Norwegian trawlers could be given 'unfettered access' to Irish waters

Norwegian trawlers could be given 'unfettered access' to Irish waters

Norway wants to be able to catch more of its blue whiting quota in Irish waters where the fish are of better quality and more plentiful. Stock picture: Chris Furlong/Getty 

Talks resume this week over whether Ireland will be forced by the EU to allow Norway “unfettered” access to our fishing waters.

The deal could be struck by the EU despite Irish objections so that other EU countries could have greater access to Norway’s cod stocks in return.

The fishing industry here is still reeling from having quotas slashed by the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).

That led to cuts to the amount of fish Irish fishers could catch being agreed between the Government and the EU.

However, while Ireland’s quota cut helped the TCA over the line, the deal has made it harder for Irish fishers to earn a living.

As a result, 64 boats have applied to the Brexit-related voluntary decommissioning scheme.

Norway, which already has limited access to Irish waters, wants better access so it can catch more of its quota — the amount the EU says it can catch in EU waters — of blue whiting here. However, the non-EU country has not offered Ireland anything in return.

The value of blue whiting fish stocks in Irish waters, where they are of better quality and more plentiful, is estimated to be between €160m and €200m.

Irish fishers are only able to take around 3% of the stocks while Norwegians are entitled to catch up to 18% of the total amount of blue whiting that EU fisheries chiefs say can be caught in a year in European waters.

Norway wants to be able to catch most, if not all, of its blue whiting quota in Irish waters.

IFPO responds

The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) met the EU fisheries commissioner in Brussels last week, when a second round of talks to resolve the issue took place, to demand that they reject Norway’s request.

'If the EU gives away unfettered access to the Norwegians without one single dividend for our fishing industry, it’ll be the greatest giveaway in recent times,' said IFPO CEO Aodh O'Donnell. File picture
'If the EU gives away unfettered access to the Norwegians without one single dividend for our fishing industry, it’ll be the greatest giveaway in recent times,' said IFPO CEO Aodh O'Donnell. File picture

IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said Norway’s request is not part of the country’s existing agreement with the EU. Instead, Norway is seeking, for a second consecutive year, additional and “unfettered access” to Ireland’s territorial waters south of the 56-degree line of the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is roughly 70km north-west of Donegal.

“Norway, who are not even in the EU, are likely to have an 81% increase in their quota next year,” said Mr O’Donnell. 

“They want to catch a large share of that quota in Ireland’s rich blue whiting grounds. But in making this demand, Norway is not offering any reciprocal access to their own fishing grounds for Ireland.

“At this time, neither is the EU seeking reciprocal arrangements for Ireland, to balance the blue whiting access request from Norway.

“We understand blue whiting may now form part of an overall agreement that includes Arctic cod quotas from Norway to the EU.

“However, shockingly, it appears these cod quotas will mainly be allocated to other EU member states.

“In other words, Ireland will pay the price but will not make the reciprocal gain. So, it appears that we must fight alone for fair play.”

Mr O’Donnell said people need to pay attention to what is happening.

“If the EU gives away unfettered access to the Norwegians without one single dividend for our fishing industry, it’ll be the greatest giveaway in recent times.

“It will be yet another nail in the coffin of Ireland’s indigenous fishing industry.”

He said that, since 1983, countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Spain have built successful fishing industries off the back of their access to Irish waters while Ireland’s fishing industry has declined by over 50%.

He also said people need to watch what is happening with the recent news about decommissioning.

A Department of the Marine spokesperson said: “The minister is seeking to address the challenge posed by Norway’s request to increase in the transfer to Norway to balance the annual EU/Norway fisheries agreement and to increase the level of blue whiting fishing in EU western waters.”

As the Irish Examiner reported on Friday, 64 trawlers of the country’s 180-strong offshore fishing fleet have applied to the Government’s decommissioning scheme.

Some 19 of the 64 are from Castletownbere, Co Cork, which depends on fishing not just for employment but also local economy revenue. 

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