Brexit uncertainty worries Irish fishers on eve of EU catch negotiations

Published on
December 17, 2018

The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has expressed its concern that a sector already reeling from the chaos surrounding Brexit could now face further serious challenges and potential hardship ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers. 

Negotiations to set total allowable catches and quotas for 2019 take place in Brussels on 17 and 18 December, with the KFO saying that the “all-too-real possibility” of a hard Brexit and the potential subsequent implications for fisheries after 29 March, 2019, has cast “a very dark shadow” over the talks.

KFO Chief Executive Seán O’Donoghue said that it is crucial that the council, in reaching agreement for the 2019 fishing opportunities, make a clear and unequivocal statement that these arrangements apply for the entire 2019 calendar year, irrespective of what happens with Brexit. 

Ireland’s two biggest fisheries, mackerel (60 percent) and nephrops/prawns (40 percent) are hugely dependent on access to U.K. waters, with the overall dependency for all stocks of more than 30 percent. 

“We cannot countenance a situation whereby this access might stop on 30 March, 2019, due to a hard Brexit. It is incumbent on [the] council to ensure that this will not happen and I am calling on [Irish Fisheries] Minister Creed to make this a priority during the negotiations," O’Donoghue said. "For us, the crucial issue remains that the linkage between access and resources to the wider trade issue be at the heart of a post Brexit arrangements for Irish fisheries sector thereby delivering an outcome which is acceptable to us.” 

Another major concern for the KFO and the wider industry is the landing obligation, which will enter its final phase in 2019, when all species subject to TACs and quotas become subject to Article 15 of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy. The group warned the prospect of “choke species” paralyzing the Irish fishing industry was a very credible threat, with residual effects for a vast range of fisheries.

“Implementation of the landing obligation, as laid out in the commission’s proposals, will have large negative consequences for Ireland’s whitefish and pelagic sectors as the ‘choke species’ factor could trigger closure of most fisheries in the early months of 2019. There is a significant risk of such closures extending to valuable pelagic fisheries due [to] the whitefish by-catches," O’Donoghue said. 

If that comes to pass, then it could have dire consequences for Irish fisheries, he said.

“It is not acceptable or economically sustainable for entire sectors of these fleets to tie-up for such long periods and would have disastrous knock-on effects for the processing industry, markets at home and abroad as well as peripheral fishing communities," O’Donoghue said. "The solution on the table at the moment of unallocated by-catch TACs will only lead to ‘Olympic fishing’ and the early closures of sustainable fisheries." 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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