Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney has cited scientific data collated by the Marine Institute as playing a critical role in Ireland emerging with increased catch quotas this morning from all-night fisheries talks in Brussels.
Ireland fishing fleet will now be allowed to catch an extra 6,500 tonnes extra of white fish in 2013.
Crucially, Ireland has turned EU plans to cut Irish prawn quotas by 12% into a 6% quota increase. Minister Coveney said that underwater camera research conducted by the Marine Institute during 2012 had helped him convince the Fisheries Council that Ireland could sustainably increase its catch in this most lucrative specials.
Minister Coveney said: “I am pleased that we have secured a good deal for Irish fishermen at the EU Fisheries Council that will support our fishing industry over the coming year and which is sustainable in terms of the fish stocks on which we are dependant.”
In total 216,300 tonnes of fish quotas worth €213m will be available to Irish fishermen in 2013.
The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation said there was good and bad news in the deal.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said the value and tonnage of the white fish quota would remain at last year’s level, worth €114m.
Elsewhere, interim quotas worth €100m have been set for most pelagic stocks, including mackerel and herring, pending negotiations between the EU and Norway in the new year.
The prawn quota is worth about €50m.
Some 6,400 tonnes of white fish quotas were secured above the levels proposed by Europe.
The deal sees Irish fishermen with quotas of 36,538 tonnes of white fish and 180,000 of pelagic stocks such as mackerel and herring.
In the Celtic Sea there will be a 29% increase in the whiting quota, providing an additional 1,500 tonnes for fleets along the southern and western coasts.
The department said there was a modest increase in cod for the same area and hake, megrim and monkfish quotas were maintained.
The haddock take has been cut in accordance with scientific advice – by 15%.
Off the north-west, herring, mackerel, blue whiting and the emerging boarfish market is important.
A stock rebuilding plan, devised by local fishermen and the Marine Institute, is in place for herring, while a 63% increase has been secured for blue whiting, giving an Irish quota of 13,105 tonnes.
The boarfish quota rolls over for a second year with a 56,666 tonne limit after deals were signed with important Chinese markets.
The department said final quotas for mackerel, blue whiting and horse mackerel will only be finalised after the EU/Norway talks wrap up in the new year.
Minister Coveney outlined the challenge facing him at this Council.
“Despite the difficult initial starting position, where I was facing large cuts in over 30 stocks of interest to Ireland, the result achieved is a good deal for the Irish fishing industry,” he said.
“We have secured increases from last year for key stocks including increased prawn quota in all areas totalling 8,733 tonnes and an increased whiting quota in the Celtic Sea amounting to 6,812 tonnes. The package of quotas secured today will support the economies of those coastal communities which are dependent on the resulting employment created both at sea and in onshore related industries.”
Minister Coveney was speaking after two days of intensive negotiations, which concluded at 7am this morning. The Minister described the Council as “very challenging” and said that “My primary aim from the outset was to achieve an outcome that protected the overall interests of the Irish fishing industry while respecting the most up-to-date scientific advice for key stocks of critical importance to our fleets. I believe that I have achieved that aim.”
The annual quota-fixing talks became the usual battle between belt-tightening cutbacks demanded by the Commission on the basis of scientific evidence of dwindling stocks and ministers' determination to keep beleaguered fishing communities afloat - economically and literally.
Stormont’s Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was happy with the deal, but acknowledged that negotiations at the Brussels Fisheries Council had not delivered all good news for the North, with cuts to the catch limits for haddock, cod and whiting.
But she insisted the 6% increase in the prawn (nephrops) quota was the most significant outcome.
“We achieved our main negotiating objectives in the tough negotiations that took place over two days,” she said.
“The 6% increase in the allowable catch adds some £900,000 to the sector, which is already worth £15m (€18.4m), and means a sustainable supply to our local fish processing businesses which have sales in excess of £70m (€85.9m) and employs over 550 workers.”
A statement from the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK Government has secured a deal that is good for both the health of our seas and the UK fishing industry at this year’s annual round of fisheries talks.”