The negotiations, the toughest for many years, focussed on a range of issues which have very substantial impacts on the Irish Fishing Industry..
- Whitefish quotas up four per cent on 2008 levels
- Pelagic quotas up eight per cent on 2008 levels
- Total value of quotas up five per cent from €194m in 2008 to €202m in 2009
The December Fisheries Council sets the level of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and Quotas for 2009 and also agrees fishery conservation and management measures, and third party fishery agreements. The main elements of the package secured by the Minister are quotas valued at €200million an increase of five per cent on 2008, the successful defence of the Hague Preferences, conservation measures in the north west fisheries that take account of Irish fishermen's needs.
The Hague Preferences
The Hague preferences, agreed by Heads of State in 1976, give Ireland additional quota in certain species and are a fundamental part of relative stability. In short they give Ireland a bigger share of the traditional stocks around Ireland, if they are at low levels. They have become increasingly important to Ireland as quotas of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch have decreased. The Hague Preferences again came under sustained attack from several Member States this year and their removal had been identified as a real risk with serious consequences for Ireland. In the final package, the delivery of additional quotas for the main commercial stocks of importance to Ireland through the invocation of the Hague Preferences on 11 fish stocks around Ireland was critical in order to provide good fishing opportunities for 2009.
The Minister stated that “The Hague Preferences almost doubled Ireland's cod quota in the Celtic Sea and increased the cod quota in the Irish Sea by some 40 per cent. I cannot emphasise enough the difficulty we faced on a number of fronts in regard to the Hague Preferences and I am both pleased and relieved that we have been successful in our efforts to defend an issue of critical importance for Irish fishermen”.
Total allowable Catch (TACs) and quotas
This year the Commission proposal involved cuts of between 25 per cent and 15 per cent for most of the whitefish stocks of importance to Ireland. Coming into this Council, Ireland faced double digit cuts in 30 of the stocks of interest to Ireland. The final deal delivers 37 thousand tonnes of whitefish for Irish fishermen for 2009 involving status quo on monkfish and haddock, this is up four per cent on last year.
Minister Killeen said “Minister Smith and I am delighted that I have been successful in delivering a balanced package of fishing opportunities for our fishermen in what were extremely difficult negotiations. I have worked closely with our Industry Representatives, the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF), over the past number of weeks and especially during the negotiations to ensure that where possible Ireland's priorities were delivered.”
One of the major objectives of Ireland was the roll over of the Prawn quota in The Irish and Celtic seas. This was virtually achieved with the reduction being rolled back from the proposed 15 per cent to 2 per cent.
Minister Killeen went on to say “This year we faced a severe range of cuts across many of the commercial stocks that our fleet are reliant on. After careful consideration of the scientific advice for these stocks, I sought increases on the proposed quotas where I was satisfied that the state of the stock could sustain higher catch level. I accepted cuts on stocks where the science was strong and created cause for concern. In the final package, a balance has been struck that will give our fishermen, whitefish opportunities to the value of €202 million for 2009 from €194 million on 2008”.
On the pelagic stocks, the total fishing opportunities available to Ireland will be 137,000 tonnes in 2009. Reflection the poor state of the herring stocks in our waters, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for these stocks were reduced. Irish fishermen brought forward a Rebuilding Plan for the important Celtic Sea herring stock which was adopted by the Commission and commits to sustainable fishing practices and the rebuilding of that stock to the levels last seen in the late1980's.
Minister Killeen said “For 2009 we secured a 33 per cent increase in mackerel and a roll over in the 40,500 tonne horse mackerel quota. These stocks are the economic drivers of the pelagic fleet and will copperfasten the future viability of this part of the Irish fleet”.
Whitefish closure in Area VI
The Commission proposed a closure on all whitefish fishing in the waters off Donegal. The measures would have severely impacted on our whitefish fishermen in the north west. Following intensive negotiations a package of measures were agreed that both delivered strong conservation measures for the cod, whiting and haddock stocks in decline while facilitating the continuation of important fishing activities for the Irish fleet.
Minister Killeen said “I was particularly concerned that the new conservation measures did not put our smaller whitefish fleet out of business. On the other hand, I accepted that there is serious concern on the state of some of these stocks.
"In the negotiations, one of my priorities was to improve the protection of the stocks and agree measures for smaller vessels which are dependent on fishing in this area and which do not have the option of moving fishing grounds. I worked with the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) and with them brought forward measures that were practical and took account of their particular situation and I persuaded my colleagues to agree these measures.
"It was vitally important that this deal was secured for the fishermen of North Donegal given the limited employment opportunities in this Coastal area”.
Gill nets - New Rules for the hake fishery
A proposal to introduce 100mm mesh nets instead of the 120mm mesh nets currently in use, was tabled at this Council. Ireland has always opposed the introduction of smaller mesh fishing gear in our waters because of concerns about the negative impacts on conservation of stocks.
Following huge efforts by Ireland and discussions with the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) on the essential restrictions on the use of any such gear, new stricter rules on the use, location and quantity of these nets were agreed involving:
- Prohibiting the use of these nets in continental shelf waters around Ireland and banning the use of these smaller mesh nets in waters less than 200 metres to protect traditional stocks of cod, haddock and whiting;
- Strict new limits reducing the quantity of nets per vessel by 20 per cent and limiting the numbers of boats that fish with this gear;
- Strong control measures for the fishery including measures to stop the unacceptable practice of leaving the nets in the waters for long periods which results in ghost fishing and huge losses to the stock. These include requirements for skippers to certify the nets on board when leaving port and to have at least 90 per cent of these nets on the vessel when landing.
Minister Killeen said “I was very worried about the proposal to introduce smaller mesh generally in our waters. Taking account of the scientific advice and following long discussions with the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF), I demanded and secured the introduction of a range of restrictions that offers protection against adverse impacts of the gear on stocks in our waters”.
Minister Killeen concluded by saying “We have agreed today a balanced package of measures which in my opinion was the best possible deal available to Ireland in what were extremely challenging circumstances. This deal was dependant on the active engagement of our industry who were able to provide me with advice on critical issues arising, in advance of and during the negotiations. I am satisfied that the deal introduces new conservation measures where necessary while simultaneously giving our fishermen total quotas of 183,000 tonnes to utilise in 2009.”
Minister Killeen was accompanied at the Council by Minister Brendan Smith TD, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.