Thursday, 6 December 2018

Questions (9)

Thomas Pringle


9. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on recent negotiations resulting in the 20% reduction in the mackerel quota for fishermen here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51117/18]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

This question is about the annual mackerel quota allocation. Every year, doom and gloom is announced beforehand along with major potential cuts. Then the Department rides in on a white horse and saves the day by securing a smaller reduction. At the same time, the quota is reduced every year. What is the Department's view on the annual negotiations?

The negotiations the Deputy refers to are those concerning the management of mackerel in the north-east Atlantic, which is Ireland’s single most important fishery. The negotiations concluded in Bergen last week after five separate rounds and the parties to the final agreement were the European Union, Norway, and the Faroe Islands.

Ireland is the second largest EU quota holder and my officials participated in every stage of the talks. The countries involved in the negotiations have agreed to a 20% reduction in their mackerel quotas for 2019. The reductions reflect the available scientific advice that the abundance of this stock has declined. This level of reduction is seen by all parties as essential to ensure that the stock is fished sustainably. Irish fishermen will now have a quota worth over €55 million directly to our catching sector for 2019.

Agreement was also reached on a two-year extension of the sharing arrangement between the main parties - the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. This provides a welcome degree of stability for this hugely important fishery. Mackerel is Ireland’s single most valuable fishery and, in my view, this agreement provides stability combined with a precautionary approach to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the stock. The scientific advice is currently being reviewed and assessed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES. The coastal states will meet again to consider the outcome of that review when it becomes available. This is expected to happen early in 2019. While the quota for Ireland is less than that of recent years, those quotas were unusually high by historical standards. The quota of 55,000 tonnes for 2019 is in line with our historical average quota. Ireland will continue to be cautious with this critically important stock.

On the scientific advice, the fishing industry is very critical of it and questions whether it is accurate. What is the Department's view? Could the Minister expand a bit more on that? It is critically important in deciding the total allowable catch for any species. There is some concern within the industry as to whether it was accurate and reflects what is being seen on the ground. What role does the Department take in deciding on the advice? What is the Minister's official view on the scientific criteria that are used?

As the Deputy is aware, the ICES advice was for a 61% cut in the total allowable catch, which would have been 318,000 tonnes, of which our share would have been substantially less than the 55,000 tonnes we have got. What has been agreed is a 20% cut but also a review of the science in early 2019. Issues have been raised with the data inputs that contribute to the formulation of the advice. A benchmark review of those data has begun and that is expected to conclude in February. We are open to a review of that science. I have personally engaged with members of the industry on that matter. They are adamant that the science may be incorrect and cite previous instances where this has proven to be the case. It was incumbent upon us to have an open mind in that context and to take a precautionary approach in establishing the quota, which sees a cut but also intention to revisit that in reviewing the science. All of us have a shared interest in making sure the stock is fished sustainably. That is why we will be revisiting this in February.

I still have not got to what the Department's view actually is on the scientific advice. Does it have a view? It seems that it does not and that it is just going to wait and see. Maybe we should take on a stronger role. If our fishing organisations and possibly the Marine Institute are taking a view that the scientific advice is wrong, surely the Department must have a view on it as well. That is vitally important in respect of whether this review will be taken on board or will be just another sop that fishermen will have to put up with.

It would not be for the Department to deliberately undermine science. We are generally advised on these matters by the Marine Institute in particular. There is within ICES and implicit within the decision a willingness to reconsider the science, to look at how its conclusions were reached and at the data inputs that led to the suggestion of a 61% cut in the total allowable catch for 2019. The Common Fisheries Policy provides that we are obliged to take on board the science but also its socioeconomic impact. This is specifically provided for, although sometimes conveniently ignored by some commentators, to find a balanced outcome. We felt it was prudent to review the science once ICES had conducted its review.

It is a reasonable position to take given that we in the Department are not scientists and we are advised by the scientists in the Marine Institute, whose findings feed into ICES. That will be reviewed in February 2019.

Permission has been given to Deputy Heydon to ask Question No. 10 on behalf of Deputy Burke.