EU countries will be allowed to privatise their fish quota under what Fisheries Minister Simon Coveney describes as a “huge success” for the country.
Ireland was one of the member states leading the fight against the European Commission plan to allow governments lease out their fish quota. They feared it would end up being owned by large foreign companies.
Mr Coveney said: “It would destroy the Irish fish industry because wealthy interests would buy up quota and we could see a dramatic leaking out of white fish to the Spanish and mackerel to Dutch fleets.
“We have aggressively taken a stand against this and managed to get a change in approach from mandatory to optional. Most countries have come around to our view that it would serve mainly Spanish interests.”
However, MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher warned the compromise is not yet a done deal as the European Parliament has to vote on the issue. Transferable quota has been the most divisive issue in the major set of reforms of the EU’s common fish policy so far.
The negotiations may be finalised under the Irish presidency of the EU next year. The move was welcomed by the fishing industry which said changing the proposal was one of their priorities.
Another essential element of the reform plans is that of maximum sustainable yield, MSY — the maximum amount of fish that can be caught year after year and still keep the stocks in a healthy state.
The commission proposed having all stocks at MSY by 2015 but ministers said this was not realistic, as some stocks are in a much poorer condition than others.
Danish fisheries minister Mette Gjerskov, chairing the meeting said: “We will aim for agreement that will be fully implemented after 2015, with a fixed date for the final implementation that may be 2020.
“Fundamentally it is about making sure that both fish and the fishing industry will survive.”
Mr Coveney said the concept was a particular problem for the Irish industry which is mainly made up of mixed fisheries.
“Fish management plans in mixed fisheries are very complex as its almost impossible to separate species such as haddock and whiting that are very similar, while you can use specialist nets to separate prawns from cod.”
He said there was no quick fix for this and for the issue of discards. Ireland would be looking for more funds to be put towards research and enforcement of the rules, Mr Coveney said.
However, environmental groups were not so positive about the plans, saying the reform plans displayed a lack of ambition to save Europe’s fish stocks and sector from collapse. “Member states do not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation,” said Roberto Ferrigno of the World Wildlife Fund.
“Our seas are drying up at an alarming rate. Fish stock management at maximum sustainable yield has to be a legal obligation by 2015 for all stocks.”
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