Open letters

Donal O'Driscoll

Open letter from Donal O’Driscoll

Longtime fisherman and Fishermans Representative

Dear Minister Coveney,
Following are my suggestions regarding the CFP review:
In 1972, when negotiation were being finalised for Ireland’s entry into the EEC (together with Denmark, Norway and the UK), it was proposed to the Irish negotiators that each country would have equal access to the fishing grounds of all other member countries, “up to the beach” as it was termed. Irish fishing interests were extremely unhappy with this prospect and after lengthy and hard negotiations, it was agreed that countries would be allowed to maintain their limits up to 12 miles, except in the case of those countries who could claim “historic rights” and who were allowed access up to six miles of all coasts.

Ireland became a member of the European Economic Community in 1973.

When we eventually joined, Ireland contributed 14% of the total European waters. In spite of this, we were only allocated between 4% and 5% of the demersal stocks and around 12% of the pelagic stocks. This was the first great anomaly, the reason for which was only recently clarified by the EU Commission for Fisheries. The reason that was given was that Ireland’s fishing fleet was not sufficiently developed at the time to justify a greater portion of the available stocks. This has clearly not been the case for a long time but there has never been an attempt to alter this status quo, despite the fact that the Commission also said that these decisions were never intended to be written in stone and were thus presumably open to renegotiation at some future point.

Moving forward to the mid 1980s, when quota were introduced for the first time, Irish fishing interests accepted quotas in the hope that after a certain number of years, stocks would be sufficiently increased to allow boats to return to a non-quota fishing basis. At that time, Spain was not yet a member of the EU, yet they had been given permission to fish within the “Irish Conservation Box”, presumably at the point when this box was created. At some point before Spain joined the EU, Spanish fishing companies started to buy up English-owned vessels, with which they then proceeded to fish up to the 12-mile limit off the Irish coast. Eventually this legal loophole grew to in excess of 100 vessels. In spite of vociferous complaints from Irish interests, the European Court decided to allow this exploitation of a glaring loophole in regulations to continue. Even after Spain joined the EU, they held onto these English registered “flagships, thereby giving them an even larger share of the fish pile than they were legally entitled to as members.

Spanish fishing vessel off the coast of Ireland.

This made a complete mockery of the quota system that had been set up in the first place and to which Ireland’s fishermen were expected to adhere. The Irish waters were being fished more heavily than ever, before the quota system had been introduced! There was obviously no hope that fishing stocks would be replenished sufficiently to allow for a return to quota-free fishing, through no fault of the Irish fishermen themselves, although they are the ones who have to suffer the consequences. This all happened with the official blessing of the EU which to date seems to have not paid the slightest attention to this abuurd situation.

Fishing vessels moored in Cork Harbour in 2012.

In 2010, Ireland and all other maritime EU countries agreed to the establishment of a 200-mile limit in terms of geographical territory, making Ireland the third highest contributor of sea territory, within the EU maritime countries. This gave Ireland automatic rights, to any resources that fell within that 200-mile area. This implies that everything that swam in the seas off the Irish coast, within these limits, belonged by right to the citizens of the Irish Republic. The Irish people would surely be proud to own such a vast area of rich territory of minerals and fishing stocks. However, without consulting the Irish people the government of the time handed over our rights to these fishing stocks to Brussels. We gained nothing from this, in fact it returned us to our previous role as beggars within the European community. thereby and unwittingly granting some of our EU partners an even greater entitlement to those fish stocks.

How can Irish fishermen be expected to trust the officials who are now engaged in renegotiating a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy? The story so far has been a sad and sorry one, with Irish officialdom being completely unappreciative of the riches they are constantly giving away, coupled with a disingenuous exploitation of loopholes on the part of a few of neighbouring countries.

Following on to the proposed review of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) the commissions published proposals regarding the introduction of Transferable Concessions (ie. quotas) posing a real danger to the Irish fishing industry. Amongst other threats, this will once again allow some of our EU partners to continue their quest to obtain more and more of available Irish fishing stocks. Transferable Concessions, (quotas) as published by the Commission are exactly what they say, “transferable”. Foreign entities will thereby have the ability to buy up the already depleted Irish fish quotas thereby driving the Irish operators, both small and large out of our National Industry. In addition to the repercussions, it will be devastating for the rural coastal communities who depend so much on our local indigenous fishing industry. In 2010 the seafood sector contributed over 700 million to the Irish economy. The Irish indigenous fishing industry must NOW FIGHT to maintain and improve that contribution and ensure that same is not the subject of ‘transfer’ to some of our EU partners.

The CFP review must now go back to the ‘drawing board’ regarding the distribution and management of all Irish fishing stocks. This should involve all EU partners agreeing national fishery entitlements taking account of the respective new national geographical maritime areas. Thereafter each country should be obliged to manage their own national fish resource in line with accepted conservation policies.

Donal O’Driscoll
Longtime fisherman and Fisherman’s Representative




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