Fishing Industry: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and his officials. The first session concerns the forthcoming European Council meeting on agriculture and fisheries, AGRIFISH, and the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment. I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones. I ask the Minister to make his statement first.

Does the Chairman want to do this first rather than the freezer vehicles?

I am asking about the order in which you want us to do the three things. I thought we were going to do freezer vehicles first.

You can do whatever you like. You have three items within your-----

I wanted to respond to a request from the committee to deal with the freezer vessels.

Yes. I beg your pardon. Do indeed.

We can do it another day if you want.

No, do it now, please. A letter was sent on behalf of the committee by Deputy Pat Deering, the Vice Chairman.

First, the committee has asked me to deal with the reporting requirements of fishing vessels entering Ireland's exclusive fisheries zone. In terms of quotas, all fishing opportunities are set down for member states in the total allowable catch and quota regulation each year. Quotas are not allocated in respect of member states' exclusive fisheries zones, but are instead set out in relation to one or more International Commission for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, areas. ICES areas cut across exclusive fisheries zone boundaries. The quota allocations associated with each ICES area or areas of operation must be strictly adhered to by individual member states. Furthermore, the collection and transmission of catch and landings data is mandatory. However, the EU does not require vessels to inform the coastal member state of the quota made available to them when entering the exclusive fisheries zone to fish.

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, has advised me that the following arrangements apply. On entering Ireland's exclusive fisheries zone, the vessel's vessel monitoring system will provide the national fisheries monitoring centre at the naval base in Haulbowline with its position, which is in turn relayed to all naval vessels at sea and to all SFPA port offices. The plots of the vessel's position are recorded every 15 minutes, with the operational display refreshed every two hours, while the vessel is operational in Irish waters. The 15-minute positions are held within the vessel's system on board and can be called down if a catch area review is required, for which two-hourly records would not be sufficient. When the vessel commences fishing, its electronic reporting system will open the vessel's fishing logbook to be viewed by the fisheries monitoring centre and, in turn, all SFPA operational staff, and will relay by way of submission of records by the vessel master the detail of the fishing gear in use, the duration of each fishing operation, the location by longitude and latitude of the fishing operation, and the species, catches and discards, should they occur, in kilogrammes while the vessel is active in Irish waters.

In respect of the overall framework for fisheries controls in the EU, in October 2009, a new regulation dealing with fisheries' controls was adopted. Council regulation No. 1224 of 2009 establishes a community controlled system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. Control and inspection are now focused where they are most effective, through an approach based on systematic risk analysis. Inspection procedures are standardised and harmonised for all stages in the market chain, including transport and marketing. The control regulations were introduced in order that there is a common EU level playing field and to provide for an effective range of controls across EU waters.

The committee also requested that I address the possibility that large freezer fishing vessels carry on board independent fisheries monitoring personnel for periods of operation in Ireland’s exclusive fisheries zone. The SFPA and the Naval Service, through the fisheries monitoring centre, has monitored the movements of these vessels when in our exclusive fisheries zone using the vessel monitoring system, automatic identification system, and declared catches through the electronic reporting system or the electronic logbook, as it is known. I am advised that there are four freezer vessels currently in our exclusive fisheries zone and that no inspections have been conducted in recent days due to adverse weather conditions. These are ships. To board one of these vessels, the weather must allow one to do it safely. These vessels operate quite a long way out to sea most of the time and if one drops a rigid inflatable boat from a naval vessel, heavy swell would make it very difficult to go alongside this vessel to get on board. The Naval Service is very conscious of the concern and is anxious to make boardings and assessments.

This risk assessment had informed the SFPA’s identification of some of these vessels as a high priority for at-sea inspection and aircraft surveillance. The SFPA is reliant on the seagoing fishery patrol activity of the Naval Service to verify compliance of vessels not landing into Ireland. The weather has been particularly severe in the recent past. Boarding vessels of this size at sea creates specific challenges and to date the operational decision of the Naval Service has been that weather has been too severe to attempt a boarding operation safely. I am advised that the Naval Service has ships on patrol and is ready to conduct boarding operations on these vessels when weather conditions permit.

In terms of the control measures available to the control authorities, within the north-west waters member states group we are examining additional control measures to support the landing obligation. The ban on discarding pelagic stocks, such as herring and mackerel, came into effect on 1 January 2015. A control experts group from the north-west waters member states group has been set up and has produced a draft set of recommendations on additional control measures for the pelagic sector in respect of the landing obligation in pelagic fisheries. The views of the Pelagic Advisory Council on the recommendations have been received and will be fully considered. The draft recommendations of the control experts and the Pelagic Advisory Council's views are being considered by the north-west waters member states group. That is a group of countries that are fishing in similar areas and have similar interests which collectively try to make strategic policy and implementation decisions.

The measures recommended by the control experts cover a range of actions, including the use of cameras or other remote sensing equipment, on all large pelagic vessels, both freezer vessels and our own refrigerated seawater tank vessels, to support the landing obligation. It also recommends control observers “for individual trips to address dynamically-assessed risks of a more transient nature”. It is important to note that the flag member state would be responsible for placing control observers on its vessels. Any strengthened control measures must provide tools to both the flag member state and the coastal member state to monitor and control fishing activities better. I would not be satisfied with the idea that a Dutch-owned vessel would have a Dutch observer while in Irish waters. We need to reassure people, and the way to do that is to have Irish controls in place in the waters for which we have responsibility. We will continue to work closely with the north-west waters member states group to identify the control actions that are most useful in order that the landing obligation is fully respected.

Finally, it is important to point out that the control of fishing vessels within Ireland's exclusive fisheries zone is a matter for the Irish control authorities who monitor fishing activity of all vessels operating in the area. As Minister, I am precluded from getting involved with the operational matters, including those relating to law enforcement. That is for a good reason in terms of experience. I hope that is a helpful statement but I can answer questions if people have them.

I thank the Minister for his response. Deputies Harrington, Pringle and I are from coastal areas and we have been contacted by very concerned people about the action, particularly off the coast of Donegal, and the factory freezer ships like the Margiris operating there. The big problem is we are told that the only way to police them properly is by having a control observer on the vessel. From the Minister's presentation, it appears that the control experts advisory council has indicated that a flag member state will be responsible for placing control observers on the vessel. It is essential that if vessels are operating in Irish waters, and given the concern that exists, observers must include somebody from the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, or a similar body, which would have responsibility for the jurisdiction and protection of fish there. A programme was shown in Holland about people on board one of those vessels, which have graders and machinery to munch discards before letting them out underneath the boat. If that is happening, I am reliably told that going on what the programme shows, there are up to 70% discards, which will do terrible damage to fish stocks if it is true.

Is it the Minister's assessment from the advisory council that a control observer will be from the SFPA when vessels fish in Irish waters? Will the Minister say, definitively or reasonably accurately, that the percentage of quota allocated to those vessels is what is reported when they are in Irish waters? Are some of these vessels landing outside the EU jurisdiction? Does the Minister share the concerns that I and others have relating to what is happening now?

I thank the Minister for his response, although it probably raises more questions than it answers. There are a number of issues. There has been much concern over the past four to six weeks about the operation of these vessels off the west coast. As the Minister has said, there are four vessels there today and at various stages there have been four or five operating continually over the past number of weeks. The Minister mentioned control measures etc. that have been discussed at the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council. Would it be possible for the SFPA or the Naval Service to ask these vessels to come closer to shore to allow an inspection where it is safe to do so? Is that not something that would be within the control suite of measures that the Naval Service or SFPA could use? The Margiris is today only a couple of hours out of Killybegs and Bruckless Bay. If she could be instructed to come in and be inspected, at least it would be something.

The Naval Service and the SFPA have continually indicated over the past number of weeks that the weather has been too bad to allow any boardings. Is the Naval Service sitting off these vessels or watching what they are doing? The Margiris, according to the SFPA, has only a quota for horse mackerel in Irish waters and has no quota for anything else. Therefore, if the Margiris is not catching clean horse mackerel, it must be breaching the discard ban in place since 1 January. What visual inspections are taking place and what monitoring is ongoing? Are we relying on their electronic log book as a way of trying to police the operations of this vessel? The quota is for horse mackerel only and there must be something else happening. My information from fishermen is that it is difficult to get clean horse mackerel off the west coast of Ireland at this time of year, particularly with the bad weather we have had as well. The weather disperses the horse mackerel, even if it was clean, and breaks them up. What was the Department, the Naval Service or the SFPA doing over the past four or five weeks on this?

The Minister indicated in his contribution that inspection procedures are standardised and harmonised for all stages in the market chain, including transport and marketing. As I understand it, there is a requirement when fish are sold at the home port etc. that this must be reported as well through the EU process. In one example, Spanish vessels have sustainable fishing certification for hake within Irish waters but it is noted in that certification that there are no returns of sale figures when the fish are landed in Spanish ports. Do we have the same problem when the Margiris lands in Holland? What figures are received for what is caught in exclusive Irish zones, for example? How are people sure about what is happening?

A couple of weeks ago the Margiris and other vessels towed away large numbers of crab pots belonging to fishermen in Donegal. I have been advised by the SFPA that this is a criminal matter; it is reportable to the Garda and not covered-----

It is the towing away of fishing gear by these vessels. It is a civil criminal matter rather than a matter for the SFPA. On receipt of such a report, how would gardaí interview the masters of these vessels when they stay offshore and do not land into Irish ports? Could they be asked to come in? These are major questions on how this is policed and we can do that as a member state. This is taken in conjunction with how rigorously our own vessels are policed and monitored; to allow these vessels to operate with virtual impunity in our waters is very difficult for our fishing communities to accept or understand.

I have asked about observers in parliamentary questions as well and the answer has always been that if observers are placed on board, it is important to remember that they would be from the flag member state. That implies that we would not know what is happening anyway because the observer would not come from Ireland. I understand there is already provision for observers to be placed on the ships so what are we doing to make that happen? Are we raising this at a European level or with flag member states? If this relates to assessed risks of a more transient nature, surely the fact that the Margiris is fishing here with quota for a single species is a risk-----

Sorry, but that is not accurate.

That is the information I was given.

I can provide the information. To be fair, the Deputy may have received that information but I can give him my information in a while. I have much sympathy with what he is saying but it is important for us to be accurate.

The SFPA advised me that it only has a quota for horse mackerel in Irish waters.

It has a quota for nearly 650 tonnes of mackerel.

The SFPA has given the wrong information in that case when I queried the operations of the vessel. I will leave it at that.

I thank the Minister for providing that report to the committee. The truth is this has caused considerable comment and not just in coastal communities, as it happens.

It has become almost a national debate, in particular on social media and in some of the industry publications as well. The four vessels are the Margiris, the Annelies Ilena, the Jan Maria and the Willem Van Der Zwan, which are Lithuanian, Dutch and German ships. If we take what they say, and what the press releases of their association say, that they are operating in good faith, is there any reason that we cannot ask them that before they enter Irish-controlled waters they would come to port for a brief few hours for an inspection before they reach the fishing grounds and, similarly, as they leave, and if a boarding cannot be carried out by authorised officials, that the ships would be inspected at a port before they leave? They are not just fishing vessels; they are processors and that is the way they should be dealt with. There are cameras, inspections and at times much self-reporting in processing factories onshore. The regime is a little different. In this case, there are four processing vessels with huge capability not just to catch fish, but to process them. We take it at face value that they are catching within their quotas. The rules should apply in Irish territorial waters equally to processors onshore. A pre-fishing inspection and a post-fishing inspection in Irish-controlled waters should be acceptable if they are genuine and acting in good faith. I do not see how the vessel managers would not facilitate such a request if they were requested to comply. If not, I agree with the Minister that if officials were to hold onboard inspections then the inspectors should be Irish-based officials. I cannot say a Lithuanian, Dutch or German official would do anything differently but the perception would be all wrong and it would be difficult to manage.

It is worth noting that a significant amount of foreign or visiting vessels come into Irish waters not just in the pelagic sector, but also in the white fish sector. Equally, we have Irish vessels fishing in other waters. For example, a cod quota is caught by an Irish vessel in Norwegian waters and cuttlefish are caught by Irish vessels in UK waters, but the scale of it is completely different. There is a significant issue of perception and a greater effort in terms of being more proactive on enforcement would allay many fears. As Deputy Pringle and Deputy Ferris said, if the vessels are working outside the law, that would be picked up very quickly if such an inspection regime were in place.

I share many of the concerns expressed but it is inaccurate to give the impression that those vessels are operating with impunity. This year, the 58 year old skipper of the Annelies Ilena, formerly the Atlantic Dawn, an Irish boat – let us take a look at ourselves in the mirror also – was fined more than €100,000 in Donegal Circuit Court after being found guilty by a jury on three charges of illegal fishing in Irish waters. When we can, we do inspect and if there are problems we bring the boats into port. Deputy Pringle will remember the vessel being in Donegal. I do not mean when it was the Atlantic Dawn. That was not meant to be a jibe.

I have spoken to the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service and I know there is a desire to board and inspect the vessels. Part of the problem is that in the middle of winter, in particular given the weather in the past three weeks, there are safety considerations. My understanding is that there are legal difficulties in requiring a vessel to come into port without having some cause for requiring it to do so. It is expensive for a vessel of that size to spend a number of hours going into port, tying up, having an inspection and heading back out to sea. There needs to be a reason to bring vessels of that size into port.

The information Deputy Pringle has from the SFPA may have been correct at the time it was given but the information I have today is that the database shows that Lithuania has a quota of 644 tonnes of mackerel in ICES zones 6, 7 and 6B, of which 544 tonnes have been caught, and the Margiris has a Lithuanian flag. Lithuania also has a quota of 5,953 tonnes of horse mackerel, of which 4,000 tonnes have been caught. Lithuania has a quota for a by-catch of mackerel but whether it has got it through some kind of swap arrangement, which may be the case, it would mean that the information the Deputy got is technically correct but that the quota has been swapped to get mackerel in order to be compliant when fishing in Irish waters.

That swap might have only taken place after the vessels started fishing here.

I do not know. This is information we have had for a while.

The EU allocation for Lithuania was 164 tonnes of mackerel at the start of the year in areas 6 and 7. The vessels might have only got that swap in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, or the vessels may have done it before they came here, but the point is that they have paid for swaps and therefore they have a legal entitlement to catch both horse mackerel and some by-catch of mackerel as well. I can only take legal action if someone is breaking the rules and breaking the law. It is a very difficult situation. We are going on the logbook information that we can get on the vessels. I would like to be able to back that up by inspections and seeing what is happening on the vessels. I have made my view known but I do not want to force boardings of vessels in totally inappropriate or dangerous weather conditions. I wish to reassure people broadly, as I have had many communications on the issue, that we do board vessels and inspect them and if we find that people are breaking the rules we bring them in and prosecute them. There is a good example of that this year already.

To give members an idea in terms of the Netherlands, which owns most of the large vessels, it has a boarfish quota of 200 tonnes, a north-west herring quota of just over 1,600 tonnes, a Celtic Sea herring quota of 1,600 tonnes, a horse mackerel quota of 36,000 tonnes, a mackerel quota of 35,000 tonnes and a blue whiting quota of 55,000 tonnes. As most people who understand the fishing industry know, the pelagic sector in Europe is dominated by Dutch-flagged vessels. They are big players in this sector and we sometimes see their boats here, but they have a quota they are entitled to catch. They just happen to catch it in much bigger vessels than most other countries, and that is what is causing concern. Some of our vessels also have the ability to catch huge volumes of fish, very similar to what those vessels catch in a day, but they do not have the capacity to process them on board as well. The vessels are not as large physically but the fishing capacity in terms of net size is very similar.

Ultimately, this comes down to enforcement and reassuring people that not only are we getting information from electronic logbooks, but also that we are putting people on vessels and physically inspecting them, and that we are part of a decision around whether we put cameras on the vessels. There are very mixed views within the fishing industry as to whether there should be cameras on vessels. We are trying to come up with a balance that can reassure the broader public on the new rules of the Common Fisheries Policy in terms of the grading and discarding of fish and releasing large numbers of juvenile fish if the catch has an average size that is too small. That type of activity in the pelagic sector could involve very large volumes and we need to stop it. The industry is committed to that, but we must convince the public that we have a control system which is showing that is the case.

It is challenging in very stormy conditions in waters as large as Irish waters, even with the Naval Service on standby, which it is. That is the current position, given the weather conditions.

Arising from that, the Margiris achieved a swap of 644 tonnes, and I understand it came from another member state. It is important to put on the record that it did not come from the Irish total global catch.

No. It would take a lot for us to give away mackerel.

That should be put on the record. What did it swap it for, and with whom?

We can only speculate on that. Swaps take place within the pelagic sector involving mackerel, horse mackerel, blue whiting or whatever. However, all swaps must be notified to the Commission, so there will be a record of where it got that swap.

Can a swap occur between pelagic and demersal fish?

Yes, it can. In the past we have given mackerel for whitefish. The industry has volunteered it. When we were under pressure on whitefish we have traded mackerel.

When these vessels land in Holland or wherever and discharge what they caught off the west coast, I understand they are required to inform us of what has been caught here and the figures for the amount of fish they land so that they match up. Does that happen?

My understanding is that it does. However, the Department does not manage enforcement. That is the job of the SFPA. That is how the system is supposed to work. The electronic logbook records what has been caught, its weight and the species, and when it is landed in the port it should match up. That is how it works.

It does not happen in the case of Spanish hake caught in Irish waters. How do we know it happens? Surely the Minister, in terms of negotiating at Commission level and monitoring how the CFP is operating, should be aware of whether that happens.

If there are failures it is up to the SFPA to get through to the member state and get the information to which it is entitled. Obviously there are challenges when there are landings outside the European Union, such as in the Faroe Islands, Norway and so forth. Some of our boats land at the Faroe Islands and in Norway. This is a common issue. We must be careful that we do not point the finger at other member states and say that they are abusing all of the rules and so forth. This applies to everybody fishing in the pelagic sector. Most pelagic boats in the north-western waters are big boats catching very large volumes. What makes the freezer vessels different is that they process on board as well. They are physically huge boats and they are processing as they go. That poses certain challenges because they can stay out for much longer and when they land into port I am not sure how the catch is calculated from a weight point of view if it is processed at sea. I presume there are some challenges there.

Just to be clear about the reporting structures in terms of when they make their landings, it is up to the SFPA to follow up on that. It is also up to the SFPA to follow up with a member state if it is not receiving the information.

It does that, as far as I know. It has a good relationship with the enforcement agencies in the other member states. The way this should work, technically, is that wherever one fishes, the member state which has responsibility for that zone is there to enforce the rules. The electronic logbook should make available to everybody the information about what boats are catching in terms of species and weights, and when that catch is landed into a port those figures should match up. That is how the system should work.

When the penalty points were issued to the Danish vessel in the Irish Sea during the summer, the Danes said they would not allocate them to the vessel and that was the end of it. The SFPA had to take it up with the Commission. At what point does the Department, as policy maker, become involved in ensuring that these policies are working?

My understanding is that the SFPA is following up with the Danish authorities and the Commission on that issue. There are good reasons why the Minister's office and the Department are not involved in the hands-on enforcement. This is an operational matter. It is a little similar to the case of An Garda Síochána, where the Minister for Justice and Equality does not, and should not, make operational decisions. There should not be political influence in issues such as this. This is a matter of whether somebody catches what they have a quota to catch, and if they are breaking the rules the appropriate legal action should be taken. Introducing political views, policy or opinions into that type of role would be wrong and would obviously open up the system to undue influence and so forth.

It is not a question of political views or policies, but a question of whether the policy is working. At what point does a member state become involved in talking to other member states about how the policy is or is not working?

That goes on all of the time on the broader policy decisions. That is why we have a new Common Fisheries Policy. What the policy does is to try to ensure that the quotas allocated to member states are what is caught. That is the reason we are dealing with discards as we are and the reason we have a new regional decision making process, which is about policy and examining better methods for implementation. Once those policy decisions are taken the implementation responsibilities are with the SFPA. However, if it is not working we must change it.

That is the point.

The group I mentioned earlier, which meets across a number of member states, is trying to improve that enforcement capacity. That is the reason we are talking about observers on vessels and cameras, for the first time. That is certainly not being sought by the industry.

What about the Dutch?

The Dutch are not anti-cameras. It is other member states that do not want cameras. Incidentally, I am not satisfied that cameras will solve the problem.

That is why the Dutch want them. They do not want the observers.

The observers are the ones who can-----

It is evident that having an observer on board is the most foolproof way to deal with such a situation. It applies to every boat, including factory vessels and the big refrigerated tanks. It is difficult to understand that for five weeks nobody has been able to get on board them. Bad weather will probably blow over in 24 hours, whatever about the swell, but I believe they can be boarded. It is essential when there is the rumour or reality of fishermen grading fish on board and not observing the discard ban. That is wide open to abuse. The amount of fish being killed and lost in that regard is doing huge damage to the stock, so it must be dealt with.

That is happening. To be clear, that is now blatantly illegal. Grading is the same as discarding, except it is just mulching the fish.

The vessels should not have that equipment on board then. It is that simple.

An observer on board will stop all of that. It is the only way to go forward. The Minister should use whatever influence he has to ensure that observers from the member states are put on board.

This is an important issue and I am not trying to play it down. However, I wish to acknowledge the fact that within a week of the letter being sent there has been a response and the Minister is here to deal with it personally.

Can I ask something? Are the members of the committee saying that they wish to see observers on all vessels, including vessels featuring a refrigerated sea water, RSW, system?

They definitely should be on the factory ships.

I wish to clarify what they are asking me to consider.

The letter refers to factory ships, the huge factory vessels. I do not think it was RSW vessels.

It is vessels that do the processing on board.

They are processors. Offshore and onshore should be dealt with in the same way for a level playing field.

Okay. Perhaps the Minister will start the pre-Council discussion.

I knew the earlier discussion would take some time because the issue upsets many people. I will follow it up in discussion with other Ministers. We have received correspondence from the Dutch pelagic industry on this and that industry has also sent some letters to newspapers to give its side of the story. I realise there is concern about it so we will continue to discuss it.

With regard to the sustainable impact assessment of EU Commission proposals for this year, the annual fishing opportunities for fishing fleets are traditionally agreed at the December Fisheries Council. This year, the arrangements for 2016 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 14 and 15 December, which is next week. The levels of total allowable catch, TAC, and the quotas for Ireland will again be determined at that meeting following negotiations with member states and the EU Commission.

Before I discuss the substance of the impact assessment of the proposals, I will outline some pertinent facts about the Irish fishing industry. Sometimes there is a certain misrepresentation of the state of the industry and a desire always to focus on negative issues. Some positive facts about the Irish seafood industry are worth noting. The industry is worth approximately €850 million annually and employs 11,000 people. There are approximately 2,100 registered commercial sea fishing vessels in Ireland and there are 164 seafood processing companies here. Ireland exports seafood to 80 markets worldwide. The top five markets are France, UK, Spain, Nigeria, from which I have just returned, and Italy. The value of Irish seafood exports rose by 70% from €315 million in 2009 to €540 million in 2014. People who say this industry is dying on its feet should look at those figures.

Irish landings have substantially increased from 85,700 tonnes in 1973 to 314,000 tonnes in 2014 since Ireland joined the EU in 1973. The Atlantic waters where Irish vessels operate, stretching from the north of Scotland to Brittany and into the English Channel contain some of the most productive fishing grounds in the EU. Ireland's total share in 2015 amounted to 227,693 tonnes, with a total value of €205 million. Ireland's share of these fishing opportunities for 2015 represented 20% by tonnage and 19.5% by value. There are also very valuable inshore species which are not subjected to EU total allowable catch, such as crab, whelk, scallop and lobster, and are fished by the Irish fleet inside the six-mile coastal zone.

On the issue of quota in general, I am often called upon to get a bigger share of the quotas for Ireland or simply to ignore the quota regime altogether and allow a free for all for Irish vessels. I would love to get a bigger slice of the pie for Ireland but to do so it must come from another member state. The current quota regime was set down in 1983 based on track record in the 1970s and the only way to change this policy is to get agreement from member states and the European Parliament. I must be realistic. My counterparts in the UK and France are not simply going to hand over quota to Ireland. Consequently, my focus is on making the best possible use of the resource that we have and to build up that resource.

The process of preparing for the Council is now well under way with the publication of proposals for TACs and quotas of key stocks of interest to Ireland in mid-November last. The proposal covers stocks which are not subject to third party international agreements and are, in the main, whitefish and prawn stocks. Stocks which are subject to ongoing international negotiations - such as blue whiting and whiting in the Celtic Sea - are not included in the proposal yet. Earlier negotiations on the total allowable catch for mackerel for 2016 resulted in a substantial quota for Irish fishermen for next year of over 75,000 tonnes. This quota is worth over €63 million directly to our catching sector and the new long-term management strategy that was also agreed will provide stability to our fishermen in this vital fishery for Ireland by avoiding large variations in the quota from year to year.

A very important element this year concerns a number of demersal stocks that will be subject to the landing obligation in 2016 for the first time. The landing obligation or discards ban, as it is known, was a central element of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and was agreed by all member states as well as the European Parliament. For Ireland, the stocks affected in the first year from the point of view of whitefish, as it is already in force for demersal stocks, will be nephrops in area VII, whiting in the Celtic Sea and haddock in the Irish Sea and west of Scotland.

The point of the landing obligation is gradually to phase out the dumping of perfectly good fish at sea and to end the catching and discarding of juvenile fish. It will not be easy but it is vital if we are to protect the sustainability of our coastal communities that depend on healthy fish stocks. To give an example, we currently discard over 25% of our whiting catches in the Celtic Sea. We discard or dump 37% of our haddock catches in the Irish Sea. There are similar and worse rates in most of our fisheries. This is simply unsustainable and a dreadful waste of a valuable resource. Operators should use improved fishing gear that does not catch juveniles so that all mature fish can be landed for the benefit of our coastal communities. The bottom line is that we must constantly seek to manage what we have in a more sustainable way. We must only catch those fish that we want to catch and we must avoid juveniles. We must challenge the status quo and strive to make our fleets more efficient in what they do in order to maximise the economic return and protect the sustainability of our stocks. That is essentially what the new Common Fisheries Policy is about. It will benefit everybody in time, including fishermen.

One measure to lessen the immediate impact of the discards ban which was included in the CFP, at my insistence, is that the Commission is obliged to take account of previously discarded fish when considering its TAC proposals. So called "quota uplift" must be applied to the TAC for each of the affected stocks. This is a complex process and has not yet been finalised. However, I am optimistic that there will be a degree of uplift for the relevant stocks in the final outcome next week. I will aim to ensure that Irish fishermen get the maximum uplift compatible with stock sustainability. In my experience fishermen understand fully the importance of protecting our natural resources and are open to new ways of doing things. They also understand, more than anybody, the importance of good science. Our industry works closely with the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, in the industry science partnership to ensure that knowledge is fully shared.

The Commission's proposals for TACs and quotas for 2016 are based on formal advice received from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, the independent international body with responsibility for advising on the state of fish stocks. It also takes account of the views of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, STECF, which gives the Commission its views on the economic, technical and social impacts of the scientific advice. To inform my negotiations at the December Fisheries Council, I have had an assessment of the impacts of the Commission proposal undertaken. The preparation of this impact assessment is provided for in the programme for Government. To facilitate and inform these deliberations, an open consultation process was initiated, whereby stakeholders were asked to submit their comments and observations on the Commission proposal for fishing opportunities for 2016. From 11 November, an online web portal on was activated to enable the transmission of electronic submissions for consideration.

In addition, I convened a meeting of stakeholders on 24 November which gave a further opportunity to interested parties to outline their positions directly to me on the many aspects of this proposal. In all, four submissions were received by the closure date. The full content of all the submissions received by the deadline is to be found on the website.

I agree with the sentiment in many of the contributions which call for greater adherence to the available scientific advice to enable prudent and appropriate management decisions to be taken allied with a concern that if we introduce total allowable catch, TAC, and maximum sustainable yield, MSY, level in a big bang, it would be an unacceptable scenario in terms of economic and social impacts. Let me be clear; I will not support cuts unless I am satisfied they are necessary. If the scientific advice is clear that cuts are necessary, I will support them, but I will not support cuts which would simply create a real risk of generating higher discard levels than at present, or where there is a risk that overly severe cuts could jeopardise seriously the social and economic sustainability of our fishing fleets. I want and will fight for sustainable fish stocks, but hand in hand with this I will fight for a sustainable and vibrant fishing industry in terms of working through the changes we will introduce in the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP.

I will go into more detail in a moment, but to illustrate what we are facing next week, I will outline some of the cuts for some other important stocks. Their proposed reductions are 9.6% in nephrops, and this includes the Commission's proposal for a quota uplift; 43% in cod and 27% in haddock in the Celtic Sea; 52% in haddock in the Irish Sea, and this includes the Commission's proposal for quota uplift, which seems extraordinary; and 12% in monkfish in the Celtic Sea. I do not believe that reductions in quota on this scale are either justified or necessary. There are stocks where I can accept the cuts proposed, for example, Celtic Sea herring, which is prudently managed by the Celtic Sea herring management advisory committee. North-west herring is also of major concern to the Commission, which proposes a zero TAC. This is another complex issue. Given the fact there are two stocks and two management areas, the science cannot for one moment differentiate between the two.

The Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, have undertaken an evaluation of the Commission's proposal, which is contained in the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment. From a purely biological perspective, the Marine Institute's view is that while noting an improvement in the status of some fish stocks, others remain a concern. The impact assessment summarises the pressure on the 72 stocks dealt with in the 2015 stock book. There are a higher number of sustainable fish stocks, at 26, and percentage, at 36%, in 2015 compared with last year. The percentage and number of stocks overfished has declined in 2015, although the number and percentage of stocks with unknown status is similar to last year. The specific details for all stocks are available in the document laid before the Dáil and in the accompanying stock book prepared by the Marine Institute. I am willing to address any specific issues on the individual stocks raised.

The current set of proposals will see a net reduction in fishing opportunity of 13.8% by volume. This amounts to a direct income reduction of more than €11.5 million. These figures can be further explained. There is a proposed net reduction in fishing opportunity for the demersal sector, which is white fish and prawns, of 12% by volume, with a direct income reduction of €10.4 million. Of this, the prawn fleet will see a critical reduction of 9% by volume. This includes the Commission's proposal for uplift and a direct income reduction of €5.5 million.

For the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and west coast, there will be an 18% reduction in fishing opportunities. This is €12.4 million for the demersal fleet. This will directly impact on the ports of Clogherhead, Howth, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay, Dingle, Castletownbere and Rossaveel as well as other smaller ports. The picture is somewhat better for the north-west stocks, in that there is a 14% increase in fishing opportunities, which is €900,000 in value, for the demersal fleets. This will directly impact on the ports of Greencastle and Killybegs. We still have zero proposals for herring and we need a small fishery for this stock.

In addition to the direct losses to the fleet, income will also be lost from the processing sector as a direct result of reduced catches and in a number of ancillary industries such as net making, chandlery, engineering and refrigeration. Based on turnover multipliers from fish landed in distinct Irish ports, BIM estimates the full costs of the proposed quota reduction are in the order of €23.5 million. BIM further estimates on the basis of the most recent employment survey that these reductions could impact on between 275 and 325 full and part-time jobs, either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies.

The proposals do not include the Hague preferences, which are a safety net for the Irish fleet on specific stocks where total allowable catches are in decline. These are additional amounts of quota which Ireland and the UK claim for important white fish stocks. Many member states object strenuously to their application as the additional quota comes off their allocations. Ensuring the preferences are applied will be a key political objective for me in the negotiations. The loss of these allocations in 2016 would amount to more than 1,300 tonnes of fish, with a direct value of €2.6 million according to BIM. The full value of the Hague quotas in 2016 is €5.2 million, with an associated impact on between 60 and 70 full and part-time jobs, either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies.

Apart from the stock specifics, there are also other issues of a cross-cutting nature I would like to comment on briefly. Regarding maximum sustainable yield, I am committed to the ambitious policy of achieving MSY by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest. This must be implemented in a rational and progressive manner. In line with the CFP, I consider that we will need to phase in delivering MSY if its immediate application seriously jeopardises the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleet. Cod and haddock in the Celtic Sea are examples of fisheries where there is, I believe, a strong socioeconomic justification to delay the delivery of MSY in the short term, but in any case ensure its delivery by 2020 at the latest.

I concur with the findings of the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment. I will not support cuts based on an overly narrow or rigid interpretation of the scientific advice. I will seek to make full use of the flexibility allowed under the Common Fisheries Policy, where justified. I will support cuts where the scientific advice is clear that the reduction in fishery mortality is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the stocks in question. There is a high cost from a social and economic perspective when quota cuts are imposed, and I must be satisfied in every case that these cuts are justifiable. Fishing ports and entire communities around our coast are dependent on fisheries for their very survival.

I publicly thank and acknowledge all those who contributed to the production of the impact assessment, and I look forward to the debate and any questions people may have. I reassure the fishing industry and NGOs that we will approach next week in the way we have done in recent years, using science as the basis of our arguments. I must have the interests of stocks in mind but also people's livelihoods to ensure we can keep them in business through a very demanding transition period, which is what we are in at present in terms of implementing a new Common Fisheries Policy.

I thank the Minister for his presentation. The proposed cuts will affect the economic stability of the fleet and coastal communities in a detrimental way and the social consequences will be felt across the spectrum. From what the Minister said with regard to the Hague preferences and job losses, there will be almost 400 job losses and €23.5 million in total reductions for those areas. It will have a massive effect.

To be clear, the Hague preference is a subset. The overall employment figure is between 275 and 325, but it is still a big figure.

That is included.

That is not something I can accept.

I am sorry, I thought they were separate. It is still a big figure. When the negotiations are approaching, the worst-case scenario is laid out and people are conditioned for what is coming. When the outcome is not as bad as that, however, the negotiations are considered a success, but that is not the reality. We still have the consequences of reductions in catches and income and the economic stability of the fleet that is involved, as well as that of local communities.

I assume the Minister has a bottom line that is determined after his discussions and negotiations with the stakeholders. Stakeholders include the fishermen, buyers and others in the sector. I also assume that the scientific analysis on the areas that will be affected by the cuts stands up. Is the Minister satisfied that is the case? Is he also satisfied that the scientific analysis is as accurate as one might expect?

I said to Deputy Pringle that every year I look at the cuts and the north west seems to get off a lot lighter than everywhere else. Perhaps the area has more influence.

To be fair, in recent years they do not have influence on the whitefish side.

The people that have influence up there are not interested in whitefish and the Minister knows that well.

Yes, the cuts are in the whitefish sector.

The cuts in the Celtic sea are minus 43% and minus 27% for cod and haddock, respectively. Haddock in the Irish Sea is minus 52%. Monkfish in the Celtic Sea is minus 12%. Prawns are minus 9.6%. They are significant cuts. If memory serves me correctly, all those sectors and areas were hit last year as well. There is a gradual process of reduction in the catch quota in those areas. The Minister said he would try to push this out to 2020.

That is on the maximum sustainable yield, MSY.

The Minister is aware of the situation. He has been around the country and seen the state of coastal communities and how they have suffered in the past. He is aware of the consequences of a bad negotiation. Fishing has probably been the most depressed sector in the economy. That is only evident when one goes into areas where there was vibrancy 40 years ago but there is no vibrancy evident now. Reference was made to the improvement in the catches since 1973. The Minister said Ireland’s total catch was approximately 87,700 tonnes at that point and that it increased to 314,000 tonnes in 2014. I assure the Minister there was much more than 87,700 tonnes of fish caught in 1973. The additional tonnes were just not declared. A lot more than 314,000 tonnes of fish were caught and they were caught by those using far inferior vessels. I wish the Minister good luck. He should be conscious of the social consequences of a bad agreement.

I call Deputy Ferris. I am sorry, I mean Deputy Pringle.

I thought the Chairman was going to let Deputy Ferris back in again.

I thank the Minister for the presentation. In his opening comments he said he is constantly being told that he should get more quota for Irish fishermen. We do not seem to have a high-level vision at European level of Ireland’s position in terms of fishing. In the past five to six years we were constantly told how much Germany is the paymaster of Europe and we have to toe the line and do everything we are told by Germany. Everyone does bend the knee to Germany and we have seen the outcome of that for every other country. Since we joined the EU we have contributed fishing stocks to every other member state. The EU changed the rules as we were negotiating membership to make protection of fishing stocks the sole competency of the Commission, which was its only sole competency at the time. That was because they knew what we were bringing to the table and we did not because our industry was underdeveloped. We should make a high-level case at every opportunity in Europe and we should have a vision. Sinn Féin’s vision is of a united Ireland and that is what the party works towards and will try to achieve at some point. We do not seem to have a vision for the fishing industry. Our vision seems to be to make the best of an ever-decreasing cake every year. We just manage to get as much out of the declining stocks as we can every year.

The quota uplifts are already included in the proposed cuts by the Commission. What is on the table from the Commission already includes quota uplifts. Is that a correct interpretation? If it is, the CFP changes were sold on the basis that while it would be difficult especially in the demersal fleet for fishermen to meet the discard ban, there would be a quota uplift that would recognise the difficulties and see how that might be achieved. What would the total allowable catch, TAC, proposals be if they did not include the quota uplift? How much of a quota uplift is included in the TACs that are proposed?

What role does the social impact assessment play in the negotiations and does it carry any weight? Is it just a negotiating tool for the Minister? I would like to see more done in future years in terms of the social impact assessment rather than just looking at the value and loss in value of landings. There are bigger social impacts evident around the coast in terms of the impact on communities, for example, in increased emigration and loss of human capital. I would like to see the assessment expanded in future because we were told the Commission is supposed to be looking more closely at social impacts.

My final question relates to north west herring and the need to have some form of TAC, in particular for small-scale fisheries. That is vitally important, especially for boats of less than 15 m and less than 10 m. They should have some amount of TAC because it is one of the few types of fishing that is sustainable for them if they could get access to quota. It is vitally important that some TAC would be negotiated in respect of north west herring.

I call Deputy Harrington as Deputy Ó Cuív was not present.

I was not here earlier as I was busy. Unfortunately, I had other things to do.

I thank the Minister and his officials for reporting to the committee in advance of the Council meeting. It does paint a very bleak picture, in particular for area VII in the south. It is important to get an idea of what that means for coastal communities as well as they look on the negotiations with some fear. There is much riding on how the negotiations will progress. From that point of view we wish the Minister the very best of luck in dealing with the proposed cuts by the Commission.

Those communities continue to invest quite a lot. There is increased investment in enforcement as there is a new system of penalty points. There is a greater enforcement effort in particular onshore in the factories. The authorities are essentially following the money in the fishing industry. There is greater compliance offshore due to the fear that exists. We were hoping that we would see some return on that, in particular in terms of a quota uplift and reporting of discards, which is still legal in most species, in particular on the demersal side.

It seems disappointing. It would be interesting to see the figures on a quota uplift based on what the Marine Institute and the FSAI believe are the actual amount of discards based on what fishermen do. I would be very interested in comments on that. Part of the reporting structure in the stock book shows improvements in some fisheries while some remain a concern. We do not know what stocks have deteriorated and how that ties in with the Commission's proposals. That has an impact on trying to achieve the maximum sustainable yield, MSY, by 2020. The fishing community will have to make big investments. It needs to see a better effort by the industry, the discards implementation committee or the Department at informing fishermen about what is actually going on and how they are to achieve these MSYs and greater sustainability beyond 2020 while putting up with cuts proposed by the Commission.

The reality is that in some fisheries - and it is sometimes seen on the pelagic side where there have been cuts and reduced quotas and landings - it has had a positive impact on prices. However, that does not happen with white fish, it simply does not work. A proposed cut in the whitefish sector, unlike prawns for example, does not have an impact on price. We are price followers in many ways and white fish is expensive at market. It does not increase but this measure does have a real effect on take-home pay for the fishing community. It is a different dynamic between the two fisheries.

With regard to the social impact it is clear that either we do not have enough quota or we have an over-capacity in the whitefish fleet. It is becoming unsustainable for many operators who would have made a living in the recent past. They are finding it increasingly difficult despite the inputs into the industry and with fuel costs being low. We still see family businesses under immense pressure. It is most disappointing that the enforcement regime, the compliance regime, the introduction of discards, the banning of the landing obligation and the MSY issue - which needs to be dealt with over the next four or five years - are all meant to give a return to the communities yet it seems to be going the other way. This should be the central plank of the argument regarding the social impacts of these cuts for coastal communities, especially in the south and south-west.

I will be brief. It is getting late in the day, we still have an awful lot to discuss at this committee this evening and I must also attend the Dáil. I accept the Minister's comments up to a point and that the current inequitable fishing arrangement was arrived at in the 1980s. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. We do not receive a disproportionate amount of German mine or British mine yields or any other wealth. Fishing was the one resource for which everyone made a power grab. I did not agree with the decision when it was made and I still do not agree with it. One might say, as the Minister has, that nothing can be done about this. Normally I would accept that but I believe the Government, up until March 2016 and whoever comes after, has a unique opportunity to do something about this situation. Our neighbours in the UK are rewriting the rulebook. It is important for this State to say: "Well if it is good enough for the UK to rewrite the rulebook then Ireland cannot agree to any rewriting of the rulebook unless a few rules are changed for us also." God loves a trier and the crying baby gets the bottle. If one does not cry one does not get the bottle. The Government should put down a stake in this wide negotiation into which the UK Government is entering. Let us be honest about it; other countries perennially put down stakes at EU meetings over matters they consider of national importance - over things that happened more than 100 years ago.

It is a travesty that Ireland has only 4% of the EU fish, even though 14% of the fish is in our waters and is worth €2 billion to €3 billion per year. It is equivalent to all the funding being paid annually by the EU. Can the Minister indicate if the Government will, if re-elected, make a case in Europe that the totally unjust 1980s arrangement should be put to rights? We have a unique opportunity because there is no doubt we will be asked to support some package for the UK and I do not believe we should give them a free lunch. The interests of our people must be negotiated as well. We are not looking for anything that is not ours, we are just looking for our own property back.

One of the big failings of the Common Fisheries Policy was the failure to get the Hague preferences made permanent. A great play is made every year to save the Hague preferences and each and every year they are "saved". Some years a Minister will fail to save them and that is worth 70 or 80 jobs, as the Minister has said himself. Will the Minister say how confident he is that the Hague preferences will be saved?

This committee and the sub-committee have done a lot of work on the inshore fisheries sector regarding coastal communities and islands. One of the very sensible proposals was to seek to reserve a greater area of sea for boats measuring under 10 m. In the context of population it seemed that this would suit a lot more fishermen because 80% of the boats in Ireland are under 10 m. Electorally there are more people involved with small boats than bigger boats. Has any effort been made to sell the idea as a conservation measure of the fish and of the communities? In its treaties the EU is always talking about protecting rural, isolated and depopulated communities. Has the Minister put the proposal forward officially in Brussels that Ireland would get a significant extension of sea area which would be retained solely for boats under a certain size? This is a way to help our inshore fishermen. Obviously that would be beneficial for France or Spain but because we are an island - and as far as I am concerned we live in one country that goes the whole way around the island - because of our coast Ireland probably has more shoreline than any other country in Europe. I would be interested to have an update on the case made by the Minister to his colleagues in Europe and how much tick tacking he has done with colleagues across Europe. Our British colleagues would be very interested and Scotland would be incredibly interested in this proposal. Minister Michelle O'Neill in Northern Ireland would also be interested in the whole island approach. Will the Minister indicate what he has actually done at European level to progress the idea, put forward by this committee, to increase the inshore area reserved for smaller boats? If one lobbies them right, many French fishermen would be in favour of the proposal. I am sure small, inshore fishermen in Spain and other countries feel the same challenges as our inshore fishermen from the large factory fishing boats. I am very interested to find out what the Minister has done to promote the idea which was unanimously put forward by the sub-committee, set up by this committee.

The inshore sector is not part of this debate, which relates to taxes and quotas. As Deputy Ferris and others will be aware, most of the inshore sector is not involved in trawling.

They could be involved in trawling.

Many of the inshore boats are not involved in fishing for quota species. We have done a great deal for the inshore sector in recent years. For the first time, it has proper representation and is represented on quota allocation groups. Also for the first time, it now has regional representative bodies in addition to its national representative body. The Department will allocate approximately €7 million to the sector from the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund under the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure it can run its operations properly and have a powerful say in future policy and quota decisions. We have already made a decision, with input from the sector, to deal with recreational potting, which we will effectively prevent, except on a minor scale. Tight restrictions will apply to what recreational potters can do when catching crabs or lobsters. This is being done to protect the stock for the commercial sector. We are doing a great deal on the inshore side, which is a sector that was ignored until a few years ago. It now has a voice and is getting things done.

I do not disagree with Deputy Ó Cuív that there should be a greater emphasis on providing opportunities for the inshore sector. If we can negotiate that as part of European policy, that will be well and good, but I do not want to pretend we can do much in that area in the absence of a new Common Fisheries Policy, because that is where policy is decided. I am focusing instead on achieving outcomes that can be delivered and providing the inshore sector with finance and an input into policy decisions, as has occurred for the first time. We will examine the development of new product and branding opportunities around line-caught mackerel, for example, to create more and new opportunities. In addition, as I have made clear to the industry, if we secure a north west herring quota, an allocation will be made to the small inshore vessels to ensure they benefit. While a small quota for the bigger guys would mean a couple of additional days work each year and a top-up to their income from some of the other big operations they have in mackerel, a small quota would make a significant difference to inshore fishermen. I have spent a great deal of time meeting and speaking to representatives of the inshore sector. We will make the regional and national inshore fisheries forums, RIFF and NIFF, the new representative model for the sector. This process is well under way.

My preference was to have the Hague preferences enshrined in the new Common Fisheries Policy. While this was not possible, we significantly improved the position that obtained before the new CFP was agreed. The Hague preferences are mentioned in the preamble of the new policy, and while this is not guaranteed every year, we still need to negotiate and ensure we win that battle. I would like the Hague preferences to be enshrined as a right, as opposed to being something that we have to negotiate. They are certainly very much in place and it will be difficult for other countries to dismiss them.

People refer to renegotiating the relationship in terms of the Common Fisheries Policy and so forth. Britain is seeking to renegotiate a whole series of issues pertaining to its relationship with the European Union, yet nothing in the area of fishing has been included in the negotiation process. Despite all the talk about Britain getting its fishing waters back from Europe, there is nothing in the negotiations about fishing.

Could we not put the issue on the table?

I suggested that we put it on the table.

I am not saying the Deputy's suggestion about the position with regard to the UK was in any way different from what I indicated, but it is important that people know what the position is in that regard. Either Britain has recognised that the Common Fisheries Policy is good in terms of fish stocks or it has recognised that it cannot renegotiate the CFP. Either way, it is not part of the package being renegotiated.

We are interested in trying to secure a bigger slice of the cake for Ireland and I will take any opportunity I can to achieve this objective. However, I must try, year after year, to secure the best deal I can for fishermen in terms of providing practical assistance and income. That is where the Department focuses its efforts.

The Common Fisheries Policy was agreed during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and under Ireland's chairmanship, and I am very attached to it. To argue that there is no vision for fishing is completely untrue. The new Common Fisheries Policy is a more visionary document for fishing than we have seen since Ireland joined the European Union. We have committed to apply science in a much more rigorous manner. We have committed to a model of sustainable fishing and maximum sustainable yield. We have committed to regional decision making in a much more effective manner and we have committed to ending the disgraceful practice of discards, which is not the fault of fishermen but a by-product of flawed policy. We are trying to ensure stocks in Irish waters, some of the most fertile fishing grounds on the planet, will grow and become more sustainable. We will achieve this, with our European Union colleagues, through a Common Fisheries Policy. I would love to be able to renegotiate the percentage allocation for Ireland under arrangements that have been in place for many years. However, as that is not currently an option, we are acting in those areas in which we have options.

On maximum sustainable yield, a commitment has been made to apply maximum sustainable yield by 2015, where possible, and to all stocks by the end of 2019. When there are good socioeconomic reasons for not applying it immediately, we should not do so. That is what was agreed in the Common Fisheries Policy. There are plenty of people who would like to rewrite the document to suggest that we should insist on maximum sustainable yield for all stocks without delay. That is a purist view from a conservation perspective and one that would devastate fishing communities if implemented. The objective is to try to introduce this approach over time to give the fishing industry an opportunity to change and adapt while remaining in business. Everyone will benefit when we reach our destination. That is our objective and it will be the tone I adopt when I contribute to the debate next week. I will seek to ensure that we apply the policy piece by piece, sector by sector and stock by stock, whether this applies to the introduction of the ban on discards, the obligation to land or maximum sustainable yield. Clearly, there are very strong socioeconomic arguments to be made on some of the stocks.

The information available to me indicates that the position as regards prawns would have been 10% worse if it were not for the quota uplift. In other words, instead of a reduction of approximately 9.5%, the quota would have been reduced by 19.5%.

That is a 100% worse, not 10% worse.

There would be 10% fewer prawns.

There is a big difference between the two.

The proposal without a quota uplift would have reduced the prawn catch by almost 20%. As a result of the quota uplift, the reduction will be less than 10%. Having said that, this does not take into account many of the other issues. We are being forced to reach maximum sustainable yield for prawns next year. Considering that prawns are the most important species for the Irish fishing industry bar none, including mackerel, if ever there was a case for socioeconomic management of a stock to reach a common destination by 2020, it should apply to prawns. Prawns are worth more than €100 million to the Irish fishing industry and most of our whitefish demersal boats rely on them. This gives a sense of where we would be on prawns without quota uplift and where we are as a result of having quota uplift.

I have a considerable degree of faith in the science behind this, having become fairly familiar with the work of the Marine Institute over the past five years. I am also aware of the institute's role in the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, at a very senior level. I have great faith in what it says. That is the basis for my arguments each year and that approach has worked reasonably well in recent years. Consecutive cuts have not been introduced year after year.

There have been some big increases too. The value of our overall quota in the past five years has increased, not decreased. Different stocks have ups and downs and different sectors have ups and downs in terms of fishing zones, among other issues. We will try to get the best outcome we can, working with the Marine Institute. We have lost one key ally in someone who has gone to work for the Commission, but we still have a very strong team in the Marine Institute, and that will be very helpful. Mr. Paul Savage is present today.

I am coming to BIM now. In terms of the socioeconomic impact of the implementation of what is being proposed by the Commission, it would be a devastating blow in reality to be losing 200 to 300 people in the fishing industry and to have a significant reduction in numbers for some very important stocks. The work BIM has done is very sobering and it will act as a motivator for me to make sure I get the best deal I can, as it has done in recent years also.

Most of the questions have been answered. I assure the committee that we are not toeing anyone else's line, with regard to the comments that were made about Germany earlier. When it comes to fishing we are very much doing our own thing and trying to get the best possible deal we can from an Irish perspective.

I thank those members who offered them their good wishes for next week. In many ways next week is like the budget for fishermen. They will watch what the outcome is, as it will impact directly on their income levels and fishing opportunities for next year. It is a hugely important time for the fishing industry. In all the big ports, fishermen will be watching what comes out of Brussels next week. I am under no illusions. There is a lot of responsibility to try to get the best deal we can and to make sure we look after stocks in a responsible way as well. I will meet the industry representatives again on Sunday night in Brussels before the negotiations start and I will stand over whatever deal we get by the middle of next week.

I thank the Minister and his officials for coming in to give us an overview. I also thank members for their informed and constructive comments and questions. We wish the Minister well.

Before I adjourn this section of the meeting I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that we will meet him in the morning to discuss the Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015. I will allow the Minister and his officials to withdraw. In session two, we will meet with Mr. Aidan O’Driscoll, the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to discuss the six-monthly report on EU developments, and then we will speak to officials in the genomics section.

The committee has a busy day.

Yes, absolutely.

Sitting suspended at 5.33 p.m. and resumed at 5.36 p.m.