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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Dec 1995

Vol. 459 No. 8

Adjournment Debate. - EU Fishing Quota Negotiations.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Mary Coughlan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ireland will be more seriously affected than any other member state by the 35 per cent reduction in the mackerel quota and the concessions granted by the EU to Norwegian fishermen. The dependence of coastal areas on fishing and that we have 5 per cent only of the total allowable catch and 16 per cent of EU waters makes this reduction all the more unacceptable. For many fishermen it will mean a 35 per cent cut in earning potential.

Two years ago EU fishery scientists advocated an increase in the mackerel catch but last year they called for a 20 per cent reduction. It stated that if this arrangement was agreed there would be relative stability in the mackerel stocks for the foreseeable future. On this basis, fishery interests planned for the future and some made considerable investments in the fishing fleet. Despite reports about an abundance of mackerel and boats tied up because it was so easy to catch the quota, a new proposal for an 80 per cent reduction was heralded. This has been reduced to 35 per cent. On the basis of these glaring inconsistencies, how can we rely on the scientific evidence?

Norway seems to be calling the shots in the EU on this question, despite voting to stay outside the EU. Growth in the herring stocks off the northern coast of Norway and between Norway and Iceland has meant the Norwegians can increase their herring quota by more than one million tonnes. As a consequence, the reduction in the mackerel catch will only have a marginal effect on them. They will be able to compensate and make up the shortfall but we will not be able to do so.

To compound this disaster for fishermen, the EU decided to offer a further 24,000 tonnes of blue whiting off the west coast to Norway on top of the 200,000 tonnes it already has. As if this was not enough, the EU is conceding the right to Norwegian inspectors to come into our ports, despite the fact that the same inspectors have virtually crucified Irish vessels in Norwegian waters. It is well known that Irish fishermen have been refused entry to that country for the most flimsy of reasons. In a recent case a perfectly legitimate catch — the fish were perfect and the factory wanted the stock — was refused landing by the inspectors.

Irish fishermen are virtually excluded from fishing in Norwegian waters. While Norway has stayed out of the EU it apparently has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages. I call on the Minister not to ratify this deal and to enlist the support of our EU colleagues in safeguarding the future of Irish fishermen.

I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me. This matter was raised prior to the deal being agreed. We have now reached the stage where many people, some of whom are unskilled, will no longer be able to gain employment in the fishing industry. If the cut is 35 per cent this year what will it be next year and the year after? If it is larger, we may as well close the industry. The decision to increase the amount of blue whiting which may be fished will merely serve to compound the anger of fishermen about the proposed reduction.

I stated previously in the House that the cuts should be in the areas where they will have the least effect, for example, the Scottish fleet. There will be problems if we do not ensure the negotiations are conducted by the elected representatives, that is the Minister, and not by unelected representatives, that is the EU Commission or its secretariat. We should look at the development of the marine industry not the destruction of it.

The fishery in Killybegs has been closed this week. The reduction of 35 per cent represents the loss of approximately 500 jobs. Norwegian fishermen are dumping salmon on our market, thereby reducing the price, and they have scant regard for the European Union. I do not understand why we should not show scant regard for their industry. They welcome our fish when the price is good but they do not want to see Irish fishermen in their ports when they have enough fish of their own. They cannot have their cake and eat it and the Minister must look seriously at this matter.

It is absolutely necessary for proper investment in research on mackerel stocks and new species. Like herring fishing some years ago, mackerel fishing is now in danger. If the IDA invested the same amount of money in a factory as many individuals have invested in the fishing industry we would give them great support. However, this has not happened in the fishing industry. It is a sad day when a marine state like Ireland with depleting stocks is not given the attention it deserves by the EU. Further consideration must be given to proper investment and research and the measures which can be taken in the interim.

My colleague has asked the Minister not to sign the agreement. I do not know what political support he would get, but he should make every effort to secure the support of his counterparts in the EU to prevent this reduction.

I welcome the opportunity to advise the House on the outcome of this year's EU negotiations with Norway on the 1996 fisheries agreement and my response to it. The negotiations were concluded in Brussels last weekend and the agreement will be tabled for ratification by the Council next week. The negotiations covered a number of species in which there is joint EU-Norwegian interest. Ireland's primary concern is in the mackerel agreement. I will deal later with the imbalance in the arrangements for the mackerel share but I wish first to comment on the scientific advice on the total allowable catch.

The international and national scientific advice on the mackerel stock is very pessimistic. This year's report of the Advisory Committee on Fishery Management which was unequivocal in its view stressed the need for quick and decisive management action to help bring about a recovery in the stock.

The mackerel stock is now considered by the scientists to be at an all time low. This view is based on ongoing biological stock assessments and the 1995 international mackerel egg survey. The scientific evidence indicates; that the spawning stock biomass has declined alarmingly; recruitment to the stock in recent years had been well below average and fishing mortality is at an all time high.

The scientific advice must be taken seriously. I fully accept, and so does the Irish industry, that we cannot afford to be complacent about the state of the stocks and clearly decisive action is needed if stock collapse is to be avoided.

The scientists advised that an immediate 80 per cent cut in the mackerel total allowable catch was needed to restore viability. They also indicated other possibilities involving less drastic reductions in catch but with the increased risks involved in a slower rebuilding of the mackerel resource. A cut of the magnitude of 80 per cent would have had devastating effects on the Irish pelagic fleet and the related processing sector which is of vital economic importance for our north west coastal communities. A level of reduction is required but the approach should be incremental and sustainable over a period. We pressed, in EU co-ordination, for this medium term strategy to achieve a balance between scientific and conservation imperatives and the industry's need for certainty and sustainable fishing over the forseeable future. The so called "quick fix" solution by taking such a major reduction at one go does not strike the necessary balance. Anything other than an incremental approach would decimate our pelagic fleet which does not have the scale and extent of fishing opportunities available to the Norwegians — not just in their own fisheries but in EU waters as well. This is a point to which I will return. In the event the Commission and other member states accepted our view and the Commission negotiated on that basis. In the final analysis the Norwegians who had been seeking the 80 per cent cut, accepted the medium term strategy based on a TAC of 420,000 tonnes next year although only after three rounds of very tough negotiations.

I am satisfied that the medium term approach to the mackerel TAC, as opposed to drastic "quick fix" solutions, represents the necessary balance between acknowledged scientific concerns and the vital economic needs of the mackerel industry. However, I am not satisfied with the continuing imbalances in the mackerel agreement when it comes to share, access and other entitlements.

We have very serious, longstanding and principled grievances about the balance of the bilateral agreement which is heavily weighted in Norway's favour. While there is no further concession this year to increase Norway's share of the mackerel stock, we consider that Norway has been conceded too high a share over recent years, that flexibility to fish this stock for EU fishermen into North Sea and Norwegian waters is far too limited and that Norway has been granted excessive rights to fish for species in western waters. Redressing these imbalances will not be easy but I made it very clear to Commissioner Bonino, and at successive Fisheries Councils this year, that it must be pursued as a strategic EU objective.

In this context, the proposal in this year's accord to increase Norway's entitlements to blue whiting by 24,000 tonnes represents yet another strategic gain by Norway in terms of fishing opportunities in western waters. In practice this fishing is largely concentrated in the west of Ireland for much of the year. I am very unhappy with the outcome of the Commission's negotiations on this issue. We objected on the night, in EU Co-ordination, and I have written to Commissioner Bonino this week putting my views firmly on record and looking for a solution. I also wrote to the President of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Atienza of Spain.

I await the Commissioner's reaction and I will of course be pursuing this fundamental issue of principle at next week's Fisheries Council. I met the industry yesterday and they are fully behind my efforts to obtain a solution which takes full account of Ireland's genuine concerns. In my letter to Commissioner Bonino I stressed that we are a small, peripheral country trying to build a sustainable fishing sector, develop fish processing and planning to expand into alternative species such as blue whiting. The concession of blue whiting to Norway further erodes the long-term scope for expansion by the north west pelagic industry.

I will be pushing this issue very vigorously in the days ahead and I am sure I can rely on the full support of the House in taking a very tough stance indeed.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 15 December 1995.

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