Irish fishing industry representatives have welcomed a commitment from the Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue to protect access to Ireland’s rich Blue Whiting fishing grounds.
Fishing representatives had lobbied extensively in recent weeks against EU discussions to grant Norway – a non-EU member – unfettered access to our blue whiting. The EU-Norway talks offered no meaningful reciprocity to Ireland, and they were suspended last week without reaching agreement.
In a statement issued today, however, Minister McConalogue said he was working at EU level to limit the transfer of Blue Whiting quotas. Blue whiting in Irish waters is valued at an estimated €100-€120m for 2023. Ireland currently has just 3% of the EU allowable quota for blue whiting, while Norway already has 18% and were seeking unfettered access to Irish Coastal waters.
Minister Charlie McConalogue said he was working closely with the EU Fisheries Commissioner “to restrict access for the Norwegian fleet to the Irish zone and in particular the area within 50 miles of the Irish coast.”
Speaking from the EU Fisheries Council, the Minister said: “In general, I want our fishers to have access to the maximum level of quota that can be sustainably fished, whilst taking account of the complex nature of mixed fisheries. As the negotiations are almost complete, I am satisfied that the agreement will deliver on this objective. We have positive advice on a number of our critical commercial stocks including Spurdog, Nephrops, Celtic Sea Monkfish, Hake and Megrim and North-west Haddock and Whiting. I am satisfied, following the work done over recent days that we will deliver quotas that follow the increases advised by the science. I am also supporting cuts where these are needed to reduce fishing pressure on stocks and restricted catch limits for depleted stocks.”
The Minister’s statement comes after two days of talks on provisional 2023 fishing quotas at the December Council meeting of the EU Fisheries Commission in Brussels. Irish fishing representatives in Brussels for the duration of these talks included Aodh O Donnell, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation.
Mr O Donnell said the Minister must hold firm against the proposal to give Norway access to our blue whiting. “Until a final deal is reached, there is still a danger that EU interests will want to sacrifice access to Ireland’s waters to secure Norway’s arctic cod for themselves. There is as yet no equitable offer on the table which would give Ireland anything in return for this blue whiting. This effectively pits us against other EU members, who don’t necessarily care about Ireland’s interests but do want access to Norway’s cod.”
“What we need is solidarity all round. The Irish fishing industry representatives are united and of one voice on this important national issue. We need the support of our Minister to fight for a fair deal. We need the support of the EU, so they give Ireland a fair deal. In return, we will support a politically negotiated agreement which gives Ireland, other member states and Norway a fair deal.”
Speaking from Brussels, Patrick Murphy of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation explains the Marine Institute Stock book published annually provides the up-to-date scientific information and advice developed by International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).
This book shows the Blue whiting biomass “is predominately in our waters in the Spring of each year. Norway receives additional amounts of Blue whiting each year in return for access to their waters. For access in 2023, the Norway proposal is for more than 50,000 tons – 7,500 tons to be paid by Irish fishermen – for access to their waters. In return, Europe would get 10,000 tons of Artic Cod – just 300 tons of which would go to Ireland.”
“Norway already has a blue whiting quota nine times greater than ours almost half a million tons. Yet, they demanded additional access to our waters to catch this species and offered no payment for their access. Their request for unfettered and non-biased access became a red line issue for our members. So, we welcome the deferral of the EU-Norway talks and the Minister’s commitment to ensure that Ireland’s priorities are protected.”
Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association was also in Brussels for the December Fisheries Council talks, which concluded early on Tuesday morning. Mr Byrne said quotas could only be agreed on an “interim basis because the planned new EU/UK agreement is not yet signed.”
Mr Byrne said the past few weeks showed “how effectively Irish fishing bodies could act when they came together in a united voice. The Council awaits the UK signing or the agreement, but based on the science, at best, our valuable Western Horse Mackerel fishery will be very limited and as a by catch only. This is a serious development for the Irish fleet and for land-based processors due to the reduction in fishing opportunities. This makes a favourable outcome in Blue whiting all the more important.”
Aodh O Donnell of the IFPO agreed and said the fishing organisations were “committed to supporting our EU neighbours and to honouring existing agreements. However, Ireland must be prepared to walk away from a poor deal. The Norwegian fleet normally plan to steam south to our waters early in the New Year. Any additional access agreement to Irish waters must be reciprocated with a meaningful transfer to quota to Ireland’’. ‘