I announced the outcome of the review of trawling activity inside the 6 nautical mile zone on 21st December 2018 following an extensive public consultation period which spanned from 30 April until 11 June 2018 and attracted over nine hundred submissions with a wide diversity of views expressed. The submissions are published on the Department’s website.
I carefully considered the issues raised during the public consultation process and, following a detailed evaluation, decided to exclude trawling by fishing vessels over 18 metres from inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020. This refers to overall length of the vessel and applies to trawling activities only.
Based on my assessment, I consider that there is a compelling case for excluding trawling by large vessels in coastal waters inside six nautical miles. I am satisfied that there are sufficient fishing opportunities for these vessels outside of six nautical miles. I also believe that these actions will provide wider ecosystem benefits, including for nursery areas and juvenile fish stocks. 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 and I firmly believe that this will, in the medium term, provide ecosystem and nursery stock benefits for all fishermen.
I am also mindful of the opportunity these measures will provide for further sustainable development of the small scale inshore and the sea angling sectors, which the Government has committed to in the Programme for a Partnership Government.
I also announced that there will be a transition period to 2022 for vessels over 18 metres targeting sprat. This transition is in order to allow a period of adjustment for these vessels, as this fishery is concentrated inside the 6 nautical mile zone. I have asked BIM to offer affected vessel owners technical assistance to adjust to other fisheries during the transition process.
Vessels over 18 metres will continue to be permitted inside 6 nautical miles to trawl for sprat only until 2022. A total allowable catch of up to 2,000 tonnes, reflecting a reduction on recent years, will be permitted for these vessels during 2020, reducing to 1,000 tonnes in 2021. All trawling activity by vessels over 18 metres vessels for sprat, inside the 6 mile limit, will end from the beginning of 2022.
The exclusion applies to trawling by vessels over 18 metres inside 6 nautical miles only. The reports prepared and the consultation paper did not examine other fishing activities such as dredging. In referring to mussel dredgers, I understand that the Deputy is referring to the activity of fishing for mussel seed which is gathered from wild seed beds and subsequently relaid on seabed farms on behalf of aquaculture operators for on-growing to marketable size. Mussel seed fishing is already subject to a number of restrictions including prior authorisation, amounts which may be taken, limits on the fishing season and specific curtailments in the case of Natura 2000 conservation sites.