Under the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, the Union has exclusive competence for the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy. Furthermore, the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities is the exclusive competence of the Council. Any changes to these fundamental principles would require a renegotiation of the Treaty.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) provides the framework for the long term conservation and sustainability of fish stocks around our shores and is designed to ensure the long term sustainability of fishing in Ireland and throughout EU waters. The CFP specifically calls for the progressive restoration and maintenance of populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). This will lead to healthy fish stocks, higher quotas for both Irish and EU fishers and to more sustainable fishing patterns.
In 2020, 45% of the stocks of interest to Ireland were fished at or below MSY - this increased from 34% in 2013. In 2009, at EU level only 5 stocks were fished at MSY. This shows that the many years of intensive, industry-led conservation measures within the framework of the CFP are paying off.
Under the CFP, EU fishing fleets are given equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds subject to allocated fish quotas. Fishing vessels, irrespective of size, must comply with the rules of the CFP, including rules on access and catch limits/quota.
The share allocation of stocks between Member States was established as a principle of the first CFP in 1983 and was based on the average catch of each Member State over a period of reference years (track record). The only exception to this relates to the Hague Preferences, on the basis of a special recognition agreement of the underdeveloped nature of the Irish fleet and the heavy control responsibility on us when Ireland joined the EU. The Hague Preferences give Ireland an increased share of traditional stocks (cod, whiting, haddock, sole and plaice) when Total Allowable Catch (TAC) levels reduce below a specified level.
As regards Bluefin Tuna, Ireland does not have a national quota for this stock but a small Bluefin Tuna by-catch quota is available to Ireland, primarily for use in our important Northern Albacore Tuna fishery and Celtic Sea Herring fishery. The UK also had also a share of the Bluefin Tuna by-catch quota and, under the EU/UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, a share of the EU’s Bluefin Tuna quota (0.25%) has been transferred to UK. We are seeking that this transfer to the UK is taken from the overall EU quota and is not taken from the by-catch quota available to Ireland.
In 2018, Ireland was successful, for the first time, in securing agreement that allowed countries without a commercial quota to set up a catch-tag-release fishery to contribute to the collection of scientific data. A Catch-Tag-Release science-based fishery for authorised recreational angling vessels has been in place in Ireland since 2019 and supports the collection of valuable data on the migratory patterns of Bluefin Tuna in Irish waters.
The EU percentage share of the international Bluefin Tuna TAC is set down and there is no likelihood that an international country will concede any share to the EU. The only way to obtain a share of the EU quota now would involve changing relative stability within the EU and would require a majority of Member States to agree under the qualified majority voting system. This means that EU Member States, with a national quota, would have to give up a share of their allocation to Ireland. Any change to relative stability - for any fish stock - would involve a loss for some other Member States and therefore poses particular challenges in a qualified majority voting context.
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement will, unfortunately, have a negative impact on our fishing industry. However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier Task Force agreed to UK demands or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone.
While the outcome on fisheries was a difficult compromise, this Government is working to ensure that the fisheries sector, and the coastal communities that depend on it, are supported. I advised the EU Fisheries Council in January and February that we consider that the quota transfers that fall to us in Ireland are disproportionate in terms of burden sharing. I have also made it clear that the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland is contributing to a strong sense of grievance within our fishing industry, and indeed more broadly, and Ireland will continue to push for a mechanism to be found within the EU Commission and relevant Member States to find solutions. Ireland intends to continue to keep the focus on this situation and use any opportunity available to seek constructive solutions that would help to alleviate this unacceptable position.
The European Commission Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) will provide support to counter the adverse consequences of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in Member States, regions and sectors, in particular those that are worst affected by that withdrawal, and to mitigate the related impact on the economic, social and territorial cohesion. I have listened carefully to the representatives of the fishing industry and I am reflecting on how to ensure that the funding made available to the sector is focused to meet the challenges of the sector and of the coastal communities most impacted.
Last week I announced the establishment of a Seafood Sector Taskforce, under the chairmanship of Aidan Cotter, barrister and former CEO of Bord Bia, and involving a broad range of seafood industry representatives and other stakeholders, to make recommendations to me on measures to mitigate the impacts of the reductions in quota share on the Irish Fishing Industry and on the coastal communities that depend on fisheries. I will be asking the Task Force to focus immediately on possible arrangements for a temporary fleet tie-up scheme to counter the impacts of the reduction in quotas which will impact our fishing industry from the beginning of April. The final report, to be delivered in 4 months, will address their recommendations for re-balancing and any other recommended initiatives to support our seafood sector and coastal communities. The Taskforce will also consider and recommend constructive actions that would help to alleviate the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland in the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
My Department’s forthcoming Seafood Development Programme 2021-27 under the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund will also play an important role over the next seven years in assisting our seafood sector adjust to the impacts of the TCA.
The CFP is reviewed every 10 years and the next review is scheduled to be completed by 31 December 2022 when the European Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on the functioning of the CFP. The EU Commission has advised that it intends to commence the Common Fisheries Policy review process following clarity on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. The review is expected to be detailed and comprehensive. At EU level, it is expected that all stakeholders will have an opportunity to engage actively in the review work including the fishing industry, eNGOs and Member States.
I will consider how Ireland will prepare for and participate actively and effectively in the upcoming review of the CFP, including the interaction with stakeholders, to prepare Ireland's case and identify priorities. I have previously stated that I am committed to doing all possible through the review of the CFP to secure additional quota where possible for Irish fishers. The Programme for Government sets down an ambitious programme of actions that promote a sustainable seafood industry and we are committed to working to continue to build on the progress that has been made to secure a sustainable future for our fishing industry and the coastal communities which depend upon it.