IS&WFPO CEO, Patrick Murphy has called for solutions to help the Irish fisheries instead of another round of decommissioning

IS&WFPO CEO, Patrick Murphy has called for the Minister to ask EU for solutions to help the Irish fishing industry. Photo: Oliver McBride

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation CEO, Patrick Murphy believes the Irish fishing industry is losing more than what the Government is telling the public.

Mr Murphy has again expressed his fear for the future of the fishing industry in the light of the Brexit deal which has been heavily criticised by fishing communities on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The change in Ireland’s Total Quota Value published by the Government is of concern to Mr Murphy. Figures published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) before the 2020 AGRIFISH Council in December showed Ireland’s Total Quota Value was €251 million but now, in recent reports the value is being shown as €288 million. The change in Total Quota Value means that the figures work out to show instead of the Irish fleet losing 17.1% of the total national quota for shared stocks with the UK in UK waters it now works out at 15%.

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The Irish fishing industry goes into the next five-years facing significantly greater cuts in shared fish stocks with the UK losing an estimated €43 million under the government’s current figures. Only France losses out more financially with the Brexit deal estimating to cost the French industry €52m. Spain stands to lose just 4% of its quota value in UK waters creating a loss to the EU’s largest fishing fleet of €14 million followed by the Belgian fleet facing a loss of €7 million or 7%.

In 2017, Spain had the largest fishing fleet in the EU with 21% of the gross tonnage. The UK (12%) and France (11%) had the next largest fleets with almost half the size of Spanish fleet, but France has the most powerful fleet when it comes to engine power. In 2018, the Irish fleet made-up 2.5% of the EU fleet but yet Irish waters accounted for16% of EU waters, then including UK waters.

The fact that the Irish fishing industry has taken another hit to push through an EU trade deal with the UK, Mr Murphy believes is unacceptable:

“We want the same rights as the UK. We both sit on the continental shelf and the fish are in our waters. These other fleets come and visit us and it’s hard enough to give up our own fish without them trading the fish in their waters as theirs. They no longer have to catch them so they can trade them off.

“The way I see it, I don’t see why the fishermen is saying this is more. They are being robbed twice. They are being robbed of their own fish and then they’re being robbed of the actual fish in our waters. They have been traded away.

“If the European Union is agreeing to give zonal attachment to the UK, you cannot ignore our claims for the same thing. We knew that there has to be a deal done. Nobody’s stupid, but you cannot expect us to get hit twice. Where did you expect us to give up fish, but also allow them to pay their bill?”

“What is it like is this. You are sitting in a British owned restaurant with representatives from the 26 other Member States. It comes down to paying the bill at the end of the night and everyone agrees to split the bill. So, you take out your wallet to pay. You put your money on the table and before you can put it away, the guy next to you grabs your wallet and takes the price of his bill from your money. Then he proceeds to pass it around the other 25 representatives so they can pay their bill.

“That’s what has happened to the Irish fishing industry under this Brexit deal. Not only have we paid for ourselves, but we are also paying for every other Member State in the EU. All in order to get a deal pushed through.”

It was announced this week that Ireland would be receiving €1 billion from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund along with the announcement from the Director-General of DG MARE Charlina Vitcheva, that there would be €600 million made available to the EU fishing fleet worst affected by the Brexit fallout.

This has led to concerns amongst Irish fishermen that the government will come knocking demanding another round of decommissioning. Three rounds of decommissioning already have seen the Irish fleet devastated from the 1970s and 80s.

“When did we give permission to our politicians to decide who in our country should be able to make a living and who shouldn’t? asks Mr Murphy.

“The Irish fishermen are being told you’re no longer do your job because we had to give away your job to somebody else. Not because there’s no fish there but because you weren’t trading chip on the table to get the deal.”

Taking the compensation and leaving the fishing industry is not an option for a lot of fishermen because there is a greater investment in the industry than just financial gain. Areas of Ireland that has lost their fishing fleet to previous rounds of decommissioning has seen huge domino effects in terms of local economics and social deprivation. Over the years coastal communities are being robbed of their young people who are being drawn to work in cities, home and abroad, because they cannot have a future in their own areas.

“It’s a loss of our heritage or future generations. Our ability to go to sea and catch fish,” says Patrick. “The right of our coastal communities to have future generations of fishermen. They’re gone and not because there isn’t room for fishermen. It’s because we’re giving those rights to somebody else.

“What’s happening here is that our fishermen are being treat disproportionately, they’re going to suffer here. Is that right or wrong that our fishermen should carry to can for everybody else in the EU?

Decommissioning is more than just taking a boat from the fishing industry. “What they’re doing ending a way of life and are forcing communities to be extinguished.”

Patrick says that there are talk from some young skippers in Cork who are already talking about leaving the industry because they feel they are being forced out of the business.

“Are we going to be looking back in 30 years’ time remembering this and saying this ‘look what we did to the Irish fisherman’.”

Instead of putting more fishermen out of work, Patrick believes the Irish Government should be seeking a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy at this Thursday’s EU Fisheries Council meeting which would authorise quota transfer to the Irish fleet from underutilised quotas from fellow Member States.

One example of that would be the monkfish quota in the North Sea, Rockall, West of Scotland and Skagerrak and Kattegat area. In 2020 the total EU quota 25,056 tonnes. The Irish quota was 797 tonnes which was 3.6% of the overall quota.

If the Irish fleet could increase its quota by 20% it would mean that Irish boats would get approximately 1,000 tonnes of a quota which would increase the Irish fleets share to 4.3%.

Similarly, in the Celtic Sea, where the overall TAC last year was 35,299;  if the Irish fleet could increase its monk quota to 15% from 13% it would take a quota of 2675 tonnes to nearly 5,300 tonnes.

A doubling on the Irish hake quota, which is currently 3,493 tonnes in 2020, would give Ireland 7,000 tonnes or 11% from an overall quota of 63,325 tonnes.

An increase of the haddock quota of 10,859 tonnes by 36% in the Celtic Sea would increase the quota from 2,430 tonnes to approximately 4,000 tonnes.

Another fallout from the TCA was the loss of valuable mackerel quota in UK waters. The EU could replace some of the earnings lost under the Agreement and replace them with other less valuable stocks such as blue whiting.

The total blue whiting quota agreed between the north-eastern Atlantic Coastal States for 2021 is a TAC of 929,292.

The Irish fleet has a quota of 25,089 tonnes for blue whiting in 2021 while Norway has a quota of 208,306 tonnes. Ireland gets approximately 2.7% of the TAC for 2021 and Norway gets 22.5%. If Ireland’s quota for blue whiting was increased to 4% it would increase the fleets TAC to 37,000 tonnes approximately. It’s only a drop in the ocean for the pelagic fleet when compared to the mackerel quota that was lost but it is a case, where none of the quota lost in UK waters was through any fault of the Irish fishing industry itself.

Small percentage increases would make a huge difference to the Irish quotas and protect the fishing industry going forward. There is overall pressure to reduce fishing effort in the EU over the next decade and a future round of decommissioning will be inevitable.

As Patrick says “There’s not hundreds of countries fishing here. It is not like we’re not asking to go into French waters or anything like that. These fish are in our waters. So, it shouldn’t be a big ask by our Government.

“Right now, the future of the whole Irish fishing industry is in the Minister’s hands.”

by Oliver McBride – Editor

IS&WFPO Chief says Future of Irish Fishing Industry in Minister’s Hands

by editor time to read: 11 min