Ireland drops to third on excessive fishing shame list

Ireland has dropped from first to third place on an annual, overfishing “shame” list compiled by a British non-governmental organisation.

Sweden tops the league table drawn up by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), with 52.4% of its north-east Atlantic quota secured outside scientific advice, while Britain is second, at 24.3%, and Ireland third, at 21.7%.

The report by the London charity, which is funded by trusts and foundations, predicts that the EU will not reach its 2020 target of sustainably caught fish while EU ministers continue to lobby for quotas beyond limits urged by scientists.

Ireland’s €1bn mackerel fishery has been hit by a decision by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to suspend a ‘blue tick’ eco-label certification for this particular stock.

The suspension, which comes into effect in early March, was triggered by a scientific assessment last October which estimated a downward trend in the health of the spawning mackerel stock in the north-east Atlantic.

A grouping of northern European mackerel fishing organisations, two of which are based in Ireland, is disappointed with the MSC move.

However, the industry group notes that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which evaluates stock status and provides catch advice, is uncertain about the assessment and is investigating it.

The NEF report ‘Landing the Blame’, due to be released today, claims that ignoring scientific advice on total allowable catch for mackerel contributed to the MSC’s certification suspension.

The foundation has joined with the EU-based Our Fish environmental campaign to call for more transparency in decision-making by EU fisheries ministers.

Despite “repeated requests from civil society”, the annual fish quota-setting EU council in December is “not open to the public or live-streamed”, the two NGOs state.

“This lack of transparency makes it difficult to say who is most responsible for perpetuating overfishing,” they state, and “the results clearly demonstrate who benefits most”.

“Analysis shows that from 2001 to 2018, two-thirds of EU fishing limits have been continuously set above scientific advice,” said Our Fish programme director, Rebecca Hubbard.

“Instead of making serious progress to ending overfishing by the 2020 deadline, EU ministers actually increased the level of overfishing of north-east Atlantic fish stocks for 2019 by almost 10%, on average, above 2018 levels.”

A breakdown of the league table results shows that while Sweden is the worst culprit, due mainly to herring, whiting, mackerel and blue ling in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, Britain is the worst offender in terms of tonnes. Denmark is fourth and Germany fifth.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue pointed out that the EU member states, including Ireland, along with Norway and the Faeroes, had agreed to a 20% cut in the mackerel catch this year. He said scientists had advised a 61% cut, but said that he looked forward to a re-evaluation of this by ICES.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries also noted that Ireland is co-operating in the ICES re-evaluation, and said it was aware of the MSC decision to suspend its eco-label for the fishery.

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