I wish to reassure the House that I recognise the value and importance of maintaining vibrant coastal and island communities. My Department and I have been creating and supporting policies to support inshore fishers all around the coast including islands. The majority of the fishing vessels based on islands are smaller vessels. Inshore fishing boats currently make up more than 80% of the fishing fleet and support an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 jobs. This economic activity is vitally important to the coastal communities around Ireland, including the island communities from which these boats operate. The national and regional forums are supporting initiatives that seek to protect the collective interests of the inshore sector in Ireland including on our islands. The NIFF has been effective in its participation on the Quota Management Advisory Committee, advocating on behalf of all small-scale fishers to influence how Ireland's uptake of quota is achieved.
In relation to quotas for fish stocks, these are available to small scale coastal fishermen who are licensed to fish for quota stocks including whitefish and pelagic stocks. Catch limits are set for whitefish stocks primarily based on the length of a fishing vessel. On this basis, all vessels under 55 feet in length receive the same catch limit. The important pelagic stocks of mackerel and herring already have allocations made available that supports inshore vessels.
In Ireland, quota is a public resource and this policy ensures that quotas do not become a saleable commodity that is bought up by large companies to the detriment of small scales operators, as has happened in other Member States. The result of this long-standing policy is that the Irish fishing fleet involves a balanced spread of sizes and types of fishing vessels which have retained a strong economic link with our coastal communities. This in turn delivers economic activity, including vital employment, in these communities where there are limited alternative economic activities.
On 21 December 2018, following a full public consultation process, I announced that vessels over 18m length overall will be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020, with a phased reduction of the sprat fishery until 2022. I am mindful of the opportunity these measures will provide for further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector to fish within this area and with lower environmental impacts.
The proportion of landings being foregone by larger vessels will provide opportunities to smaller inshore and island fishermen which would represent a potential increase of 62% in the value of their landings. Additionally, the increase in availability of sprat and herring (when stocks recover) to smaller vessels will represent a diversification opportunity as these species are found in bays and coastal areas during the winter.
I am very conscious of the exclusive reliance of small scale and island fishermen on inshore waters and the benefits this change will bring for those fishermen. I firmly believe that this will, in the medium term, provide ecosystem and nursery stock benefits for all fishermen.