The Ghost of Christmas Past, Cormac Burke, Chair of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance comments on the outcome of the Agrifish Council 2021

The Ghost of Christmas Past, Cormac Burke, Chair of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance comments on the outcome of the Agrifish Council 2021

As the Irish fishing and processing industry stands like a dazed and bruised boxer in the corner of the ring as a result of the 2021 battering, the EU has dealt yet another, and almost fatal, body blow by more or less thwarting any small attempt for Ireland to get a crumb of whitefish or pelagic quota back for its suffering fishermen.

Not content on slamming the door shut on the merest suggestion of Ireland getting returned a single kilo of the quota lost during the corrupt ‘negotiations’ of the BREXIT deal where everyone else caught a cough but Ireland was administered the flu, the knife is now being twisted even further with deserved and justified quota increases, and based on solid, positive ICES stock advice, again being manipulated to ensure no benefit goes to Ireland.

For the Irish demersal fleet, the example of the haddock quota alone epitomises the irony of the EU Commission using the words ‘level playing field’ — with a scientifically-recommended 110% increase in the pipeline, this was combated against by inclusion of a recommended 60% reduction in the haddock quota in ‘shared’ waters of U.K. and Ireland.

Ok, one might think, plus 110% and minus 60% and we should still see a 50% increase – and what did the EU finally allow Ireland? A 5% increase….

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This one example alone represents Ireland’s struggle with EU management of the fishing sector – basically, we can’t win.

We already know that we’re never going to see any sympathy from the EU over the injustices of the BREXIT outcome, but worse still is that there is no scenario where the EU Commission is ever going to give Ireland significant quota increases for any species, regardless of positive scientific advice.

Meanwhile Ireland’s pelagic sector equally had the rug pulled out from under them when it transpired that Denmark was in possession of 12,000 tonnes of Irish mackerel quota that was swapped to them decades ago and was simply forgotten about.

When research was done into this, it was discovered that the Danish pelagic fleet haven’t even been utilising this quota every year and it was only when they approached the EU Commission for permission to catch this quota in Irish waters that investigations began as to where this quota actually originated.

Naturally Ireland, whose pelagic sector has already suffered a 30% loss during 2021, were demanding the return of this quota and even the Commissioner himself indicated that he favoured Ireland’s claim.

Such was the excitement at what was seen by our Minister as a great victory (i.e., getting back something that was ours in the first place) that he pre-empted the outcome of the meeting to phone certain people with the ‘big’ announcement.

He would have been wise to have waited before doing so because that particular horse fell at the last hurdle and, before the meeting had ended, Denmark rallied and put in a case for a review of the situation next March – with the likely outcome now being that the pelagic vultures across the EU will all pick at this carcass and Ireland will be lucky to get 40% of a 12,000-tonne quota that they originally owned 100% of…

It is obvious that Ireland’s joining of the EEC has been a poisoned chalice from day one, but it is in the past 25 years in particular that the EU strategy for the Irish fishing industry has become clear:

* Keep reducing quotas, using negative scientific advice when possible but ignore these same advisors when they have positive recommendations;

* Talk about the need to reach MSY status for each stock and use that as another reason to cut quotas – but then ignore the facts when that same stock actually achieves MSY;

* Annual cuts in quotas results in the regular occurrence of there being too many vessels for not enough fish, so introduce a reduction in the size of the fleet – an ever-decreasing circle;

This has been an ‘all stick and no carrot’ approach to handling Ireland – all the pain and never any of the gain.

While IFSA supporters will be well aware that I am quick to point the finger of blame at our fisheries minister when it is merited but in this case one must look to the only two constants throughout the past 25 years of downward spiral – Ireland’s Department of Marine (under different titles over the years) and the EU Commission itself.

Over the past few decades Irish governments have changed (although always weak in terms of standing up for Ireland’s rights against EU oppression), ministers have changed, and even some of the Irish fishing and processing industry representatives have changed, but throughout all of this the structure that is the EC Fisheries Commission has remained the same and the Irish marine civil servants, and their secret allies within the industry, who rule the national fishing sector remain in place.

One is an abuser of power and the other a willing ‘enabler’ – more than happy to play a part in the abuse of the rights of Irish fishermen under an almost federal regime.

Even the least militant person in the Irish fishing industry must consider the fact that we are allowing the ‘management’ of this industry be controlled by two bodies with a dreadful history in their administration of this industry.

How is it that the EU Commission, who pride themselves with ‘sustainable’ management of the fishing industry have a track record that, more than 40 years on, in Ireland’s case at least, is still cutting quotas even after slashing the size of Ireland’s fleet by more than one-third?

Where is the ‘management’?

Where is the right for Irish coastal communities to be allowed to survive on its vital fishing industry?

And where is the right of Irish fishermen to question ‘the system’ both at national and EU level?

An editorial comment by Cormac Burke, Chairman, Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance

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The Ghost of Christmas Past – Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance Comment

by editor time to read: 8 min