Irish fishing organisations have said moves by Britain to effectively place a hard border around its fishing waters would increase pressure on Irish waters, cost jobs here, and even threaten the future of Dublin Bay prawns.
The UK signalled over the weekend that it wished to withdraw from the London Fisheries Conventions, which, if implemented, would mean Irish trawlers would no longer be allowed to fish within 12 nautical miles of the British coastline.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed described the move as “unwelcome and unhelpful”, but fishing bodies have gone further, with Castletownbere Fishing Co-operative in West Cork declaring that the move could be the start of “a dirty battle”.
The assistant manager of Castletownbere Fishing Co-op, Donal O’Sullivan, said it was too early to say whether the UK would follow through with the threat or how it would affect future negotiations, but he said that it appeared to be a case of the UK government, and its secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs, Michael Gove, in particular, “getting their retaliation in first”.
“It could have a huge effect,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “If they do this and it succeeds, what would happen to the displaced vessels?
“There is only one place they can go — the west coast of Ireland, which is already saturated.”
He said this would have a huge effect on fish stocks that were already under pressure and would “without doubt” threaten jobs in the fishing industry here.
Mr O’Sullivan said it remains to be seen what system of taxes or surcharges would be put in place and that “this signal has been sent out that it is going to be a dirty battle regarding fishing”.
He said Irish fishermen would be seen as strongly in favour of leaving the EU and that the onus was now on the Government to play as pronounced a role as possible in any tough negotiations that follow between the EU and the UK to ensure that the fishing industry here does not lose out.
Sean O’Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishing Organisation in Donegal said he was “not surprised, but disappointed” by the British move.
He struck a more optimistic note by claiming the EU had fishing rights as a top priority in any negotiations, stating: “This is an unmitigated disaster if a hard fisheries Brexit happen, but we are sure that will not happen.”
He said Ireland is 30% dependent on access to UK waters for fish, but when it comes to mackerel stocks, the figure jumps to 60%; and for prawns and related species it is 40%.
As such, he said the Dublin Bay prawn supply could be threatened.
“We would not be able to fish it in the UK zone. It could put the whole stock in jeopardy,” he said.
Mr O’Donoghue said UK fishermen also stand to lose out and tough negotiation is needed to ensure the future of the industry.
“We are making it very clear that the priority for us is fisheries negotiations cannot be separated from trade negotiations,” he said.
Mr O’Donoghue said the EU had already signalled that it was focused on the importance of fishing in any future deals regarding Brexit and its impact.
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