Simon Coveney revealed the start date after a trawler owner gave away thousands of euro worth of monkfish on Kilmore Quay in Co Wexford to highlight what he said was the crazy EU quota system.
It is estimated that more than 1m tonnes of fish are thrown away by fishermen in EU waters every year. Some 38% of commercial Irish whitefish catches have to be thrown overboard because of the EU quota.
However, Irish vessels take only 15% of all fish caught in Irish waters, with 85% taken by French, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, British, and other vessels.
Mr Coveney said that while he could not condone the Kilmore Quay incident, it allowed him to highlight the “immoral” discards issue — a consequence of “failed and blunt” EU quota policies.
“But I have to impose the rules,” he said. “If somebody is catching fish outside of their total allowable catch in relation to their quota, then there has to be consequences for that.
“I can’t allow one fisherman catch over quota and see their next-door neighbour, who’s also fishing, abide by the rules. There has to be some fairness here.
“The people who are over-fishing are damaging the stock for everybody.”
He described media coverage of the incident as “too simplistic”.
“There is an impression being given that nobody is doing anything about it,” said Mr Coveney. “That is not a fair reflection of what is happening.”
He said Ireland played a central role in drafting sweeping reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy in July, which include a commitment to end discards. The reforms, which should be signed off during Ireland’s presidency of the EU next year, will transform the fishing industry over the next 20 years, said Mr Coveney.
Crucially, he said Irish fishermen will be offered grant aid to adapt their fishing gear, and scientific and technical advice to help them fish in a more targeted way.
This should end the discarding of pelagic species, such as herring and mackerel, from 2015, he said.
But due to the complex nature of whitefish fishing, it will take three years until discards of species such as cod, haddock, sole, and plaice stops. During that time, fishermen will be encouraged to move on a phased basis to a “land-all” policy.
Mr Coveney said it is vital for fishermen and the industry to support the reforms.
Meanwhile, he said he expects measures to be finalised within weeks to encourage fishermen to wear personal location devices. Initially, the scheme will be voluntary, with grants for the devices. “But we will send a signal that in the not too distant future, this will be mandatory,” Mr Coveney said.