I welcome the opportunity to present the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment to the committee. As in previous years, a rigorous assessment has been undertaken to examine the implications for Ireland of the EU Commission’s proposals for the fixing of total allowable catch, TAC, for the coming year. The EU Commission proposal was issued on 7 November and a number of non-papers updating the proposal have issued since. As the committee will be aware, the final arrangements for 2019 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 17 and 18 December. The levels of TAC and the quotas for Ireland will be determined at that meeting following intensive negotiations with member states and the Commission.
The waters surrounding Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds in the EU. We have a duty of care to protect their biological richness and, as such, they must be managed responsibly and sustainably. Ireland’s total allocation of quotas in 2018 amounted to a total value of €266 million. There are also very valuable inshore species which are not subject to EU TAC including, for example, crab, whelk, scallop and lobster, and are fished by the Irish fleet inside our six-mile coastal zone. The process of preparing for the Council is now well under way. 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 are not included in the proposal as yet, with the exception of mackerel. While those negotiations are ongoing we know at this stage that there will be at least a 20% cut for 2019 and possibly more.
Next year will see the full implementation of the landing obligation or discards ban. This 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. It will cease the dumping of perfectly good fish at sea and end the catching and discarding of juvenile fish. This is a common sense goal but the obligation comes with significant challenges. We must be determined to face these challenges head on if we are to ensure the sustainability of our vibrant coastal communities that depend on healthy fish stocks. There are a number challenges that can only be addressed by common action from the Commission and the member states and I will pursue these issues vigorously.
The proposals themselves are based on formal advice received from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, the independent international body with responsibility for advising on the state of fish stocks. The proposals also take 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.
In order to inform my negotiations at the December fisheries Council, I have had an assessment of the impacts of the Commission proposal undertaken. To facilitate the assessment, an open consultation process was initiated whereby stakeholders were asked to submit their comments and observations on the Commission proposal for fishing opportunities for 2019. From 7 November an online web portal on www.fishingnet.ie was activated to enable the transmission of electronic submissions for consideration. These portals remained open until 21 November and three submissions were received by the closing date. The full content of all the submissions received by the deadline will be published on the fishingnet.ie website. In addition to the written submissions, I convened a meeting of stakeholders including fishing industry representatives and environmental NGOs, on 23 November. The purpose of this meeting was to give a further opportunity to the main stakeholders to outline their positions on the many aspects of this proposal. I would like to thank all of the various stakeholders for their contributions to this impact assessment.
As always, there was a range of views among stakeholders. However, there were also commonalities and I agree with many of the sentiments expressed through the consultation process. These include a call for adherence to the available scientific advice to enable responsible and appropriate management decisions to be taken. However, this must be balanced against the concern that major cuts to TACs could have severe socioeconomic impacts. In this context, I will not support cuts unless I am satisfied that they are absolutely necessary and fully supported by rigorously assessed, clear scientific evidence.
A very serious concern in the proposal is the fact that the Commission has not allocated quotas to member states in accordance with our respective shares for a number of key stocks. Instead, it proposes a by-catch TAC that would be available to any member state. This is completely unacceptable as it would considerably dilute our share of key stocks and lead to a race to the bottom or Olympic fishing. Such an outcome would be devastating for our fleets and the sustainability of the stocks in question. I am working closely with other relevant member states to ensure that these particular proposals are dropped.
Apart from this issue, I also have concerns with some of the TAC level proposals, for example for haddock in the Celtic Sea, which is minus 14% and for cod in the Celtic Sea which is minus 58%. This is also a Union TAC. For our most important demersal stock, nephrops, there is mixture of advice depending on the area. While some areas are showing an increase in abundance, there is significant reduction in others. In overall terms, the collective advice is for a 32% cut. The Marine Institute is currently examining the advice to determine if all relevant information has been considered in its formulation. Once that analysis is complete I will be able to assess whether there is a case to be made to mitigate to some degree the scale of the cut proposed. Following the consultation process and the expert advice of the Marine Institute, I do not believe that the full scale of these reductions in quota is either justified or necessary. I will accept cuts where the scientific advice available to me is unequivocal, for example, for Celtic Sea herring.
There is some good news in the proposal for certain stocks. Cod, haddock and plaice in the Irish Sea will all see increases as will megrims, monk and hake in other areas. The Marine Institute and BIM have again made an invaluable contribution to the assessment of the Commission’s proposal, which is contained in the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment before the committee today. I would like to briefly set out the findings of that assessment.
From a purely biological perspective, the Marine Institute's view, which coincides with the ICES view, is that there has been an improvement in the status of some fish stocks. However, others remain a concern. In the impact assessment, the Marine Institute summarises the pressure on the 74 stocks dealt with in the 2018 stock book and compares this assessment with the same evaluation presented in the stock books from previous years. There is a higher number of sustainably fished stocks, at 32 in total and a higher percentage, at 43%, in 2018 compared with last year. The percentage and number of stocks overfished, at 22% and 16%, respectively, has also increased in 2018 whereas the stocks with unknown status declined slightly from 28% to 26% or from 38% to 35%. The specific details for all stocks are available in the document which has been laid before the Dáil and in the stock book, which was prepared by the Marine Institute and is available on its website.
The socioeconomic impact assessment of the Commission’s proposals does not fully account for Ireland’s share of fishing opportunities. The current proposals exclude a number of important stocks - mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting - where the final European Union total allowable catch, and member states' quotas, depend on external, third country agreements. If agreed as they currently stand, the Commission’s proposals would see a net reduction in fishing opportunity, or quotas, of 15% by volume and 17% by value. In financial terms, this amounts to a direct income reduction of €34.67 million. These figures can be further explained, as follows: a net reduction in fishing opportunity for the demersal sector - whitefish and nephrops - of 5.7% by volume and 15% by value, with a direct income reduction of €20 million; and a potential minimum net reduction in fishing opportunity for the pelagic sector of 18% by volume and 20% by value, with a direct income reduction of €14.67 million.
The regional analysis of these figures is as follows. For north-west stocks, in what is known as area 6, there would be a 26% increase in fishing opportunity, valued at €2.1 million, for the demersal - whitefish and prawn - fleets. This will directly impact the ports of Greencastle and Killybegs. For the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and west coast stocks, in what is known as area 7, it is estimated that there will be 14% reduction in fishing opportunity for the demersal fleet. This reduction is valued at €24.31 million and will directly impact the ports of Clogherhead, Howth, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay, Dingle, Castletownbere and Ros an Mhíl, as well as other smaller ports.
In addition to the direct losses to the fleet, income is also 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, refrigeration, and so on. This will obviously have a knock-on effect for employment and BIM further estimates, on the basis of the most recent employment surveys of the catching sector, that these reductions could impact 500 full-time and part-time jobs. This could occur either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies in the seafood sector.
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. Essentially, these are additional amounts of quota that Ireland and the UK claim for important whitefish stocks. Many member states object strenuously to their application as the additional quota comes off their allocations. Ensuring that the preferences are applied will be a key political objective for me in the negotiations. The loss of these allocations in 2019 will amount to at least 1,222 tonnes of fish, with a direct value of €2.4 million and an associated impact on between 40 and 50 full-time and part-time jobs, either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies.
To conclude, I fully concur with the findings of the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment, which highlights the significant impact the current proposals could have on the Irish fishing industry. While significant challenges lie ahead over the next three weeks, I will do my utmost to agree a fair and balanced package for Ireland that ensures the continued vibrancy of our industry and the long-term sustainability of our stocks. I thank and acknowledge all those who contributed to the production of this impact assessment and look forward to the debate on the conclusions.