I thank Deputy McHugh for raising this issue and for his good wishes regarding the forthcoming European Council meeting. I have just returned from Brussels today, in fact, and it will be difficult to conduct such negotiations given the scientific information that has been put before us. We will be dealing with the consultative groups and I will be meeting with them tomorrow. I have been working with the industry for some time to ensure that we will get the best results for the country.
The annual management arrangements for the Community's fishing fleets are traditionally agreed at the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council. This year, the arrangements for 2011 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 13 and 14 December. The levels of total allowable catch, TAC, and ultimately the quotas for Ireland are determined each year at the December Council, following negotiations with member states and the EU Commission.
The process of preparing for the Council is already under way. The European Commission published its proposal for the 2011 fisheries on 10 November. The details of the proposal are based on formal advice received from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, which is the independent international body with responsibility for advising on the state of fish stocks. It also takes account of the views of the STECF, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, which gives the Commission its views on the economic and social impacts of the scientific advice.
The Commission's proposal is currently the subject of detailed and protracted discussions. These will continue over the coming fortnight at EU level with the Commission and other member states, and here at home with industry representatives and other stakeholders. The proposal sets out reductions in the TACs of many whitefish stocks of economic importance to our fleet. It also envisages other measures which will adversely impact on our fishing industry, such as the rearrangement of TAC areas for prawn or nephrops stocks in the north Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and the Aran grounds, and a proposed regime to cap, for the first time, fishing effort for the whitefish fleet in the Celtic Sea off the southeast coast.
There is concern about the poor state of certain whitefish stocks targeted by the Irish fishing fleet and this is clearly reflected in the reductions proposed by the Commission for 2011. The Commission has proposed cuts of 50% for the cod stocks in the waters west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea, ICES areas Vla and Vlla. These stocks are part of the cod recovery plan, which has restricted fishing effort in these areas for fishermen using whitefish or prawn gears. The Commission has argued that the measures implemented by the plan have not been effective. Therefore, it is recommending cuts to these TACs with a view to closing these cod fisheries in 2012. It is also proposing a cut between 25% and 50% in fishing effort in the whitefish and prawn fisheries in these areas for 2011, on top of similar cuts implemented over the last two years. It should be noted that the effort cuts would not be applied to vessels using fishing gear that avoids catches of cod.
Whiting stocks in these areas are also set to be cut severely under the Commission proposal, with the area VI stock being reduced by 50% and the Irish Sea stock cut by 25%. TACs for haddock stocks are also to be reduced, with 25% cuts recommended for haddock stocks in area VI, and a 15% cut for haddock in the Irish Sea.
The Commission has proposed 15% reductions to a number of other stocks including — in area VI — monkfish, prawns, plaice, pollack and sole. In the Irish Sea, sole is to be cut by 20% and plaice is to stay the same as 2010. The TAC for skates and rays are also due to be reduced by 15%.
The Celtic Sea is a very important area for the Irish whitefish fleet, with significant mixed whitefish fisheries. Stocks in this area set for a 15% cut include cod, megrims, monkfish, plaice, pollack, saithe and some stocks of sole. The Commission has recommended a status quo TAC for a number of whitefish stocks. These include haddock in area Vll, hake in VI and VII, megrims in VI and whiting in the Celtic Sea.
The Commission has proposed a significant change to the management of prawn stocks in area VII, which includes the north Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and the Aran grounds. Prawns in these waters have traditionally been managed under one TAC. However, scientific advice is that these waters contain a number of distinct prawn stocks that should be managed under separate TACs. The Commission has accepted this advice and has proposed breaking the TAC into seven separate TACs, one for each prawn stock or functional unit. Under the current proposal, the overall TAC amount for these prawn stocks would fall from 22,432 tonnes set for 2010 to 18,684 tonnes in 2011, a decrease of more than 16%.
I am not in favour of the Commission's proposal to subdivide area VII into functional units for the management of prawns. These prawn stocks are of vital importance to the Irish fleet and the proposal would have a detrimental impact on current fishing patterns and limit the flexibility available to our vessels at present. The current arrangement allows the fleet the flexibility to operate over a wide area with a single TAC.
I am not convinced that the sub-division of area VII into functional units is the best course of action. I would favour retaining the status quo, with one prawn TAC for the whole area, with additional measures to protect vulnerable stocks within the overall area.
There is concern about the Porcupine Bank stock. Therefore, we have proposed that maximum catch limits be set to protect that stock in addition to a continuation of the closed area for the summer months that was in place for 2010.
The Commission has also proposed introducing an effort management regime in part of the Celtic Sea, in areas VII f and g. This regime would see a ceiling set on the amount of whitefish effort — that is, days at sea — that a member state's fleet could exert in these areas during 2011. At present, the ceiling would be set at 90% of Ireland's, and other member states', effort levels in this fishery in 2007.
I do not support the effort limitation as proposed or the suggested implementing methods. The introduction of an effort regime in an area of mixed fisheries on an ad hoc basis, where many of the stocks have a much wider distribution, has the potential to impact significantly on fishing patterns and lead to displacement of fishing effort without giving assurance on the appropriateness of the regime to deliver on the objectives set.
As in previous years, Ireland will be invoking the Hague preferences in respect of certain of its quotas. The Hague preferences are regarded by Ireland as a fundamental part of the Common Fisheries Policy. They allow Ireland, and also the UK, to claim additional shares of certain whitefish quotas. When Ireland invokes the Hague preferences for a stock, the quota distribution is changed to allow Ireland a greater share of the TAC. There is strong opposition in certain member states to their invocation by Ireland. However, I consider them an entitlement and their delivery will be my first priority at this year's negotiations. The Hague preferences amount to a safeguard for Irish fishermen and for our coastal communities, which are especially dependent on fishing.
While I know that the Deputy's focus is on whitefish fisheries, I will also have to deal with the fact that the blue whiting TAC has been cut by 93%. The Commission has recommended a cut of 50% in the main north west herring stock and is considering introducing very restrictive measures for the Boarfish fishery. In addition, I am facing a cut in the Atlanto-Scandic herring quota. Finally, we are actively involved in crucial negotiations that will determine our quotas for the critical mackerel and horse mackerel fisheries.
I am concerned with the level of cuts proposed for whitefish and other stocks, as well as the other measures proposed and their socio-economic impact on fishermen and fishing communities. I am working closely with my Department, fishing industry representatives, the Marine Institute and BIM to get a full understanding of the implications of the proposal and the industry's priorities. However, I can assure fishermen that I am actively engaged, as are my officials, in delivering the best possible deal for Ireland, taking into account scientific advice.
There will be a lot of long days and late nights in the upcoming negotiations before a settlement is reached on the final package of measures. The reality is, however, that we will experience cuts in some stocks, though the actual level of these cuts has yet to be determined.