Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Questions (11)

Thomas Pringle


11. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the application to Europe for bluefin tuna quotas taking into account the potential in angling tourism in Donegal Bay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5625/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

My question relates to the potential of a bluefin tuna angling industry to develop in Donegal Bay. This could be vitally important in providing employment in the off season and in the angling season. In order for it to develop, we would need a quota. There is a catch and release programme but there has to be a quota to develop, yet the Department is dragging its heels when it comes to making that happen.

Ireland has not made a specific application to Europe for a commercial bluefin tuna quota. The available bluefin tuna quota is allocated each year to member states on the basis of relative stability as established in the late 1990s. At the time, Ireland had no track record of commercial fishing for bluefin and, accordingly, did not receive a quota allocation.  The only way to obtain a share of the EU quota now would involve reducing the shares of those EU member states which do have quota and for whom bluefin is an important commercial fishery. A small bluefin by-catch quota is available to Ireland, primarily for use in our important northern albacore tuna fishery and the Celtic Sea herring fishery, where there can be bluefin tuna by-catch. This by-catch quota is also available to other member states of the European Union.

While obtaining a viable commercial quota is unlikely in the short to medium term, I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy that during the negotiations for the new management plan for bluefin tuna in the east Atlantic, Ireland was successful in introducing a clause allowing countries without a commercial quota to set up a catch-tag-release fishery. This will allow for the gathering of scientific data by trained tagging operators. My Department is currently working with the Marine Institute and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, as well as the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which has policy responsibility for recreational angling, to establish a pilot project for such a fishery in 2019. I believe that this fishery will be most beneficial to Ireland, as it will increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in north-western waters, while also providing a small but valuable tourism benefit to peripheral coastal communities such as those in Donegal Bay.

There is no doubt that the tagging quota gets over the short-term problem of not having a quota but that is all it does. The quota is for tagging and scientific research but not for the tourism industry, which is vitally important. The by-catch quota is something like 100 tonnes.

It is 60 tonnes.

This is in comparison with a European total of up to 8,000 tonnes. One would think that, given the value we give to Europe in terms of fishing rights, Europe would be able to reciprocate with a quota of 50 tonnes or 60 tonnes to allow fishermen to work in the off-season and to allow the development of an important industry in coastal regions, standing alone rather than related to scientific research.

For clarification, we are putting in place a catch-tag-release fishery, which will facilitate the angling tourism product to which the Deputy referred.

The allocation of a permanent quota is made through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICAT. The European Union is one of, I think, nearly 50 participating bodies in the negotiations for the allocation of a tuna quota. We do not have a European Union allocation of a bluefin tuna quota because we do not have a track record in that regard. If we were to seek to open up relative stability, the basis on which quotas are allocated, it would undermine, in the first instance, our approach to the Brexit negotiations, which has been to leave the Common Fisheries Policy and relative stability as issues to be negotiated in the next round of negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy and remain focused on our core interests. Seeking a quota would be akin to a member state with no mackerel quota at present seeking one and looking to open up relative stability on that basis. The Deputy will appreciate the analogy. I am sure he would hear a lot from his constituents about it if Ireland was to be seen to accede to such a request. Effort is a critical issue and relative stability a key policy plank, but we do not intend to open up negotiations at this point. What we are doing is facilitating the recreational angling industry which I know the Deputy is interested in promoting in his area but which also has potential in other areas along the western seaboard.

The Minister's example of the mackerel quota might have relevance if mackerel were swimming up to piers in countries that did not already have quotas. This brings us back to the situation in Iceland, where it is dealing with mackerel it already has, but the fact is that people can sit and look out their windows and see where the bluefin tuna are. The reality is that if we are to allow our fishing, costal and rural communities to develop, we must have a dynamic system that can accommodate it. I do not believe the Minister would open up the relative stability issue for the sake of a quota of 40 tonnes of tuna because that would be a way of kicking to touch so as to ensure nothing could happen. That is the real problem.

We do have a by-catch quota which is necessary for those who fish for albacore tuna and those involved in herring fisheries. We have a by-catch quota of 60 tonnes, but we do not have a designated bluefin tuna quota.