Quota and quota management concerns for under 15m mackerel hook and line fishery
Quota and quota management are two major concerns facing the mackerel hook and line fishery for Irish under 15 metre vessels.
The closure of the fishery on 12 June this year by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has brought to light issues with a shortage of quota for the number of vessels involved and quota management, which would ensure that all vessels looking to be involved in the fishery would get a fair chance of catching mackerel.
The under 15 metre fleet claims that the 400 tonnes of mackerel allocated to the fleet is not enough. As NIFA Secretary, Alex Crowley explained, since the increase in the landing limits from 500kg to 750kg per boat, it has become a much more viable fishery for this size of vessel, and more inshore fishers are taking part in the fishery since that change.
Alex said, “From our perspective, we just don’t have enough quota. Under the existing policy, 400 tonnes are put aside for the vessels under 15m fishing with hooks and lines, 87 percent of the remainder goes to the RSW, and 13 percent is given to the polyvalent segment. Out of that 13 percent, 2.5 percent is available for polyvalent trawlers and other boats under 18 metres and the rest is given to 27 boats that is classified as either Tier 1 or Tier 2.
“So, you basically under the existing policy of a situation where an about between 98/99% of the national quota has been given to 49 boats and then the remaining, less than two percent, is given to everyone else.
“Up until last year, it was never fully used because you had a management regime in place that did not make it profitable to use. You had a limit of 500-kilo per trip. You could go out jigging in the morning and you had to come back once the 500kg was caught. You could go out again, but the mackerel could be gone. That management regime made it unprofitable for most inshore boats.”
“Last year the proposal was made by the inshore fishermen in Mayo through the NIFF (National Inshore Fishermen’s Forum) to increase the limit from 500kg to 750kg per trip. The also proposed to increase in the 400-tonne mackerel quota.
“The rationale given for not increasing the mackerel quota from 400 tonnes was that the inshore boats would not catch it, due to the fishery’s track record. The management did agree to increase the landing limit from 500kg to 750kg, and last year, for the first time ever, the 400 tonne was caught, and quickly at that.
“Then again, this year the quota was caught early, overshooting the 400 tonnes, and the fishery was closed.”
Up to 2,000 fishing boats under 15 metres are eligible for the hook and line mackerel fishery. If every boat were to take a fair share from the quota, they would get 200kg each. Not a lot of fish per boat. At the moment there are between 50 and 60 boats involved in the fishery but that could grow as the price for line caught mackerel increases.
Enlarging the landing limit made it an attractive proposal for under 15m vessels to take up the fishery as a the 750kg would cover the cost of the trip and give all onboard a decent pay. The problem lies in the fact that mackerel migrate south along the west coast of Ireland from spring into summer.
This situation means that the greatest majority of the mackerel quota caught and landed has been on the west coast, between south Donegal and north Mayo, where the mackerel congregate at that time of the year. Under 15m vessels further south along the coast would not be expecting the mackerel to migrate their way until later in the summer, therefore not making it profitable for them to start fishing them until such time. With the hook and line mackerel fishery being closed in mid-June, it meant these boats missed out.
“If there had of been a bit more quota, the fishery could have been extended a few more weeks and you could have several hundred boats involved,” remarks Alex.
Because of the migratory aspect of mackerel, another issue facing inshore fishers is the need to establish a management plan to ensure that all the boats participating would receive a fair chance at the fishery. Unlike their RSW colleagues, it is almost impossible for the small boats to travel to where the fishing is happening. They must wait until the mackerel comes into their areas before they can start to take advantage of it.
“Whatever amount of quota is there should be managed so that everyone gets a fair share,” says Alex. “We went from a scenario where you had 400 tonnes and it wasn’t being used fully under the 500K regime to the scenario where you now have 400 tonne and it’s being caught prematurely under the 750kg regime, so it does have to be managed.
“If there is going to be a reasonable profitable fishing, the 400 tonne is not going to cut it in the first place.”
More mackerel quota would not only benefit fishers and their families. It would also benefit the marine environment as it would give an opportunity for small boats to diversify away from intensively fishing their usual species.
“Not every inshore boat here on the south coast would be fishing mackerel but it would have been a nice diversification opportunity if the mackerel did show up. Even if it is only 10 boxes for the week, for some people it could have been an extra €500 to €800 a week, which would have made an enormous difference to them and their families. That option is gone now with the closure of the fishery,” says Alex.
“Some of our members in Mayo who took up the hook and line mackerel fishery said that they did not bother fishing pots during the mackerel fishing. So therefore, the pots got a break, and the lobsters and crabs got a break.
“So, it is both a financial hit, and it is an enormous opportunity for diversification that is now gone for some boats further south. It means that these fishermen will have to rely on the shellfish.
“The provision under the common fisheries policy, Article 17 says that the quota shouldn’t only be distributed according to track record, it should be distributed according to which fishing has the least environmental impact, and also where it can have the greatest socio-economic benefits.
“We have a crazy situation were nearly 99% of the quota is given to 50 boats, and they are saying that it is not viable for them to catch it. The inshore sector is saying that half-a-percent is not viable for them. So, right now, Ireland’s most valuable fishery is not profitable to catch.
“I think there needs to be a conversation on how we make Ireland’s entire fishing profitable for everyone?”
By Oliver McBride