The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) provides the framework for the long term conservation and sustainability of fish stocks around our shores and is designed to ensure the long term sustainability of fishing in Ireland and throughout EU waters. The CFP utilises the best scientific advice as a key determinant in setting annual fishing quotas. Key features of this policy include setting Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas to deliver maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2015, where possible, and in all cases by 2020 as well as a discards ban (Landing Obligation) to be phased in over the period 2015 to 2019.
Setting fishing levels on the basis of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is an essential aspect of the policy. Fishing opportunities are agreed on an annual basis at the EU Fisheries Council of Ministers on the basis of a proposal produced by the European Commission that is informed by the best available scientific advice. The Common Fisheries Policy specifically calls for the progressive restoration and maintenance of populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing MSY. To achieve this, the FMSY exploitation rate shall be achieved for all stocks by 2020 at the latest. This should ultimately lead to healthy fish stocks, higher quotas for both Irish and EU fishermen and lead to more sustainable fishing patterns.
Scientific information on the state of the fisheries exploited by the Irish fleet is compiled by the Marine Institute and is published in the Stock Book each year. The most recent Stock Book, 2018, contains 74 stocks that are subject to the scientific advice of the Marine Institute. From the 74 stocks, 32 are assessed as being sustainably fished in 2018. This number has grown every year since 2013. This in turn leads to the number of stocks being over fished declining from 22 in 2014 to 16 in 2018.
The 2018 December Fisheries Council, at which quotas for 2019 were agreed showed a rebuilding of many stocks. I was pleased that the scientific advice supported large increases in a number of stocks of importance such as Haddock (+20%), Hake (+28%) and Megrims (+47%) in the Celtic Sea. The overall increase of 30% in whitefish quota will provide improved fishing opportunities for whitefish fishermen all around our coasts. This shows that the many years of intensive, industry led conservation measures are paying off.
At the same time that the sustainability of our fish stocks is improving year on year, we are facing considerable uncertainty for our fishing industry arising from Brexit. Like all sectors a ‘no deal outcome would be the worst possible result for fisheries but I remain optimistic, while preparing for all eventualities, that such an outcome can be averted.
Provided we can successfully navigate the potential difficulties arising from Brexit, in cooperation with our EU27 partners, I am confident that we will be able to ensure the continued economic viability of our fishing fleet and fish processors, thereby supporting the families and communities that depend on a vibrant fishing industry.