MARE, but as was pointed out by some of the delegation, the situation Irish fleet finds itself in was caused by the Commission who have unfairly burdened the Irish fishing industry with 40 percent of the overall impact on EU fisheries. This questioned the Commission’s idea of burden sharing when one country’s fishing sector takes the brunt of losses in order to maintain the status quo for the rest of the industries in the EU.
Frank McClenaghan, a young skipper from Greencastle, Co Donegal asked what was being done to get Irish boats access to their traditional fishing grounds at Rockall, which was lost due to Brexit, especially when the Commission worked so hard to get French vessels licences to fish the waters around Guernsey and Jersey Islands.
The Director-General was also spoke of the Common Fisheries Policy review in 2025. She said that she did not envisage any major changes to the CFP.
She said that Irish fishermen would benefit once the MSY for fish stocks came to a sustainable level. The Director-General’s scientific approach fails to recognise the human cost that pursuing such a policy cause. Signs are showing that Irish fishing communities do not have that time. The industry is facing the loss of 30% of its whitefish fleet along with inshore fishing boats to a Voluntary Permanent Cessation Scheme (decommissioning scheme) proposed as a solution to the cuts in quota from the fallout of the TCA.
Decommissioning will mean that more tonnage and kilowatts will be lost to the Irish fleet forever and never replaced as long as Ireland remains part of the EU.
The Director-General said that all the fishing fleets across the EU were facing cuts due to Brexit and in fact the Dutch had a decommissioning scheme even before Brexit because they found their number of boats unsustainable. Patrick Murphy pointed out that the at the start of the century, Ireland had 400 whitefish boats, another round of decommissioning would leave the country with just 100 boats.
He said, “I don’t know if there’s been any evaluation of the other fleets of Europe or in Spanish fleets or whatever, but that’s reduction of 300% already of our fleet.”
On the issue of a Member State being granted use of unused quota by other Member States in their own waters, the Director-General said that the Commission would not be involved in such negotiations, and it was up to either the Irish Government or the fishermen’s’ organisations themselves that need to speak to their neighbouring member states about such matters.
Brendan Byrne, CEO of the IFPEA has asked about the possibility of gaining mackerel back from Iceland and the Faroe Islands and asked about the possibility of gaining some of the blue whiting quota that Norway gets granted by the EU from Irish waters, the Director-General said that she could not foresee any major changes there as Norway was very difficult to negotiate with.
On Patrick Murphy’s question on Bluefin Tuna quota for Irish boats, Ms Vitcheva said that in a way it is a relative stability issue but she would take it to her colleagues to examine if there was a way to get Ireland a bluefin quota tuna but, it would prove very difficult,
She said fishermen need to diversify and not be dependent alone on fishing, but in most cases a fishing vessel is a lifetime investment of millions of euros and simply cannot be tied-up part of the year, because the industry looses qualified crew, markets and income to maintain the vessel for safety and marine surveys etc.