The annual Fisheries Council in Brussels held each year to determine the fishing opportunities of the national fleets for EU members will soon have one member missing from the process… the UK. Following the British exit from the EU, fisheries policy will be determined nationally. While many UK fishermen welcome this development, the negotiated out one may not be that straight forward or attractive, especially if last minute horse trading goes on and some fishing rights are lost as concessions. But the immediate business of the Total Allowable Catches (TAC’s) for the different species for the coming year has been virtually settled.
Following two days of tough negotiations in Brussels on 12-13 December, Fisheries Minister Michelle McIlveen commented on the outcome of the 2016 December Fisheries Council for Area VII in the Irish Sea, and Celtic Sea and waters in the West.
Speaking just after the Council ended, the Minister said: “This is a positive result for our fishing industry. The original Commission proposal was for a 9% cut to the Nephrops catch but this was reversed during negotiations. As a consequence our local fleet will benefit from an 8.6% uplift on the 2016 quota which is worth an additional £1.43M to the UK fleet. I was able to assure the Commission that this increase posed no risk to the sustainability of the fishery and our arguments were supported by robust scientific work provided by AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute).
“This prawn stock is hugely important to our main offshore fishing fleet based in the County Down ports of Portavogie, Ardglass, and Kilkeel. Around 100 vessels are involved in the prawn fishery and this outcome means that they will have around 7,200 tonnes of the UK quota which is worth around £15m. Local fish processors will have an increased supply of raw material for their range of scampi and prawn products that are marketed throughout the UK.
“It was helpful that this Council did not need to haggle over the number of days that fishing boats could spend fishing thanks to amendments to the Cod Recovery Plan successfully negotiated by my colleague Diane Dodds MEP earlier this year. Unfortunately the Commission had made an initial proposal for a zero cod catch as the stock is still recovering. I convinced the Commission that it needed to set a TAC that acknowledged the unavoidable catches of cod in the prawn fishery.
“This continues to be kept to a minimum through the fleet’s use of fishing nets that are designed to allow cod to escape. I welcome the fact that the Commission agreed to maintain the TAC for cod at 2016 levels… the first time for more than a decade that this stock has not experienced a cut.
“Leading up to the Council I met with the EU Commissioner on two occasions to explain the strong scientific evidence supporting a significant increase in our Irish Sea haddock quota. I am pleased that our position has been acknowledged with a 25% increase on last year’s quota which is worth an additional £220,000.
“In addition the Commission has agreed through a formal statement to revisit this TAC and for Irish Sea herring, cod, whiting and plaice following the review of fisheries science for these stocks which will happen in February,” added Minister McIlveen.
NIFPO Chief Welcomes Prawn Increase
Dick James, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation, said: “The 8.7% increase in the prawn quote is very welcome. But we have seen a 9.6% drop in quota for herring and haddocks are down 25%. It has basically been a good couple of years for Northern Ireland fishing despite government restrictions. We still have 7 or 8 tonnes of prawn quota left for 2016.
“For whatever reason, some species such as whiting and plaice are not reaching their allowed sizes of growth set by Brussels for harvesting. This may be due to environmental reasons, but as yet we just are not sure what is happening there. Cod is still in difficulties with the TAC set well below the discard level.
“Monkfish, a popular species with the housewife, but not a major item for NI landings. saw a rollover in the TAC for 2017. And hake was up 9%. But we only have one mid-water trawler in the NI fleet so again this decision will not make a huge difference to our local fleet.
“The mackerel quota decided a couple of months ago is also down and the three pelagic trawlers fishing out of County Down will have to adjust. But they mainly catch the mackerel in the Atlantic well away from the local ports.
“I must also say that our Fisheries Minister was quite involved in the Council talks which was encouraging. We will have have another EU Fisheries Council next year, but after that it is all quite uncertain until Brexit is finalised.”