The state of the Celtic Sea herring stock is assessed annually by the Marine Institute and these assessments are reviewed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES. The assessments of this stock in 1998, 1999 and 2000 indicated that there were no serious concerns about the stock. A recent assessment of the stock gave dramatically different results, suggesting that the stock had declined significantly in recent years. The Marine Institute regards the recent assessment as uncertain and ICES decided in May that the assessment was not sufficiently realistic to form a basis for management advice. The Marine Institute and the fishing industry's South and West Pelagic Committee have agreed a co-ordinated scientific programme to be carried out over the summer months with a view to clarifying the state of the stock in advance of the ICES meeting in October.
Over the past year, I was approached by vessel owners who had participated in the Celtic Sea herring fishery in the past and were now precluded from participating by virtue of the fact that they had upgraded their vessels under the whitefish renewal programme and had not been able to purchase the necessary increment of active pelagic tonnage. I agreed to look at the policy of applying preclusions to fishing licences in these circumstances and I am in the process of consulting the industry on whether or not this aspect of fishing vessel licensing policy should be changed. To date I have made no decision in this matter.