Following an acrimonious deal brokered in Brussels last week, there is confusion over whether a 12 square mile area off the coast, known as the Irish Box, will be out of bounds for foreign trawlers.
Mr Ahern said he received legal opinion to suggest foreign trawlers will not be allowed into this area, but Spanish fishermen have disagreed.
Irish fishermen are now warning that they will marshal hundreds of boats to protect their livelihoods, which have already been hit by 5% cut in quotas next year.
The marine minister said he hoped goodwill shown by the Spanish government during the week-long talks would also be reflected by its fishermen from January 1 onwards.
He said the area had to be officially protected by the EU or else the issue of fishing rights would end up in the European Court.
“I’d hate to think that we’ll be faced with a war on the seas, but I’d like to think that some arrangement can be put in place,” Mr Ahern told RTÉ's News At One programme. Fishermen reacted angrily to his comments and said Spanish access to the Irish Box would make a mockery of attempts to save fish in the area.
Lorcan Ó Cinnéide of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) last night said the minister was trying to put a positive spin on what had been a terrible deal for Irish fishermen.
Mr Ahern said that while he was not fully pleased at the outcome of the talks, he had secured a 5% cut in fish quotas, which was positive compared to the 30% drop mooted by Brussels officials at the start of last week’s talks.
But the IFPO says new limitations on the number of days trawlers can spend at sea in the north-west of the country effectively mean fishing is now a part-time business.
Boats off the Donegal coast will be restricted to just nine days fishing a month. This is because of pressure on cod stocks in the North Sea. Sean O’Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said there was a feeling that fishing in the region had been offered up as a sacrificial lamb. Fishermen are now demanding a meeting with the minister early in the new year to discuss the situation.
Mr Ahern said he sympathised with fishermen in the region, but that on the whole Ireland still retained a large share of the EU fish stocks at 19%.