Fisheries Protection.

I raise this urgent matter because we have an opportunity in the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting to reverse the proposal on closing box 6A. European fisherman will not be allowed to fish within an area comprising 14,600 square miles, or 23% of Irish waters, for a period of one year until the end of December 2009. This will specifically affect the whitefish sector.

Small boats from Greencastle, Burtonport, Killala or Belmullet cannot operate beyond the 100 fathom limit. While I welcome conservation measures in general, bigger French and Spanish trawlers will be able to hoover up cod, whiting and haddock beyond the 100 fathom line. The only people who will suffer, therefore, are the small boat operators who have traditionally worked within this limit. How can we draw a line in Ireland's seas in the interest of conservation? Do we expect fish to stay within this line rather than swimming to the area fished by Spanish and French trawlers? I do not think so.

We need to consider the reality of this situation. We are in effect erecting two pillars and a gate at Ballyshannon in southern Donegal and closing an entire industry. These fishermen were unable to avail of the decommissioning scheme because their boats were too small. They are left with the burden of making repayments on boats. They cannot fish for the next year and will have to sell their boats, which are worthless because they do not come within the remit of the decommissioning scheme, or walk away from the industry to claim social welfare.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food needs to show strength and leadership in Brussels by applying for a derogation for these small boats. There is no reason why they should not fish on a small scale in 23% of Irish waters. They will remain within the parameters of conservation measures.

The scientific and impracticable solution of drawing lines in the sea will not work. Even if we were to limit the days at sea in mackerel fisheries to six weeks as a conservation measure, modern technology and advances in boat building allow boats to hoover up fish during that period. Boats from all over the world take fish during the permitted days at sea.

We have to come up with a new solution. This is an island nation and our fishermen have proposed solutions. I urge the Minister, Deputy Smith, to allow men in small boats who do not damage whitefish stocks to continue fishing. He needs to see sense.

The entire coastal community of Ireland opposed the Lisbon treaty on the basis that it will drive fishermen out of a traditional way of life. I will give those on the Government side of the House some advice. If they want the people to buy into any European treaty we need to start to be pragmatic and introduce a wee bit of common sense. If we show leadership, creativity and vision at a national level we will have a common sense result on our future in Europe.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an dTeachta Joe McHugh as an cheist thábhachtach seo a ardú. This matter refers to a recent proposal by the European Commission which calls for the establishment of a moratorium on fishing certain whitefish species in the area off the north west coast — technically called Area 6A which covers the areas from the south Donegal coast north to north of Scotland. It applies to all waters of a depth less than 200 m. The proposed ban prohibits any fishing activity within this specified area. Certain very limited derogations are allowed. According to the Commission, its justification for this measure is based on scientific advice which has determined that the stocks of haddock, cod and whiting in the area are in poor shape and need time to recover. The stated purpose of this proposal is to provide "breathing space" for these whitefish species to recover.

Derogations for fishing in the area are to be allowed for fishing of pelagic species, shellfish with pots, and nephrops with 80 mm mesh using a Swedish grid and where at least 90% of the catches on board are nephrops. Fishing for saithe and anglerfish will also be allowed.

The scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas for cod in this area is that the spawning stock biomass is low, with low recruitment into the stock in recent years. From a precautionary perspective the advice for 2009 is for a zero catch. The scientific advice for haddock in the area is that the stock is at risk of reduced reproductive capacity and of being harvested unsustainably, and recommends a closure of the fishery in 2009 and the development and implementation of a recovery plan as a prerequisite to reopening this fishery. The advice for whiting in this area is also indicating that the stock is in a poor state.

This proposal has come as a complete surprise and the Commission had not given any advance warning or notification of its intentions. The proposal has been included in Annex III of the Commission's 2009 total allowable catch and quota proposal, which was published on 10 November. The total allowable catch and quota regulation sets out the various fishing opportunities for member states for 2009.

The president of the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations, currently a representative of the Federation of Irish Fishermen, sent a letter to the Commission regarding the proposal on 29 October. The European Association of Fish Producers Organisations expressed its surprise regarding the proposal and the Commission's method of presenting it. The letter points out that the Commission has not followed normal practice and did not consult stakeholders through the EU Regional Advisory Council or other industry groups. It points out that it is unacceptable for the Commission to make this proposal without at the very minimum consulting the stakeholders and assessing the serious impacts this measure will primarily have on coastal fleets of the adjacent countries which do not have the technical capacity to change activity. It also pointed out the danger that there could be a significant displacement of effort to other areas and the socioeconomic effects of such a drastic measure should have been evaluated in advance by Scientific, Technical Economic Committee for Fisheries. The EAPO is requesting the Commission not to proceed with the proposal, but instead to immediately put in place a consultation and evaluation process.

My colleague with direct responsibility for fisheries, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, who is dealing with this issue in Brussels at present, shares the industry's concerns about the lack of consultation and forewarning of the Commission's intentions regarding this ban. It is clear to me that the proposal as it stands could have significant adverse socioeconomic impacts on the fishing communities off the north-west coast. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, has already raised his concerns with the Commission and has asked for a proper evaluation of the measures by the STECF and for full discussions with stakeholders through the Regional Advisory Council.

The proposal, in its current form, would have serious implications for Irish fishermen and Irish coastal communities. We share the concern that it could also cause a significant displacement of fishing effort to other fishing areas, as vessels capable of moving to other areas shift the focus of their operations. This could also have major implications for stocks outside Area 6A where increased fishing activity will take place. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, recognises the need for strong conservation measures for cod and the associated stocks of haddock and whiting as do the Minister, Deputy Smith, and I. Today at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, he accepted Commission proposals for the recovery of cod in this area. These proposals involved restrictions on catch and reductions in the number of days vessels spend at sea. The recovery plan involves year-on-year reductions in the total allowable catch and the fishing effort until safe biological limits for the stock is achieved.

The plan's objective is to rebuild stocks so that fishermen and fishing communities can look forward to healthy stocks fished at sustainable levels into the future. While this plan is targeted at cod recovery, the reality is that the reduced effort will apply to cod, haddock and whiting and this coupled with the reduced total allowable catch levels now being proposed will help to rebuild all these stocks over the coming years. In these circumstances, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, remains to be convinced that the additional measures, at least in their current form, are necessary.

The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, will be liaising closely with the Federation of Irish Fishermen on this issue and working hard in advance of, and at, the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council to ensure that any measures agreed at the Council are proportionate, appropriate and take into account the situation of the Irish whitefish fleet in this area.