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Maritime Jurisdiction

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 17 January 2017

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Questions (679, 680)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

679. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the exact location of the 12-mile fisheries and territorial limit on the Irish Sea at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1371/17]

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Louise O'Reilly

Question:

680. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the fisheries and territorial limit on the Irish Sea is not where the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, allows, if it can be changed in view of the fact that current legislation which predates the UNCLOS seems to be used to define the limit territorial waters can extend to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1372/17]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 679 and 680 together.

Since the 1930s the territorial sea and fishery limits of the State have been progressively extended in line with developments in international law. The present rules are set down in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Ireland became a party in 1996. The Convention extended the maximum permissible limits of a coastal state’s territorial sea from three nautical miles to 12 and, by creating the new exclusive economic zone, extended the maximum exclusive fishery limits to 200 nautical miles. Provision for these rules of international law is currently made in statute by Part 3 of the 2006 Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, which replaced and updated the Maritime Jurisdiction Acts 1959-1988.

The outer limits of the territorial sea in the Irish Sea are established by reference to Section 83 of the 2006 Act, which provides that the limits are ‘the line every point of which is at a distance of 12 nautical miles from the nearest point of the baseline.’ The baseline is defined by section 85 of the Act and means that in the Irish Sea the outer limit of the territorial sea is the line every point of which is at a distance of 12 nautical miles from the coast of the mainland or of any off-shore island.

Under section 88 of the Act ‘the exclusive fishery limits of the State comprise all seas that lie inside the outer limit of the exclusive economic zone.’ The outer limits of the exclusive economic zone are established by section 87 of the Act.

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union member states have transferred to the Union exclusive competence for the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy. That policy rests on the principle of equal access to fishing grounds within the member states’ 200 mile fisheries limits, which in turn is a concept that stems from the fundamental Treaty principle of non-discrimination among member states.

As a temporary derogation from that policy the arrangements made under the 1964 London Fisheries Convention for fishing within 12 miles of the coasts of the states in North West Europe have been maintained within the European Union, and were again temporarily preserved for a ten year period at the time of the most recent reform of the common fisheries policy in 2013. The 1964 Convention allowed the states concerned to extend their exclusive fisheries limits to 12 nautical miles at a time when international law permitted a territorial sea of just three miles in breadth, subject to the condition that the vessels of states that had traditionally fished in the six to 12 mile band be allowed to continue doing so. These limits, and the arrangements applying within them, are currently set out in Irish law in the 1984 Fisheries Limits (European Communities) Regulations.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 1989 that the six and 12 mile limits established by the 1964 Convention cannot be altered for the purposes of the common fisheries policies to take advantage of subsequent developments in international law because the arrangements that apply within them are a derogation from the principle of equal access and non-discrimination under European law.

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