Agreement has been reached on quotas for fish stocks for the coming year, following two days of negotiations at the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, in Brussels. The quotas will see an increase in mackerel, haddock, monkfish, and megrims, a flatfish found in the north-east Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. There will be a reduction in prawns.
According to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Michael Creed, it was a difficult negotiation that attempted to reconcile the necessity to save fish stocks with the rights of fishing fleet families to make a living.
Judging from the reaction of environmental organisations, the agreement has failed in its prime objective to safeguard fishing into the future. Birdwatch Ireland says the latest quotas do not go far enough, arguing that fisheries ministers, included Michael Creed, “have failed abysmally” to end overfishing.
The organisation has a point. In 2013, the EU promised, under an Irish presidency, the adoption of sustainable fisheries management and a deadline to end over-fishing by 2020, but this latest agreement will clearly not achieve that.
That begs the question of whether the current method is the correct mechanism to introduce long-term, sustainable management of the fish stocks in EU waters. There has to be a better way of managing fish stocks than the annual round of horse-trading that goes on between EU fisheries ministers.
One way would be a multi-annual management plan. Indeed, we already have a blueprint for such a plan. In March of last year, the European Commission published a new proposal for a multi-annual management plan for fish stocks in the western Mediterranean Sea to ensure the recovery of crucial species, such as hake, mullet, and shrimp.
The plan was approved by the European Parliament earlier this year and comes into force from January 1. Over-fishing is a global phenomenon and we need look no further than Canada to witness its devastating effects.
In the early 1990s, at least 37,000 fishermen and fish-plant workers lost their jobs in Newfoundland due to the collapse of the cod fisheries. By 2002, after a 10-year moratorium on fishing, the cod had still not returned. Further moratoriums were put in place, with limited success.
While not satisfying everyone, the agreement could be viewed as a reasonable compromise, but, from an Irish perspective, it may be rendered all but meaningless when the UK leaves the EU. A long-term, EU-wide mechanism to control over-fishing would also give the remaining 27 member states a better hand in negotiations with the UK post-Brexit.
The British have already signalled an aggressive stance. In 2017, the British government announced its withdrawal from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, which allowed Irish, Dutch, French, German, and Belgian vessels to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline.
An informal voisinage (neighbourly relations) fishing arrangement between Ireland and the UK remains in place and was put on a statutory footing this year, after the Supreme Court found that it had no legal standing in Irish law.