Irish Sea Fishermen “Deflated by EU Decisions”Alan McCulla Chief Executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation

19th December 2011 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, Irish Sea, TACs and Quotas

After two days of negotiations in Brussels, the conclusion of the EU’s Fisheries Council in the early hours of Saturday morning has left Northern Ireland’s fishermen feeling deflated.

Against the background of a proposal from the European Commission for a 19% cut in the nephrops TAC, Northern Ireland’s most important stock, the negotiations ended with a rollover of the 2011 TAC into 2012; however there was less encouraging news for the remnants of Northern Ireland’s whitefish fleet and local herring fishermen.

Speaking after the finish of the Council, Alan McCulla, Chief Executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation who was in Brussels for the negotiations said the result left him confused.

“We are relieved that a neutral result was achieved for our nephrop fishery because it is stable and sustainably harvested. According to ICES science a 19% cut in this quota was never justified. In fact the science was consistent with an increase TAC. Nevertheless we are relieved that the Northern Ireland team, led by our Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA, secured a rollover. Further deep cuts in the number of days all of our fishermen can spend at sea were tempered by the EC’s agreement to continue to allow our prawn fishermen to ‘buy-back’ days at sea through the adoption of various technical conservation measures. Whilst challenging, the aim during the first half of 2012 will be to identify additional measures to exempt our prawn fishermen from days at sea restrictions.”

“For our few remaining whitefish fishermen the news is not good. A 25% cut in the Irish Sea cod quota, combined with a 25% cut in days at sea may well spell the end of what was once a very important part of the local fleet. The situation with cod typifies the complete lack of logic in the Commission’s approach to these negotiations. Irish Sea cod is one of the stocks the Commission describe as being data poor, but their answer to addressing this problem is to force fishermen to catch less cod, therefore providing less data. This is a something we’ve been discussing with DARD for some considerable time. We urgently need to address this situation as regretfully there is a complete contradiction between the amount of cod fishermen are seeing in the Irish Sea and the amount fisheries scientists say are there.”

“Herring in the Irish Sea presents another contradiction, but this time not between local fishermen and fisheries scientists, but rather between Northern Ireland’s fishing industry, officials and fisheries scientists on one side and the European Commission on the other. All of the evidence, from the fishery and from the science confirms the numbers of herring in the Irish Sea have at least quadrupled in the last four years. Yet after the EC agreeing a 10% rise in this TAC for 2011, the EC has now imposed a 10% cut for 2012. However, there remains an opportunity to resolve this situation in time for the 2012 herring season. There is absolutely no reason why the herring TAC could not be significantly increased.”

“Overall the European Commission has imposed a reduction on the value of fish and shellfish local fishermen can land into Northern Ireland in 2012. This is very disappointing, especially because if the science was followed there should have been an overall increase in the value of fish and shellfish landed into County Down’s fishing ports.”

“On a positive note, against the background of the EC proposals, even if these proposals were part of a broader game of tactics, we have nevertheless ended up with a better result than many predicted. One other issue the entire Northern Ireland team agrees upon is that having Eurocrats and officials from countries as far away as Estonia and Greece decide on what happens in the Irish Sea is a nonsense. The sooner Brussels gets their hands out of the Irish Sea, the better it will be for fish stocks, the fishing industry and the economy of the County Down coast.” said Alan McCulla.