I arranged to meet Commissioner Fischler on 12 March to discuss with him, at first hand, a number of marine issues of particular interest to Ireland. The primary focus of our discussion was in relation to the Irish box. However, we also ranged over other issues such as current progress on the development of long-term recovery plans for cod and hake stocks and also the new fishing effort limitation scheme in operation off the north-west coast since the beginning of February.
In so far as the Irish box is concerned, I again emphasised to Commissioner Fischler the biological sensitivity of fishing grounds within the box on which Irish fishermen are highly dependent. I also reiterated to the Commissioner the importance of preventing an increase of fishing effort within the Irish box. A migration of fishing effort into the Irish box would be inconsistent with the overriding need to conserve stocks and in that regard I stressed the particular need to maintain an equilibrium between fleets and stocks.
The Commissioner accepted my view that this is a vital issue that needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. He also accepted that a Union approach must be followed in this case and that a bilateral approach would not result in a resolution of the current situation. As I have previously advised the House, the existing Commission proposal is completely unacceptable and must be radically amended. In that regard, I advise the Deputy that the Commissioner undertook at our meeting to reflect further on how this matter can be resolved.
On the basis of recent soundings, it is clear that Ireland's position and concerns are not being satisfactorily addressed in current Commission thinking on a possible compromise. Accordingly, I again spoke at length with Commissioner Fischler last week to reiterate my concerns and press Ireland's case. I have agreed a further meeting with Commissioner Fischler in light of the lack of progress on this critical issue.