ANN CAHILL: Larger share of mackerel quota sought

IRISH fishermen are hoping Brussels will grant them an increase in their share of the mackerel and prawn catch after it emerged they might get just half of last year’s mackerel quota.

The annual meeting to fix the quotas of fish for each country in the EU was going on late into the night as haggling continued between member states.

Irish negotiators, including Minister with Special Responsibility for Fisheries Tony Killeen, started at a disadvantage because negotiations with non-EU countries Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands have not been concluded and fish in their waters were excluded.

As a result an interim solution has been proposed that would see Irish fishermen getting just 50% of the mackerel catch they were allowed to take from Irish waters last year.

Fishermens Federation president Sean O’Donoghue said this would spell disaster for the industry and he hoped that ongoing meetings between the Government, the European Commission and the Swedish EU presidency would result in a significant improvement.

As negotiations stood last night, the fleet would be limited to half their normal catch during the two months of the year, January and February, when they would expect to take up to 70% of the mackerel catch.

Mr Killeen said: “Normally negotiations with Norway would be finished by now and we would know how much fish is available to European fishermen.

“For Irish fishermen the timing is particularly critical because we catch more than 70% of our mackerel stocks by the first half of February. The Norwegians catch their allocation much later in the year, so they are not in any particular hurry to complete negotiations, but it is particularly urgent for us.”

Proposals for the industry’s other major species, prawns, were also posing problems as Ireland was seeking a rollover of the existing total allowable catch (TAC).

What is on offer is a reduction of 30% in the Irish and Celtic Seas and around the Aran Islands with a voluntary closure of the Porcupine next year. The fishermen propose a three-month closure and no reduction or at most 5%.

Mr O’Donoghue said they were also hoping that there would be no attempt to reduce the Hague Preferences – a percentage catch historically added onto the Irish quota once the negotiations were complete to compensate for Ireland’s share of EU waters.

The commission is suggesting a cut of 20% in Ireland’s catch of cod in the Celtic Sea, which is a significantly greater reduction than the available scientific advice suggests. Mr Killeen said that such a reduction would only increase the risk of cod being caught as part of other fisheries, being discarded and thrown back into the sea. He is arguing for no change in the TAC.

This is the first time fish will become a responsibility for the parliament together with member states as agreed in the Lisbon treaty.


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