European Council Meeting: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the post/pre European Council meeting on agriculture and fisheries, AGRIFISH, the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment and for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to give the committee an update on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations.

We will start with the CAP issue.

I will provide the committee with a quick update on the CAP post-2020 negotiation process which has continued apace under the Finnish EU Presidency.

In preparation for discussion at next week’s AGRIFISH Council, the Finnish EU Presidency has presented a progress report outlining the work done to date on the CAP legislative proposals. This report includes revised drafting suggestions for all three draft regulations. It should be noted some elements of the three draft regulations are part of the horizontal multi-annual financial framework, MFF, negotiations. Agreement on the MFF will, therefore, be needed before the Council can establish its overall position on the CAP post-2020. Notwithstanding this, we have made considerable progress on the horizontal regulation dealing with financial rules and the amending regulation for the Common Market Organisation, CMO.

For the horizontal regulation, which deals with the financing, management and monitoring aspects of the next CAP, member states are in broad agreement with the proposed amendments. However, a final position on the text can only be taken once agreement has been achieved on the MFF proposals and final wording relating to certain provisions within the new delivery model within the CAP strategic plan regulation.

For the amending regulation, which deals with amending certain provisions within the common organisation of markets regulation, member states are also in broad agreement with the consolidated text and consider the regulation to be largely stable. Some elements relating to wine labelling, financial envelopes for school schemes and the role of producer organisations are expected to require further discussion once we enter trilogue discussions with the European Parliament.

Unsurprisingly, the main focus of discussions on the CAP legislative proposals during the Finnish EU Presidency was on the CAP strategic plan regulation. The Finnish EU Presidency focussed its efforts on the new delivery model and environmental and climate-related aspects in particular. The new delivery model is proving challenging for member states to reach agreement on. Significant work was undertaken in an effort to address member states’ concerns around reporting requirements for non-area, non-animal-based interventions. Ireland has been a strong voice on this issue and has worked hard with other member states to present an alternative solution to the Commission’s proposal. Up to 12 member states have supported our alternative proposal. However, it is still very much a matter for debate and discussions will continue under the Croatian EU presidency. Further discussions will also continue on financial flexibility and regarding indicators to ensure they are fit for purpose.

There was much discussion on environmental and climate-related aspects of the CAP strategic plan regulation. In general, member states are in favour of a higher environmental and climate ambition, a point I have supported strongly myself. The CAP must do more to support environmental action. However, there are concerns and diverging views on a number of areas such as the formulation of certain standards for good agricultural and environmental condition of land and the impact on the definition of "eligible hectare"; how conditionality should be applied to small farmers; whether the proposed eco-scheme in pillar 1 should be mandatory or voluntary for member states; the planning of eco-schemes and the potential risk of losing funds if there is insufficient uptake.

In addition, the Finnish EU Presidency has suggested the introduction of a single common percentage or fixed amount for climate and environmental expenditure across the entire CAP strategic plan budget. The EU Presidency intends for this common percentage to replace the minimum 30% target under pillar 2 expenditure, giving member states the flexibility to decide how best to allocate their climate and environmental expenditure across pillar 1 and pillar 2. The proposal, which suggests that only interventions appropriately targeting climate and environmental objectives would count towards this common percentage, could only be properly considered by agriculture Ministers following agreement on the MFF proposals.

In general, member states have considered the Finnish EU Presidency’s suggestion as a basis for further discussion. From my perspective, there are too few details around the proposal to determine a position at this early stage. However, I have always said that Ireland accepts the increased climate ambition in the next CAP and that we are willing to examine all options that meet this objective.

In general, I broadly agree with the EU Presidency’s progress report, considering it to be a good reflection of discussions that have taken place to date. However, we still have some concerns over certain aspects and agree that further discussion is still required before final agreement can be achieved. Separately, under the discussions regarding the MFF, there have been proposals which go some way towards restoring the funding for the CAP budget. While I welcome this, I will still continue to press for the removal of all the proposed cuts in the CAP budget. This work will continue under the Croatian EU Presidency.

I thank the Minister for taking the time to come to the committee to present on this matter. There is much concern in the agricultural community regarding what will happen post 2020 given there will be a minimum one-year delay in regard to the new seven-year CAP programme being put in place. Central to this is how the transitionary period will impact on the funding farmers receive, which forms a critical part of the average family farm income. Following the Minister's negotiations and engagements at European level, what will be the likely outcome with regard to payments during the transitionary period, in particular payments under the rural development programme, RDP, which pose a particular problem because many of them are made at a specific time? For example, payments under the GLAS scheme form a significant part of farm income. Under the five-year programme, participants in GLAS 1 are due to start exiting that scheme in 2020 and they will also get their final payment in 2020. In regard to 2021, it is essential that in regard to schemes such as GLAS, areas of natural constraint, ANC, the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, the sheep welfare programme, etc., what is currently provided in annual payments continues to be paid during the transitionary period. If these payments are allowed to lapse and the RDP is not properly funded this would have a very significant impact on farm income. I ask the Minister to clarify the position with regard to the aforementioned schemes and payments and what he, as Minister, and the Department are seeking to achieve in the programme during the transitionary period.

I support the Minister's efforts in regard to the wider budgetary objective of ensuring that the proposed cuts for the next seven-year programme are reversed and that the budget is, at least, maintained, because that will be particularly important for agriculture. We stand with the Minister in seeking to achieve that at European level and we fully expect that he will be able to do so.

In regard to the low percentage of young people entering farming and agriculture and the low percentage of existing farmers, what focus and incentives are provided for in this regard in the new CAP?

Will the environmental measures in the new CAP come from the Commission or will the Minister be able to put forward measures that meet the environmental requirements? What is the view and role of the Department in regard to environmental measures and the CAP?

Similar to Deputy Pringle, I will speak to the environmental measures. During the hearings of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, the introduction of schemes that enhance the role that the farming community can play in regard to efforts to drive down emissions was flagged as significant. Are there proposals in the Government's climate action report or the committee's climate action report which the Department will be championing? There are farmers who are keen to get involved in solar farming and others who are keen to diversify into tree planting. As custodians of the environment, farmers are interested in implementing environmental measures and have been very positive on proposals in that regard. What approach will the Minister or the Department take in terms of feeding into that interest?

On the Finnish priorities around fishing, is there scope for inland waterways and the production of fish? In regard to Bord na Móna's work in this area in the midlands, is there scope for the farming community to engage in that work?

Will the Minister elaborate on the final paragraph of his opening statement regarding the suggestions and proposals in respect of maintaining the budget?

I thank the Minister for his presentation. Following on from Deputy Cahill's comments regarding young farmers, succession and so on, Austria has no problem with succession or young farmers being interested in getting into agriculture because it channels 40% of its CAP funding into pillar 2. Ireland channels less than 20% of its CAP funding into that pillar. There might be a correlation, such that where farmers are given more options, in particular from an environmental perspective, they are a little more inclined to continue in farming. Will the Minister consider a shift in the amount channelled into pillar 2 with a view to growing involvement in farming?

With every negotiation of CAP, there is a commitment to less bureaucracy and more user-friendly systems. However, it appears we are going in the opposite direction. Will the Minister comment?

I thank members for their questions, which I will try to deal with quickly. Deputy McConalogue asked for clarity. Unfortunately, it is not possible to be absolutely clear about where we are at in respect of CAP reform until such time as we know what funding is available. The amount of funding is critical. Senator Paul Daly alluded to this in terms of the MFF issue, which is the central plank of the Heads of State meeting later this month. We are plugged into the deliberations on the MFF and how it impacts on the CAP because we get most of our receipts from the European Union through the CAP. We are a net a contributor to the European project, which is reflective of the state of our economy. We are one of the highest per capita contributors to the EU but we get most of our receipts from the Union through the CAP and, therefore, we are clued into the overall debate, in particular how we protect the CAP and our share of it. Bringing clarity to the CAP process to reform post 2020 is inextricably linked to that issue. We have been actively trying to forge alliances with other members states, as I have outlined previously at this committee.

On the second point, the Commission is facilitating transitional arrangements for a 12-month period. Notwithstanding the progress that is being made, it is highly unlikely that the CAP will be ready following a 12-month extension. It is likely that the extension will be for a minimum of two years, which is not desirable. That is my reading of the position. In regard to bringing clarity around our position in the context of those continuing uncertainties, I will attempt to do that. Our objective is to protect the funding that is available to our farmers within this reform process and the reform of the funding of the EU for the next number of years. When it comes to pillar 1 and pillar 2 payments, there will be changes in the new CAP to the obligations and conditionality under pillar 1, which are not currently in place, but our objective will be to protect the amount that Irish agriculture receives under the new CAP. We are anxious to ensure that the new policy gives us the suite of policy instruments or the toolbox to enable us to drive the climate ambition that is part of our agriculture-climate public consultation.

As the committee knows, there is an overall Government strategy and we have our share to do. I would argue that we start from a relatively good point with respect to the sustainability of Irish agriculture but there is undoubtedly more we can do. The particular focus will be on nutrient management, genetics and other efficiencies, with environmental schemes delivering on biodiversity, water quality etc.

This is a headline view and in the context of the transition period we would like to roll over existing schemes, with flexibility where possible to pilot new initiatives particularly in the climate sector. We have much to do in the new decade and there are onerous targets that must be achieved by 2030. We must start immediately and we are informed in that endeavour by the Oireachtas committee mentioned by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, as well as the input of many stakeholders and the public consultation under way. In the context of the transition arrangements, we are anxious to be enabled to get some elements up and running. We do not have clarity around what will be facilitated in that transitional directive and it is unlikely to be finalised until mid-2020 perhaps. We are trying to influence that structure in a way that gives us the maximum freedom to manoeuvre in order that the important elements to us, including protecting the financial support targeted at farmers and the conditionality that would give us the maximum opportunity to assist us in our climate endeavour over the next decade, would be central to the process.

Deputy Cahill and Senator Hackett raised the matter of generational renewal, which is a critical part of the challenge facing the agricultural sector across Europe. In response to the Senator, I have not heard it articulated that there is an oasis of optimism in Austrian agriculture, although I acknowledge it has a higher proportion of organic agriculture than us. I am unaware that it is a panacea for generational renewal. As far as I can see, there is a challenge in attracting younger people into agriculture in practically every country I have visited. Not to be trite but the best way to incentivise generational renewal in farming is to give people a career pathway that will give them something comparable with peers. Talk of lifestyle and working in the open air and with nature only goes so far. These people want what their peers have in other employment, including holidays and being able to provide for their children. It is not an unreasonable expectation but it is something of which we must be conscious.

We have been very progressive with the piloting of incentives for young farmers but there is no substitute for giving people a pathway they can see as financially secure. The proof of the pudding here is the dairy sector, which has the youngest age profile in agriculture because it is seen as a reasonably secure area financially. It is not exempt from the ups and downs of prices but that area can be contrasted with the area that sees most demographic challenges, which is the beef side. That is for a good reason as well. We must see how we can maximise support and incentivise that sector to ensure there are career opportunities for those who wish to take them.

I am aware of the Bord na Móna interest in aquaculture opportunities and there is great potential in those former Bord na Móna lands no longer subject to peat harvesting. Deputy Corcoran Kennedy is aware that my Department has endeavoured in the past while to clear the backlog of aquaculture licence applications. That has been a complicated task but I am glad to say that by the end of this year, we will meet the target of clearing the backlog. We will be anxious to work, explore and assist in any way that the Department can with the proposals for aquaculture. I am aware of other aquaculture endeavours that are based inland and that are quite successful. There is no reason this could not be carried out successfully as a new enterprise in a post-peat environment in the midlands. If my Department officials can be of any assistance in this regard, we would be willing to engage with the relevant parties.

I am aware of the number of people outside environmental schemes. For example, people have exited the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, or will see their green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, contracts expiring within the transition period. It is why we are looking to influence the regulation and ensure we can not just roll over those who will be in contract for a period of years yet but for those whose contracts expire or have expired already, we will be able to pilot new initiatives. Those initiatives should be tailored to our circumstances no more than the previous schemes were foisted upon us. It is clear that with the new dispensation and regulation for the CAP strategic plan, there will be much more emphasis on these schemes' outcomes, so we can measure in a tangible way what we are getting out for the financial support we are putting in. That is compatible with the overall direction of travel in terms of the climate ambition within CAP and the fixed percentage for climate measures.

Is there a timeline to have the strategic plan in place? The Minister might correct me if I am wrong but was the original timeline the end of this year?

The original timeline had this done and dusted to be up and running for 2021 but that will not happen now. It is tied to budgets etc. There are three regulations and much progress has been made in two of the three. With the CAP strategic plan, the new delivery model and compliance performance, there is more work to be done. As I said at the outset, it is not entirely satisfactory. We are playing two games simultaneously and they are connected. One relates to the budget and having the financial resources to do what we want to do but we must also ensure there is a CAP that is structured in a way that is reflective of the financial resources we have and which is compatible with our climate agenda etc.

I thank the Minister and his officials for dealing with that section. The next section deals with the post and pre-EU Council meetings of Agriculture and Fisheries and the sea-fisheries sustainability impact assessment.

The next section deals with the post and pre-EU Council meetings of Agriculture and Fisheries and the sea-fisheries sustainability impact assessment.

I welcome this opportunity to present this sustainability impact assessment to this committee. As in previous years, a rigorous assessment has been undertaken to examine the implications for Ireland of the EU Commission’s proposals for the fixing of total allowable catches, TACs, for the coming year. The EU Commission proposal was issued on 24 October and a number of "non-papers" updating the proposal have issued since. As the committee will be aware, the final arrangements for 2020 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 16 and 17 December. The levels of total allowable catch and the quotas for Ireland will be determined at that meeting, following intensive negotiations with member states and the EU Commission.

The waters surrounding Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds in the European Union. We have a duty of care to protect their biological richness and, as such, they must be managed responsibly and sustainably. Ireland’s total allocation of quotas in 2019 amounted to a total value of €260 million. There are also very valuable inshore species that are not subject to EU TACs, such as crab, whelk, scallop and lobster, and they are fished by the Irish fleet inside our six-mile coastal zone.

The process of preparing for the Council is now well under way. The proposal covers stocks that are not subject to third party international agreements and are, in the main, whitefish and prawn stocks. Stocks that are subject to ongoing international negotiations are not included in the proposal as yet. The international coastal states mackerel negotiations concluded in October, with agreement on a 41% increase in mackerel quotas for 2020 in line with the scientific advice.

Mackerel is Ireland’s single most valuable fishery and this increase represents a mackerel quota for Ireland of more than 78,000 tonnes, worth more than €80 million directly to our catching sector for 2020.

Negotiations between the EU and Norway were completed last Friday. The European Union total allowable catch, TAC, for blue whiting has not yet been finalised pending further negotiations between the EU and the Faroe Islands, which are taking place this week. However, it is expected that there will be a small increase over 2019, with a quota of approximately 38,500 tonnes in 2020 for Ireland. There will be a significant reduction in the TAC for horse mackerel - in the region of 40% - due to the state of the stock reflecting the scientific advice for this stock. The quotas for these stocks are not included in the Commission proposal or the sustainability impact assessment, SIA, as we must wait for the conclusion of all of the international agreements.

This year saw the full implementation of the landing obligation, or discards ban, which has been introduced on a phased basis over the period 2015 to 2019. This is a central element of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and was agreed by all member states as well as the European Parliament. The full implementation of the landing obligation brings an end to the dumping of perfectly good fish at sea and the catching and discarding of juvenile fish. This is a common-sense goal and although the obligation comes with significant challenges, we will continue to work with it.

Another key feature of the Common Fisheries Policy is the setting of TAC and quotas to deliver maximum sustainable yield for all target stocks by 2020. Maximum sustainable yield, or MSY, as it is more commonly known, is the largest average catch or yield that can continuously be taken from a stock under existing environmental conditions. In the EU as a whole, 59 stocks are fished at MSY levels in 2019, which has increased from 53 in 2018. In 2009, only five stocks were fished at MSY levels. This is a significant achievement and Ireland will continue to work with stakeholders, member states and the Commission to build on this tangible progress to achieve our objectives of healthy fish stocks and sustainable fishing.

Moving on to the proposals, they are based on formal advice received from ICES, the independent international body responsible for advising on the state of fish stocks. It also takes account of the views of the scientific, technical and economic committee for fisheries, STECF, which gives the Commission its views on the economic, technical and social impacts of the scientific advice.

I have had an assessment of the impacts of the Commission proposal undertaken to inform my negotiations at the December Fisheries Council. An open consultation process was initiated whereby stakeholders were asked to submit their comments and observations on the Commission proposal for fishing opportunities for 2020 to facilitate the assessment. From 28 October 2018, an online web portal on www.fishingnet.ie was activated to enable the transmission of electronic submissions for consideration. This portal remained open until 22 November and five submissions were received by the closing date. The full content of all the submissions received by the deadline will be published on the fishingnet.ie website. In addition to the written submissions, I convened a meeting of stakeholders – fishing industry representatives and environmental NGOs - on 25 November. The purpose of this meeting was to give a further opportunity to the main stakeholders to outline their positions on the many aspects of this proposal. I thank all of the various stakeholders for their contributions to this impact assessment. As always, there was a range of views among stakeholders. However, there were also commonalities, and I agree with many of the sentiments expressed through the consultation process. These include a call for adherence to the available scientific advice to enable responsible and appropriate management decisions to be taken. This, however, must be balanced with the concern that major cuts to TACs could have severe socioeconomic impacts.

It is in that context that my clear position is that I will not support cuts unless I am satisfied that they are absolutely necessary and fully supported by rigorously assessed, clear scientific advice. In its proposal, the Commission has identified the ongoing concerns about a number of by-catch stocks that are in poor biological state including Irish Sea whiting, Celtic Sea cod and plaice stocks, and west of Scotland cod and whiting. We share those concerns as these stocks are important for our fishing fleet and we will continue to support measures that will help to rebuild these stocks.

The cod stock in the Celtic Sea is at a low level and ICES has recommended zero TAC for 2020. The Commission has proposed a TAC for Celtic Sea cod of 189 tonnes, compared to 1,610 tonnes for 2019. The reason for the low TAC proposal is because the biomass of stock is at a very low level, with poor recruitment since 2012. The whiting stock in the Celtic Sea is also showing serious reductions in biomass and recruitment has been below average since 2014. While the TAC level for whiting has not yet been proposed by the Commission because of linkages with the EU-Norway negotiations, it is expected to be reduced by some 40%. I accept that we need to take a reduction in both the whiting and cod TACs but if the cod TAC, in particular, is set too low, it will lead to closure of all our whitefish fisheries where it is an unavoidable by-catch.

We need to take measures to reduce such by-catches and rebuild both important stocks. The Commission has proposed a number of remedial measures for these cod and whiting stocks in the Celtic Sea. The measures proposed include a closure of fishing grounds in the Celtic Sea from 1 February to 15 March 2020 during the spawning period and additional measures including CCTV monitoring systems on board vessels or observer coverage on vessels. These measures will not apply to fishing vessels that adopt technical conservation measures involving mesh size increases and other modifications to fishing gear. In addition, it provides for a mesh size increase for certain fisheries. We are examining these proposals with our experts from BIM, our stakeholders and other impacted member states to understand the issues for our fleet. We will support measures that improve gear selectivity and will be effectively rebuilding these stocks of cod and whiting. We will seek some adjustment to these technical measures where there is a disproportionate impact on the fleet to ensure a balanced and effective suite of measures. However, I am concerned about the proposal to introduce the specific measures relating to CCTV and observer coverage at such short notice as are all other member states in these fisheries.

Last week, the Commission proposed reduced TACs combined with additional measures - CCTV monitoring or observer coverage - for the by-catch TACs for whiting in the Irish Sea, cod and whiting in the north west, and plaice in part of the Celtic Sea. We fully share the Commission’s concern regarding these stocks and will support these reduced TACs but member states have concerns about the additional specific requirements that have not been considered in appropriate detail. Apart from these issues, I also have concerns about some of the TAC level proposals, for example, the proposed cuts to pollock in the Celtic Sea and the north west of 40%. Following the consultation process and the expert advice of the Marine Institute, I do not believe that the reduction in the TAC for pollock is either justified or necessary.

The ICES advice for one of our most important stocks, nephrops, or prawns, shows an increase in abundance in some areas but a reduction in others. Last week, the Commission proposed a 15% reduction for nephrops in area 7. The reduction reflects reductions in the biomass of the Aran Grounds and the Labadie Grounds off the south east coast of Ireland. The important Porcupine fishery is stable for 2020 and the out-take limit remains the same as for 2019.

There is some good news in the proposal for certain stocks. Monkfish and megrim in the Celtic Sea will be increased as will haddock in the Celtic Sea. We are seeing a major problem with our herring stock in the Celtic sea, which has almost collapsed. I am supportive of the Commission proposal to only allow a data collection commercial fishery in 2020 to allow for scientific monitoring purposes and to enable this important stock to rebuild.

This year, the Marine Institute and BIM have again made an invaluable contribution to the assessment of the Commission’s proposal, which is contained in the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment before members today. I will outline some of the findings contained in that assessment. From a purely biological perspective, the Marine Institute's view, which coincides with the ICES view, is that there has been an improvement in the status of some fish stocks. However, others remain a concern. In the impact assessment, the Marine Institute summarises the pressure on the 74 stocks dealt with in the 2019 stock book and compares this assessment with the same evaluation presented in previous year's stock books. There is a higher number of sustainably fished stocks, at 35, and percentage, at 47%, in 2019 compared with last year. The percentage, at 18%, and number of stocks, at 13, overfished has also increased in 2019 whereas the stocks with unknown status has remained at 26, or 35%. The specific details for all stocks are available in the document that will be laid before the Dáil and in the stock book, which was prepared by the Marine Institute and is available on its website.

The socioeconomic impact assessment of the Commission’s proposals does not fully account for Ireland’s share of fishing opportunities. The current proposals exclude a number of important stocks - mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting - where the final European Union TACs depend on external, third country agreements. If agreed as they currently stand, the Commission’s initial proposal would see a net reduction in fishing opportunity - quotas of minus 13% by volume and minus 13% by value.

In financial terms, this amounts to a direct income reduction of €8.65 million. These figures can be further explained, as follows. A net reduction in fishing opportunity for the whitefish sector of minus 15% by volume and minus 14% by value, with a direct income reduction of minus €8.25 million. This does not take into account the proposed 15% reduction in the very important nephrops fishery, as the total allowable catch, TAC, for these stocks were not included in the Commission’s initial proposal. In regional analysis of Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and west coast stocks it is estimated that there will be a 14% decrease in fishing opportunities for the whitefish fleet. This reduction is valued at €5.35 million and will impact Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East. In addition to the direct losses to the fleet, income is also lost from the processing sector as a direct result of reduced catches and in a number of ancillary industries such as net making, chandlery, engineering, refrigeration and so on. This will obviously have a knock-on effect for employment and BIM further estimates, on the basis of the most recent employment surveys of the catching sector, that these reductions could impact 123 full and part-time jobs. This could occur through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies in the seafood sector.

The proposals do not include the Hague preferences, which are a safety net for the Irish fleet on specific stocks where TACs are in decline. Essentially, these are additional amounts of quota that Ireland and the UK claim for important whitefish stocks. Many member states object strenuously to their application as the additional quota comes off their allocations. Ensuring that the preferences are applied will be a key political objective in the negotiations. The loss of these allocations in 2020 will amount to at least 1,216 tonnes of fish with a direct value of €2.2 million.

To conclude, I can fully concur with the findings of the sea-fisheries sustainability impact assessment. It highlights the significant impact that the current proposals could have on the Irish fishing industry. Significant challenges lie ahead over the next two weeks but I will do my utmost to agree a fair and balanced package for Ireland that ensures the continued vibrancy of our industry and the long-term sustainability of our stocks. Finally, I wish to thank and acknowledge all those who contributed to the production of this impact assessment, and look forward to the debate on the conclusions.

I thank the Minister for a very comprehensive opening statement. Deputy Pringle is indicating.

On the Celtic Sea and Irish Sea stocks and the reduction in cod and whiting, an increase in haddock is also proposed for the same area. It is not possible to catch cod without haddock as far as I know. What impact will the increase in the haddock quota have? The Minister has outlined some of the by-catch that will be allowed there. What overall impact will that have on the whole process? In mixed fisheries it is going to have a severe impact. How will that work out?

In the section on biological assessment, the Minister stated:

There is a higher number of sustainably fished stocks, at 35, and percentage, at 47%, in 2019 compared with last year. The percentage, at 18%, and number of stocks, at 13, overfished has also increased in 2019 whereas the stocks with unknown status has remained at 26, or 35%.

That does not make sense to me. It means there are extra stocks in there somewhere or else the stocks we had figures for have declined or we have not got any figures for them this year. Could the Minister explain a bit more about that?

In the submission from BirdWatch Ireland on the Common Fisheries Policy review, it estimates that by setting quotas below the scientific advice, Ireland will increase landings by 200,000 tonnes and increase income to the fishing sector. Has the Department looked at that or formed a view on it? I presume that is in respect of the maximum sustainable yield or whatever, that if it is set at that level we will increase catches and increase revenue to the fishing sector. Has the Department looked at how feasible that would be?

On the ICES figures there was some reporting a couple of months ago about mackerel and how ICES had got the figures wrong. I understand proposals were put forward by Ireland that corrected those figures, which may have led to the increase in quota allowable. How satisfied is the Minister about the ICES figures and scientific advice? I think it was some sort of technical figure on how the calculation came about. If that can happen for one stock, surely it can happen for additional stocks as well. Is the Minister satisfied with that?

I thank the Minister and his officials for coming in today to discuss this in advance of the meeting in the middle of the month. Every year, this fisheries Council has significant impact and importance in respect of the year ahead. A good outcome from it is particularly important for our fisheries sector, the income of our fishermen and for employment. The Minister has outlined particular challenges this year. It is concerning to see in respect of the whitefish sector in particular that a 15% reduction in volume and a value reduction of 14% are proposed, which would be €8 million. I note the BIM assessment has calculated an overall potential impact of 123 full and part-time jobs, as the Minister outlined. Sustainability issues have to be a very important part of the Minister's considerations as well, in that we want to ensure that stocks are there long-term. The Minister has outlined his objective in respect of getting a balanced outcome that tries to ensure, as far as possible, that no damage is done to the value and amount of catch. I wish the Minister well in those negotiations. He has an important role to carry out and it tends to be a very long night for his officials as well. It will be particularly important in trying to ensure that the proposed cuts and the impact they would have on employment are addressed and averted if at all possible. As Deputy Pringle mentioned in respect of the previous ICES advice, it seems that on more than one occasion in recent times, its assessment of levels of stock was off the mark. In respect of mackerel in particular, that led to much reduced income for many of our mackerel fishermen. I would be interested in hearing the Minister's and the Department's perspective on the confidence we have in the current advice coming from the ICES assessments of various stocks.

I was wondering what has happened to the herring stock in the Celtic Sea. It is not that long ago that the Marine Institute was satisfied that the stocks were sustainable. I think that was only six or seven years ago. Has it been overfished? It is in big demand in some parts of northern Europe. My other question is about the impact on employment of the potential changes indicated in the analysis the Minister presents. How are we going to handle that? It is very challenging when we look at the potential job losses and impact on the industry.

I thank the Minister for the report. I am sure he is well aware of the protest that took place at the gates of Leinster House yesterday in advance of this committee meeting. There is a lot of concern and anger out there in respect of overfishing, not just in Ireland but throughout Europe and further afield.

The Minister's Department funds the Marine Institute to provide the scientific background to the Government's sustainable impact assessment of the Commission's proposal. The Marine Institute report of 2019 stated that only 18% of stocks were overfished in 2019. However, this assessment omits the 35% of stocks that are not subject to maximum sustainable yield evaluation.

First, will the Minister explain why the Marine Institute continues to provide a sustainability assessment that omits many of Ireland's most overfished stocks? Second, the Minister's Department also funds Bord Iascaigh Mhara to provide to our Government the economic background to the Commission's proposals. Again, I am concerned as to why Bord Iascaigh Mhara continues to provide an economic sustainability assessment that omits the economic impact of stock collapse and fisheries closures and fails to consider the medium to long-term economic benefit of sustainable fisheries management.

Third, I suppose the Minister would agree that the socio-economic prosperity of fishing communities will be dependent on sustainable fisheries management. By driving overfishing, however, we contribute in a way to the overfishing of many stocks. This threatens numerous fisheries with closure as soon as, perhaps, next year. Will the Minister continue to advocate the overfishing of by-catch stocks to facilitate the exploitation of target stocks, or will he listen to the advice out there and advocate the full implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy, fulfilling the commitments made by successive Fine Gael Governments since 2013?

I will try to deal with those questions in chronological order. The biggest challenge for us will be the mixed fisheries. Deputy Pringle, coming from where he does, probably understands this better than most. Haddock stocks are strong but, as he said, haddock cannot be caught on its own. One invariably ends up catching whiting or cod. We acknowledge that those stocks are particularly challenged and we want to work with the Commission to find a way to enable us to catch species that are strong while not jeopardising the protection and preservation of cod and whiting in particular.

The issue of cod is interesting. It does not just affect our waters. Across the North Sea it has been a subject of other negotiations and measures. I think the resolution to this will be technical measures. The Irish fishing industry is quite proactive in that space. There has been engagement between my Department and the industry to try to find a way that enables us to work with the industry. I think this is the point Senator Hackett was making at the end of her observations on mixed fisheries. If one accepts that, as Deputy Pringle rightly said, one cannot catch haddock without catching some other species, there must be some requirement for by-catch. This is about adapting the technologies used, the nets and the mesh sizes. These are technical measures. In my time I have found the Irish industry to be among the most proactive in that space, and it is recognised as such. We are working to try to make progress in that regard.

I will jump to one point Deputy Corcoran Kennedy made about herring. All the advice is that this fishery is in considerable peril. Though there was a quota, we have what is called the Celtic Sea Herring Management Advisory Committee. To give the industry credit where credit is due, when the fishery was opened, the industry came back and ordered its closure, stating that the fish were not there or that those that were there were juvenile and small. The fishing industry itself makes this point. It is illustrative of broader acknowledgement within the industry that the unsustainable exploitation of fishing stocks ultimately costs the industry itself. The principle of maximum sustainable yield, MSY, will underpin these negotiations. Significant progress has been made on fishing to maximum sustainable yield. We have a distance to travel but the graph is moving substantially in the right direction.

I will make one other point about the economic impact to which Deputy Corcoran Kennedy alluded as well as BIM, etc. I think BIM is acutely conscious of the impact of stock collapse. The other presentation of its assessment today concerns simply what would happen if this results and if the proposals become the reality. BIM does not take account of the Hague preferences. It is important to restate what the Hague preferences are about. They go back to the time of Garret FitzGerald's negotiations in the 1980s. They were an acknowledgement of the UK and the Irish fishing industries' concerns and, in the context of a stock that is in decline and the stock that is available for distribution, our capacity to have a carve-out for the UK and Ireland. The Hague preferences give us a lift. It is not that this affects every other member state and we reach into the pond to take more. The basis is the set advice, and we get a top-up that comes from other member states. There is considerable resistance to the application of the Hague preferences at all December Council meetings. The fact that the UK is leaving the EU will leave us much more isolated. Believe me, the securing of the Hague preferences is the most contentious issue at every December Council meeting, not just, I suspect, in my experience but in the experience of every previous Minister with responsibility for fishing. I imagine that with the UK leaving, fighting that battle for the Hague preferences will be a much lonelier endeavour, but so far so good insofar as they have been acknowledged. As for the economic assessment, I do not think there is any doubt that everybody is attuned, not least to the Marine Institute and BIM, which do invaluable work, but also to the industry as to the consequences of fishing unsustainably.

I am aware of the issue of the ICES advice for mackerel for 2019. Once the ICES advice was revisited and revised upwards, we endeavoured to have that additional opportunity made available to the industry here and across Europe, but there was not a willingness at the Commission at that time to adhere to that. It may well be reflective of the fact that the science even for this year is very strong in the context of a very substantial increase. I do not want to interpret the science - that is for the Marine Institute to do - but it is very welcome that the ICES advice shows a very substantially increased opportunity for us in 2020. The issue of the quality assurance of scientific advice has been commented on a lot since this issue arose. We have been in the vanguard in conversations about quality assurance regarding the scientific advice. ICES and its counterparts in all the other member states work to give the best independent advice available to them. They collate it and give it to the Commission in respect of the opportunities that are there. At all times, however, we need to be assured we are delivering the most accurate science. That is something for the Marine Institute and ICES itself. We have been active in that space in ensuring they learn from these issues.

With all respect, there is also the issue of ICES not talking to the fishermen about their views as to how the fishing stocks are holding up.

In the case of mackerel stocks, the fishermen have always been of the view that the stock is more than what the scientific advice said it is, and it has been shown today that they are right. The reality is that they are not always wrong.

It has to be said that often some of the scientific advice that is available is accrued and facilitated by the industry working with the Marine Institute. The Marine Institute has its own boats but it also relies on the industry for assistance on the matter.

What about Senator Hackett's questions?

I covered the economic assessment, the mixed fishery and the Marine Institute.

I am not sure that the Minister replied to my query on why the Marine Institute does not include the 35% of stocks that are not subject to MSY evaluation in its stock book report.

I am advised that the status of almost half of the stocks is considered unknown or not defined. This is because there are many small stocks and it is not practical to collect the necessary data to have a full assessment.

Are there any more questions?

The Minister has not dealt with two of my questions. One was on the information that the higher number of sustainably fished stocks is 35, the number of over-fished stock is 13, and the unknown status has stayed the same at 26. That means there are extra stocks, unless those figures are wrong.

My information is that the number of sustainably fished stocks went from 32 in 2018 to 35 in 2019 and the number of stocks overfished went from 16 in 2018 to 13 in 2019. There is a reduction in the number of overfished stock and a commensurate increase in the number of sustainably fished stocks. I will get the Deputy a briefing note on it. We might be trading figures back and forth and perhaps missing the point, so I will get the data for the Deputy.

There is also the BirdWatch Ireland estimation that setting quotas below the scientific advice would lead to increased landings and increased income. Has the Department or the Marine Institute examined that to see if it stands up?

What is BirdWatch Ireland's assertion?

It has estimated that by setting quotas below scientific advice, Ireland would increase landings by 200,000 tonnes and €200 million in value compared with 2014. It says: "This would translate into greater profits, higher wages and more jobs". Transitioning to a more sustainable fisheries management is "not just a moral or legal obligation" but also the "greatest opportunity available for us as an island nation to grow Ireland's blue economy".

I appreciate and have had engagement with BirdWatch Ireland. We are operating within a Common Fisheries Policy framework which has MSY at its heart in terms of fishing sustainably. That means one is only taking out of the pool that which can be replenished naturally. That advice is given to us by both the Marine Institute and ICES. I appreciate that BirdWatch Ireland has a view on these matters and we engage with it, but ultimately we work within the CFP framework, the MSY obligation and the scientific advice that comes from the Marine Institute and ICES.

I presume the statement is either right or wrong, or part right or part wrong.

The point appears to be that if one does not fish the stocks that are available and could be caught sustainably, there will be more there at a future stage. If I can use an agricultural analogy, it seems to be on the basis of if one lives horse, one will get grass a few years hence. The industry needs to survive today, but it must survive in a sustainable way. We base our take on the MSY and that is informed to us by the Marine Institute. If I understand correctly, the suggestion appears to be that if we took out less than MSY suggests, there would be a greater return at some stage in the future. That would suggest the industry should take a hit-----

It is not saying there will be a return at some stage in the future, but a return now. It appears to be an interesting statement and I wondered if the Minister had looked at it. Obviously, the Department officials would have seen it.

I appreciate the voice that non-governmental organisations, NGOs, bring to the table, and it has always been about MSY and fishing sustainably. However, it appears that as we move towards that, the request is to move beyond it, if I understand the point being made by the Deputy. If I get to a situation where we are fishing all the stocks that are important to us via MSY, I will go toe to toe with any NGO on that basis.

That is fair enough.

I thank the Minister and his officials for the presentation today. I wish them well with the deliberations at the next Council meeting. As there is no other business, we will adjourn.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 December 2019.