THE eel fishing industry, with an annual catch worth up to e750,000, is to cease from the end of next month following action by the EU to conserve stocks.
But the move has been rejected by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and criticised by other politicians, and by the industry itself.
Ireland submitted, as required, an eel management plan to the European Commission for approval to help eel stocks recover to a sustainable level.
It provides for a ban on eel fishing at the end of May with a review by the commission in 2012.
Scientific research indicates this move should lead to the recovery of stocks in 90 years.
About 100 tonnes of eel are harvested by Irish fishermen annually.
Some 150-200 individuals operate a maximum of 295 licences.
Deputy Bernard Durkan, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, which discussed the issue, said it could not accept the Government plan as it stands.
“In the view of the committee, the proposal is far too severe and is a disproportionate reaction to the situation,” he said.
Mr Durkan said the joint committee will be drafting a resolution for the attention and consideration of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan.
“This will call for a deferral of the plan until a detailed analysis is carried out on the impact the ban will have on the eel fishing industry,” he said.
Junior Minister Sean Power told the joint committee that eel fishing had to cease in order to protect stocks.
He said he fully agreed with Mr Ryan on what has to be done to ensure future generations will be able to fish eels.
Meanwhile, Marian Harkin, Independent member of the European Parliament, said an EU policy decision to help preserve stocks of eels in EU waters did not require any outright ban of the type being imposed by the Irish Government.
She said the EU had only asked for measures to ensure the eel population did not significantly decline and Ireland was the only country to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut by implementing a total ban.
“This is grossly unfair to eel fishermen and is a disproportionate response which is not reciprocated by near neighbours Northern Ireland or Scotland,” she said.
Regional Fishery Boards and eel fisherman’s organisations in Ireland have also asked the minister to revisit his decision and allow common sense and democracy to triumph over bureaucracy.
Eel sector leaders also claimed in a letter to the media that no recent comprehensive survey of eel stock has been carried out in Ireland.
Therefore, the scientific basis for the total ban on eel fishing is not grounded on solid evidence regarding existing stocks. “It defies logic that a part of this island will close its eel fishery while another part continues to fish,” it stated.
The letter also pointed out that the Irish commercial eel fishing industry represents some 2% of the total catch in Europe.
“The closure of this fishery will have minimal impact on elver recruitment, which is the issue that needs to be addressed,” it added.
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