As Deputy Healy-Rae will already be aware, this year is the first full year of the implementation of the landing obligation, or 'discards ban' under the Common Fisheries Policy. The objective of the landing obligation is to eliminate the wasteful and unsustainable practice of discarding fish at sea. This will result in benefits both to the marine environment and to fishermen alike, securing fish stocks for the future. The application of the landing obligation for all Irish stocks in 2019, coupled with a move towards fishing at maximum sustainable yield levels (rebuilding stocks to a sustainable optimum), are very positive developments for fishermen and for the broader goal of sustainability.
In order to support the rollout of the landing obligation, in December 2017 I announced a quota balancing policy for pelagic stocks. Quota balancing means that where a vessel exceeds its catch limit for a particular stock during a fishery management period, a balancing adjustment is made from a future catch limit for that vessel. Quota balancing is a management, conservation and rational exploitation measure that will aid in matching catch limit to actual catch to support the landing obligation requirements.
Mackerel is the main pelagic stock targeted by Irish fishermen. Preliminary data provided for 2018 Mackerel landings indicated that where vessels landed over their 2018 catch limits, most of these vessels landed less than 10% over their 2018 catch limit for Mackerel. A very small number of vessels landed far in excess of their 2018 catch limits for Mackerel. Thus, to allow for quota balancing, I agreed that initial 2019 quota allocations for mackerel be restricted to a lower level. A multiplying factor applies in Quota Balancing so that the greater the excess catch when compared to the catch limit, the larger the balancing adjustment that will be made. In a small number of cases, where vessels caught far in excess of their allocated catch limit in 2018, their 2019 catch limit was reduced accordingly.
However, I have made provision for a maximum quota balancing adjustment, so that no more than 80% of the catch limit available to a vessel for a relevant pelagic stock should be applied in an individual fishery management period. This would mean that vessels would receive as a minimum 20% of the catch limit for that pelagic stock that would have been available to the vessel for that fishery management period had quota balancing not been applied. The licence holder will be granted an Authorisation and/or Notification to fish the reduced quantity of that stock for the fishery management period and any outstanding quota balancing adjustment still remaining at the end of the fishery management period is carried over into a subsequent fishery management period until a full adjustment is made.
I would like to assure the Deputy that the quota balancing policy was introduced following discussions with the Quota Management Advisory Committee and a public consultation and received the support of the majority of fishing representative organisations.
Licence holders were sent the provisional details of quota balancing for Mackerel last week and advised that no further action was required on their behalf, unless they did not agree with the data on their provisional quota balancing statement. If licence holders did not agree with the data, they were advised that enquiries were to be made by a set date. Declared Landings/Trips enquiries are to be submitted to the SFPA while Catch Limit(s)/Calculation of Balancing Adjustment enquiries are to be submitted to the Department. In the event of a non-reply by this set date, all data (as submitted by the Master of the Vessel) will be deemed final for the purposes of Quota Balancing only. Licence holders were further advised that a final quota balancing statement will issue after the final date for enquires has passed, and that and a balancing adjustment will be made, at the earliest possible opportunity, against future catch limit(s).
Quota balancing operates independent of any action being considered or taken by the control authorities and the data being used is that logged by the master of the fishing vessel in the landing declaration submitted at the end of each trip for each vessel.