Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Common Fisheries Policy Reform: Discussion with Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
I welcome Dr. Cecil Beamish, assistant secretary general, and Ms Josephine Kelly, principal officer, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and thank them for attending the committee this afternoon to brief us on developments concerning the Common Fisheries Policy.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Beamish to make his opening statement.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
I thank the committee for the invitation to provide an update on the Common Fisheries Policy reform process which is currently under way. The Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, is the overarching policy framework governing fisheries and the wider seafood sector in the European Union. The policy was first put in place in 1983 after some agreement on principles in the mid-1970s. Important elements of the reform process, which occurs every ten years, are expected to be concluded during the Irish EU Presidency.
The reform on this occasion is different to others in that it is the first one to take place under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. In previous reforms, the Commission proposed the reforms, there was consultation and dialogue, the Council considered it and then decided on it. Under the Lisbon treaty arrangements, the Commission makes its proposal and then both the European Parliament and the Council take positions on it. When those positions are cleared and settled, the negotiations begin between the Parliament and the Council in the co-decision process to arrive at a new reform. This is one of the first times the co-decision process has been used on a complex EU policy area, so it is very much uncharted territory.
The process was commenced in 2009 by the then European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Mr. Joe Borg, when he published a Green Paper on reforms of the policy. In it he suggested significant changes to the way the policy operated by moving to a system based on fishing effort while changing the current parameters which govern the policy. In Ireland, the then Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with special responsibility for fisheries and forestry, Tony Killeen, appointed Dr. Noel Cawley to head the consultation process with the fishing industry and other stakeholders. They generated a response document to the Green Paper which was published in 2010 and set out Ireland's position on the review. Many other member states engaged in a similar exercise.
Following this consultation exercise, the Commission changed direction and brought forward new proposals which moved away from the proposal to base everything on fishing effort to one now based on transferable fishing concessions or individual transferable quotas and a market-based system which privatised fish quotas. Since this was announced, it has undergone consideration and substantial change.
CFP reform deals with three policy regulations. First, there is the basic policy regulation which sets out the framework, general principles and structure of the reform. There is a regulation on the common organisation of the market. Both these regulations are underpinned by a separate financial instrument, the European maritime and fisheries fund.
The main potential benefit of the policy system for Irish fishermen is that it provides a system which aspires to the structured and sustainable management of international fishing activity in each of the key areas of interest to them. Fishing in Ireland has been an international activity for many years, involving our and many other fleets. In addition, the CFP provides stable arrangements for access to the large and most valuable seafood market in the world, the EU's. Exports to this market account for over 80% of Irish seafood products. Ireland's overarching goal for the new CFP is for a sustainable, profitable and self-reliant industry that protects and enhances the social and economic fabric of rural coastal communities dependent on the seafood sector while balancing these objectives with the need to deliver sustainable fisheries for future generations.
The most recent development on CFP reform was at the last fisheries Council meeting in February. At that meeting, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, as President of the Council, was successful in brokering a political agreement for the introduction of an EU-wide discards ban and reaching a Common Position on the overall structure of the CFP framework regulation. The outcome was 26 member states voted in favour of the package while one voted against. All the major fishing nations supported the package. In the tradition of fisheries negotiations, it finished at 6.30 a.m., so it was consistent in that respect.
The Common Fisheries Policy in the February Fisheries Council and the CAP result last evening are at the same point in the process. In terms of the CAP result last night, the Council arrived at a common position on the proposal. In February, the Council arrived at a common position in regard to the CFP.
That historic decision in February was of critical importance to the future of fisheries and, aligned to earlier decisions taken by the Council on a wide range of conservation measures, was an expression of the collective will of the Council in terms of the reform. One of the headline elements of the reform was the ending of the current discard practices in European fisheries and promoting a new regime of sustainable fishing practices in the European fishing fleet.
February's decision in reaching a Council general approach on all aspects of a reformed basic policy regulation was also important in that it allowed the Irish Presidency, on behalf of the Council, to engage directly with the European Parliament and Commission with a view to reaching an overall political agreement on the reform Common Fisheries Policy during the Irish Presidency. In advance of the Irish Presidency, the Minister set out the ambition to try to bring the Common Fisheries Policy discussion on the core elements to a political agreement during the Irish Presidency. As I said, the process has been going on since 2009.
In the January Council, the Minister set out a work programme for each of the Council's and each of the months of the Irish Presidency intended to deliver, if possible, political agreement by June. The Council unanimously supported that work programme and that enabled the Irish Presidency to come forward in February with the proposal for the general approach. The agreement on that has now enabled the negotiations to commence with the European Parliament.
While the Council has a clear position, the February agreement is simply the Council's position. The European Parliament also arrived at its position in early February and that position differs from the Council's in many respects. Some of the differences are minor and there is a reasonable possibility of getting political compromise on those. However, some of the other differences are significant.
In general, the Council is looking for a more demanding approach in terms of some of the key issues, such as the discard ban and achieving maximum sustainable yield in fish stocks. Achieving a political agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on those core issues remains a very significant challenge.
Turning to the decision taken in February on the discards ban, which is probably the most high profile element of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, the Council has decided for practical reasons to support a phased application of a ban across fisheries in European waters. In terms of the Irish position, leading into that, Ireland published a discard atlas two years ago to show the scale and complexity of the problem associated with discards. That discard atlas was intended to get people to focus on what was involved in reaching a decision on discards. There has been significant discussion with industry and between member states on how, in practical terms, a discard ban could be agreed. That discussion led to the decision of the February Council.
The discard ban the Council proposes would be phased in across European fisheries starting in January 2014 with pelagic fisheries. That will impact on the Irish fishing fleet targeting small pelagic species, such as mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, blue whiting and boarfish, in addition to those targeting tuna. While any discard ban will be challenging, it should be less so in the case of the pelagic fisheries where one has targeted and clean fisheries. Given that Ireland has its most substantial quotas in pelagic fisheries and, therefore, is a big stakeholder in regard to some of those stocks, it is in our interest that discards be eliminated from pelagic fisheries as soon as possible.
In January 2015, the ban will be introduced in the Baltic Sea but that will have no direct impact on Irish fisheries. January 2016 will see the ban rolled out in the North Sea and south western waters and for the Irish fleet, it will apply to cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, prawns, common sole, plaice and hake. Other fisheries for species subject to catch limits will also be subject to a ban from 2016. The ban that will come in, in terms of the white fish fisheries which will start in 2016, will apply to the main species that define the fishery. For lesser species, it will have to be applied to all the species by 2018 and from January 2017 and not later than January 2019 for all other species in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, all Union waters and in non-Union waters not subject to third country sovereignty or jurisdiction. Effectively, by 2019, if the reform is implemented in the way the Council foresees it, then there will be a discard ban in place for all species subject to catch limits or in the Mediterranean subject to minimum size by 2019. That will be a significant change from practice heretofore.
The discarding issue has always been contentious and resolving it will be difficult given the divergent views on the associated management tools needed to make a discard ban a reality in practice. Resolving this issue is a major step in securing the long-term sustainability of stocks in European waters. The timeframe set for the roll out of the discard ban is ambitious, but practical, and will need to be implemented by specific management tools to ensure its delivery. That has been clearly recognised by the Council which includes a number of tools to support the effective delivery in its general approach. This involves areas such as selective fishing and essentially trying to avoid unwanted catches.
The European Parliament has voted on a more simple approach without providing a similar range of tools in its proposal. Effectively, the European Parliament does not envisage a phasing in within a fishery but that on a certain date all of the species within that fishery would be subject to the discard ban. Finding a compromise between the position of both of the institutions will be a significant challenge which will have to be addressed by the Irish Presidency.
In the reform, it is also important from a conservation sustainability perspective to secure agreement on how the concept known as maximum sustainable yield, MSY, will be delivered. This is essentially a target stock size which one is trying to achieve in regard to each of the fish stocks so that one rebuilds the fish stocks and is thereby able to sustain higher catches on a sustainable basis into the future. The Council has taken a practical approach to MSY which is to manage the fishing exploitation rates at levels capable of producing MSY by 2015, where possible, and for all stocks by 2020. Effectively, we will be going through a transition period up to 2020. The 2020 date is an international obligation the EU has to achieve MSY and there is an alignment between finishing the implementation of the discard ban everywhere in 2019 and achieving MSY by 2020.
The application of MSY means only taking a proportion of the fish in the sea that is the right size to let the stock grow and reproduce at their most productive level. The European Parliament, in its position, wants fishing mortality which is the amount of fish killed in a particular year set by 2015 and, in its view, that should allow the fish stocks to recover by 2020 at the latest above levels capable of producing MSY and all recovered stocks to be maintained at these levels. The European Parliament is, therefore, setting a biomass target by 2020 rather than a fishing mortality level. The Council is focusing on the amount of fish being killed, the percentage of the stock, while the European Parliament is setting a level for the biomass.
That represents quite a difference in terms of fisheries management.
Total allowable catches are allocated among member states. There has been traditional dissatisfaction in Ireland with the share of the relevant total allowable catches which Ireland secured at the outset of the Common Fisheries Policy. That has been an issue through each of the reforms in 1983, 1993 and 2002, and it has been an issue which has remained relatively unchanged through that period. The share that Ireland received of the quotas available at the outset was determined by what is known as the system of relative stability, based on the historical fishery patterns in the confines of the set management areas. That system has continued and not changed through the reforms of 1993 or 2002. There is no support in the Council for a change in the traditional quota allocations in the current reform either and the Commission has not proposed any changes either in the Green Paper or the Commission proposal. This is equally true of the European Parliament.
However, on a positive note, under the CFP arrangements agreed in 1976, a system of so-called Hague preferences was put in place under which Ireland gets an enhanced share of certain key quotas on which we are traditionally dependent if the share falls below certain set levels. The CFP reform proposals as agreed by the Council envisage retaining this system in the way it has operated previously, that is, the Council of Ministers must endorse the implementation of the Hague preferences each December. While Ireland has been successful each time it has invoked the system of Hague preferences, it has proved difficult to achieve because of reservations and opposition from some member states which lose out from its implementation. It only gets invoked when the stocks are low, and therefore everyone is allocated low quotas. When it is invoked, it reduces the quotas of others and this is why it always meets opposition.
Ireland had sought that the Hague preferences be permanently built into the mechanism for setting annual fishing opportunities but there was no appetite from key member states at the Council and political agreement for this course of action was not possible. However, we have succeeded in securing the Council position in retaining the Hague preferences in the way they have been included from the outset at the CFP.
The European Parliament's position sees the Hague preferences as a permanent feature of the total allowable catch setting exercise under a new CFP. However, securing the agreement of the Council to the Parliament's view is a very difficult challenge in light of the strong opposition from almost all member states. Clearly, the important issue here is not to lose the Hague preference provision that has been in place since 1983.
How will the process of CFP reform unfold from here? Since the Council has now reached its political agreement on the full general approach on the basic regulation and on the common organisation of the market, Ireland, in its role of EU Council Presidency, has a negotiating mandate for discussions with the European Parliament. Yesterday, the first round of trilogues, meetings between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, took place in Brussels. There is an intensive programme of negotiations set out weekly from here on into April and then it will resume again shortly afterwards. The trilogues have also taken place on the common organisation of the market and we are moving to the second round in that area. The trilogues are an intensive process under the Lisbon treaty whereby there is an attempt to negotiate the agreed Council position and the agreed Parliament position into an overall agreed text. This is especially difficult given the difficulty experienced in getting the agreement in both the Parliament and the Council. Anyway, the Parliament had a 500 to 100 vote in favour of the position it adopted while the Council has a 26 to one agreement on the position it has adopted, but there are approximately 300 points of difference between the two positions. Therefore, trying to negotiate movement between these two positions is the challenge.
The Cyprus Presidency secured agreement on a partial general approach to the European maritime and fisheries fund at last October's Agriculture and Fisheries Council. However, the vote of the PECH committee in the European Parliament on the fund has now been delayed until the end of May. Given that timeframe, it is considered unlikely that the Irish Presidency will be able to commence negotiations with the Parliament during its course. However the Irish Presidency will continue to work on the fund dossier following the vote in Parliament with a view to enabling the Lithuanian Presidency to commence its negotiations with the Parliament.
Given all the institutions involved, the timetable for the reform is changing on a regular basis. At present the ambition in terms of the basic regulation is to try to conclude the negotiations with the European Parliament by June. In terms of the Common Market organisation, the ambition is to try to reach final agreement in April. Given that the Parliament will not have voted until May in its committee and will not have taken a plenary vote until June, it will be difficult to conclude agreement on the fund under the Irish Presidency.
I hope that gives an outline of the reform process to date and where we stand. We are happy to take any questions that members wish to pose.
Thank you, Dr. Beamish, for the comprehensive update on where the Irish Presidency has brought the Common Fisheries Policy in conjunction with the Commission and the Parliament. I will take questions from Deputy Ó Cuív.
I welcome the assistant secretary, Cecil Beamish, and the principal officer, Josephine Kelly. It is important we get these regular briefs in respect of what is taking place. At times it is difficult to decipher exactly what the practical outcome will be for ordinary people who must try to sustain a living from fishing.
There should be a ban in Europe on any meeting going beyond 11:30 p.m. It is totally outrageous. This has been going on for years and years. A great gaisce is made about going on until 6:30 a.m. However, people's livelihoods are depending on decisions made by fatigued negotiators and the process inevitably leads to bad decision making. It seems that these talks, no matter what way they are organised, have gone on for years with this great macho approach to negotiation. These are people's lives. Everyone negotiating should be fully awake and alert when the most crucial decisions are being made. It is obnoxious that these decisions are made at 6:30 a.m.
Let us consider what the delegation has said on the issue of the discards. It goes without saying that the idea of discarding good fish is obnoxious. However, the devil is always in the detail and I am interested to hear the views of the fishermen's and fisherwomen's organisations in respect of how discards will work in practice. We have seen all sorts of regulations coming from the environment agenda to farming which are laudable in themselves but which have had various unintended consequences when they have been applied. I seek reassurance on the issue of discards, which I support. No one can argue against it but we need to know the answer in this regard.
I am concerned about the European Parliament's input with regard to the maximum sustainable yield. The European Parliament is controlled and dominated by people who are a long way from the sea and from fishermen. Few of the people elected to the European Parliament will depend on fishermen as an electorate. I am concerned at the levels the European Parliament might set on a precautionary basis.
I am very worried about the outcome and I ask the two officials present if it is possible to get more detail. This seems to be one of the nub issues so is it possible to see a chart of the proposals from the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament on sustainable fishing? Could we have the effect of each proposal on total allowable catches, so that we can have some sense of the practical effect on fishermen's lives? The delegation put much time and effort into this document but it is very hard to get any sense of how this is likely to play out from it, depending on which of the three parties win the tug of war.
It is indicated that this last part poses problems because although we can control fish mortality, we cannot predict how quickly a stock will respond and at what rate. Invariably, factors outside our control have an effect on this response. I can envision large lobby groups arguing that if there is any risk, we should take a conservative or precautionary approach and not allow catches. I am very concerned about that.
It is indicated that in January 2016 a ban will be rolled out in the North Sea south-western waters and, importantly for the Irish fleet, for fisheries of cod, haddock, whiting, Norway lobsters, common sole, plaice and hake in north-western waters. What kind of tonnages are we talking about and what will be the effect on the Irish fishing fleet? Baltic country parliaments can discuss the Baltic ban and the Mediterranean ban is not of concern to us; our job as an Oireachtas is to consider the greater good but particularly to defend the Irish interest. If possible, I would like a much more detailed outline of what the likely effect of this will be on the total allowable catches and the fish that Irish fishermen can take.
I am disappointed that there does not appear to be anything to extend the inshore range and ensure that coastal communities get more of the fish within their range. There does not seem to be any good news there for the small fisherman in a small boat trying to eke out a living around the coast of Ireland from Clogherhead to Lough Foyle. I wish the Minister would put the same effort into defending inshore fishermen as he has put into defending big farmers, and there may have been a better result if that was the case.
Those present know my attitude to the Common Fisheries Policy. Fianna Fáil, as part of the Government, sold out in 1973. It is a bad policy for Ireland and no other sector requires the country to give up so much national wealth to the common pool for so little in return. One could argue that if we had our own fisheries, the austerity suffered by the country would be significantly decreased because we would have sustainable income. I am very disappointed that there appears to be no evidence of the Minister using his position in the Presidency to lay clearly on the line that he is not satisfied with the arrangement arrived at and the need for fundamental reform to ensure that those near the coast get the lion's share of the catch. I heard of no public meetings organised by the Minister to whip up public support for a policy to defend our vital national interest and ensure we get a fair proportion of the fish for the waters around our coast.
We should remember the extent of the coastal waters around Ireland at the time we entered the European Union. I was not in government or even in politics at the time but I opposed the policy and campaigned against it as we were giving away forever our birthright in exchange for short-term grants. That is the way the Common Fisheries Policy was framed. If we had the money we could have got over those years, we would have had a significant amount of sustainable wealth in the country. There is no evidence in public view or in negotiations that anything was done to try to make the people aware that this fundamental reform was taking place and there was an opportunity - which comes once every ten years - to open the issue again. I did not hear that the Minister went to Castletownbere, Rossaveal, Killybegs, Dunmore East, Dingle or anywhere else to whip up support for public demand for a fundamental review of the policy.
The Minister does not even appear to have been able to bring the Council with him on the Hague preferences and we must still negotiate them every year. I notice that the European Parliament is more with us than the Council. The Minister was capable of defending his corner yesterday and I thought he would have at least been able to ensure that we could protect the Hague preferences. These are total allowable catches given to us every year as part of a negotiation, and we must, effectively, hand in some of our chips in order to get them. They should be permanent and non-negotiable. It is interesting that the Parliament has at least the good sense to see that we should be given the Hague preferences on a permanent basis.
I have noted the comments today and my basic reaction is that it is a very bad deal and we have once again failed to see the potential of the seas around our island. There is a map in my office prepared by Foras na Mara, or the Marine Institute, showing how much of the Irish territory is in water and how little is land. Once again, we have ignored that fact and in a hurry to get a Common Fisheries Policy, we have sold out a fundamental Irish right. I cannot endorse this as a good position for the Council and it is an abysmal failure. Not only are we not seeing a fundamental reform of how the allocations are made but we are not even getting small pieces for the inshore fishermen or the Hague preferences. In other words, it is an agreement on nothing except more cutbacks. The only redeeming feature is the discards issue, which is welcome in the context of world hunger and poverty, as nobody should be throwing good food into the sea.
I thank Dr. Beamish and Ms Kelly for the presentation. It is evident from the document and the presentation that coastal and fishing communities are poor relations when it comes to negotiations, particularly those in Europe.
It is very evident that coastal and fishing communities are the poor relations when it comes to negotiations, particularly in Europe. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív mentioned the first negotiations in 1973 and how the fishing community had been sold out in those negotiations. At least, he and his party have come to terms with what they did in the past. Every year since I was elected to the House I have made the point that the fishing industry is in irreversible decline because of the lack of a quota. It has been contracting year after year because there is no political commitment within the political establishment to help sustain and grow the sector. There is no point saying otherwise. These communities are the poor relations when it comes to negotiations. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív referred to the map on his wall. What is very evident from it is the amount of our territorial waters contributing beneficially to the fishing fleets of other European countries. When one assesses all of this in political terms, there is an abject failure on the part of the political representatives on this part of our island to represent coastal and fishing communities. Coastal communities are decimated because the fishing industry has contracted. That industry always had a knock-on effect onshore, but all of that has disappeared. As Deputy Noel Harrington is from Castletownbere and lives in that area, he sees this daily. I live north west of Fenit and see it every time I go back there. One can see it in Dingle and Rossaveal. With the exception of a couple of small centres where there is a small number of boats, the vast majority of the fishing fleet has been sold out, compromised and effectively used as cannon fodder in the negotiations.
The two issues about which the witness is talking are the total allowable catch, TAC, and discards. Even the discard issue will be determined in negotiations between the Parliament and the Council. If the Parliament has its way, what will be the position of the fishing fleets if this measure is to be implemented by 2015? Can the discard issue be dealt with in such a short space of time? Dr. Beamish says there should be a compromise on it and there probably will be. Ultimately, it is a disgrace and discards should not happen, but when one is fishing and there is a by-catch in the nets, how does one deal with it? It is not possible to deal with the issue in a year or two. I am certainly glad that the Council and the Parliament are taking the issue seriously.
The Hague preferences were mentioned by the previous speaker. Under the Hague preferences, every year we must go, cap in hand, to try to secure some sustainable support for the industry. That is not right. We cannot even secure permanency in this regard. Again, it just shows the lack of political clout to stand by an industry. I will quote a paragraph from the presentation because it states a great deal: "The share Ireland received of the quotas available at the outset was determined on a system of relative stability, based on historical fishing patterns in the confines of the set management areas." What historical patterns? Are they historical patterns as determined by the previous Commissioners and now by the Commission, the Council and the Parliament? The paragraph continues: "That system has continued since and was not changed in the CFP reforms of 1992 or 2002. There is no support in the Council for a change in the traditional quota allocations in the current reform either and the Commission has not proposed any change." Has the Irish Commissioner proposed a change? If the Commission has not proposed any change, I do not understand why, with an Irish person representing us and given that we hold the Presidency, we are not making it a serious political issue. Crippled with austerity, the industry continues to decline and contract, yet nothing is happening politically to defend or support an industry that has traditionally played a big role in the sustainability of rural Ireland. The sustainability of rural Ireland, particularly coastal communities, was always dependent on both the fishing and small farming sectors, both of which have now left the horizon.
I do not know what else can be said. I just cannot support the proposal. I have been saying since the day I was elected in 2002 that there is no political commitment, irrespective of what political party has been in government since 1973, to do anything positive to try to rebuild an industry and a sector that has been abandoned and used as a compromise in negotiations. I do not envisage any change as we move forward.
My apologies for not being here for the presentation, but I have read the document. I echo the comments of previous speakers on the lack of political will on the part of every Government to deal with the historical wrongs done to Ireland in the context of our fishing rights. It is interesting that prior to Ireland joining the EEC, the Commission gave itself sole responsibility for the conservation of fish stocks in European waters in the full knowledge that Ireland, England and Denmark were negotiating to join at the time. The European Economic Community, as it was then known, set out to steal the resources from us and hamstring us in negotiations that would take place after we had joined. The result has been enshrined in the EU treaties since. We have always been playing catch-up in trying to undo something that was enshrined in EU law before we joined the European Union. I realise it is not the responsibility of the officials present. It is a political role. Unfortunately, this and previous Governments have not attempted to take this on and try to redress some of the wrongs done. That has led to the Hague preferences and the fact that we cannot even have them enshrined in the Common Fisheries Policy. We will have to continuously use up political and negotiating capital every year to ensure the Hague preferences are enshrined in negotiations. That leads to huge difficulties, whereby we cannot concentrate on other issues of importance to coastal and fishing communities.
The agreement on discards is welcome. However, much will depend on the actual technicalities of how the measure will be implemented and what structures will be put in place in order that fishermen will be supported in getting alternative gear that will let juvenile fish go. However, there might still be a by-catch. It is vital that fishermen not be penalised if, in implementing the measures introduced under the CFP, they still have a by-catch that will have to be landed. This should be looked on in a favourable way if somebody is participating and doing his or her best to reduce the number of discards. That will probably emerge in the detail of how the discard policy will be implemented.
One of the issues raised in the conference last week was regionalisation and how regional decision making was envisaged to take place in the future. In our case, there might be eight or nine countries' fleets operating in our waters and there will be the issue of trying to secure agreement on a regional basis for management structures and so forth and how effectively they will work.
Will the Commission fully support the case if all countries bar one agree conservation or management measures? How quickly will the Commission act to ensure those measures are supported and put in place? That will be important for the management of our waters in future so we should get an outline of the Commission's commitment to dealing with those issues.
I am not a member of the committee so I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak. I have an interest in the progress being made with the Common Fisheries Policy. Regrettably, picking up an analogy used last night in a television current affairs programme, the hairdressing sector in this country probably has more political clout in terms of votes than the fishing sector. We do not face problems because of a lack of political commitment by the Minister and his officials, we face problems as a result of a general lack of understanding of what is involved nationally.
There are twin processes in a European context - the Common Agricultural Policy, being dealt with by the same Minister, and the Common Fisheries Policy. We would be hard pressed to find any media coverage, support or comment good, bad or indifferent on the Common Fisheries Policy while thousands of people would protest over the CAP. For some communities on the coast the progress with the Common Fisheries Policy is of greater interest than with the Common Agricultural Policy, important as that is for the State. It would be ridiculous to add to the confusion by engaging into Don Quixote type battles on a Common Fisheries Policy when trying to sustain an industry that is rightly challenged internationally, with visiting fleets going after fish stocks that in some cases we do not have full scientific information on. Dr. Beamish and Ms Kelly have outlined some of the key issues in the Common Fisheries Policy. The ban on discards, maximum sustainable yield proposals, internationally transferable quotas and the Hague preferences are key to the sustainability of the industry.
We can debate what happened in 1973 but I could go back to the 1600s, when the Spanish were landing fish in this country. Many Irish people made great money at the time from imposing tariffs on Spanish fleets so we can talk about the international context going back centuries. We can talk about how Iceland and the Faroe Isles have handled their mackerel fisheries and say we should do the same but it is more complicated than that.
I live in Castletownbere, which is now one of the designated fishery harbour centres. There was a time, however, when fish were being exported to Billingsgate and we got nothing for it. The fisherman of the town were treated like dirt. Billingsgate was the only outlet but thankfully times have moved on. In some respects the fishing industry has consolidated into a few ports, which is regrettable because some of the traditional ports have lost out. We tried to address that but we must fight the battle in front of us at present. It was alluded to by Deputy Ó Cuív and Deputy Ferris, where the European Parliament and media almost have a consensus view there should be no fishing because we are killing fish and that view is gathering momentum. There is huge European political pressure to introduce the discard ban. I agree with the introduction of a discard ban on a phased basis, although I am concerned about how it will work for fishermen on the ground. I would urge the industry to engage with the Department. Supports are needed to help the industry with technical measures and to look at proposals the industry would bring forward to reduce the amount of discards. This is a complex problem. It is not as easy as people think - that we should just avoid catching fish a boat does not have a quota for. For some mixed fisheries, everything is in one basin and it is not practical to suggest separating haddock from pollock or plaice. I agree with the approach taken on targeting the pelagic fishery first, which is a cleaner fishery.
There will still be difficulties. We are trying to impose a ban on discards on a pelagic industry while visiting fleets are fishing almost for the entire year and it is not credible they are doing so within their own total allowable catches. For many of the main pelagic fisheries, there should be a complete suspension of effort for the summer months. When the Irish fleet is tied up, there is no reason anyone else should be fishing there. Other fleets do not have astronomical total allowable catches and would be able to catch the permitted amount in the same season as the Irish fleet. A complete summer time ban should be discussed as part of this.
The MSY is a hugely difficult proposal but ultimately it will ensure the growth of some of our more valuable species that lend economic support through onshore processing. Explaining the concept of maximum sustainable yield is difficult in many of these communities. There is a huge job of work to be done by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to ensure those on the deck of a vessel understand what this means. It will require enormous effort but I hope the industry will see the potential benefit of this. It will be painful but Irish fishermen have taken the lead in the Celtic Sea herring management. Irish fishermen are willing to make sacrifices when they can see better results that will lead to more sustainable fisheries for them and the generations to come after them. It is in that context that we can achieve the maximum sustainable yield proposals.
I missed the start of presentation so I might have missed proposals on ITQ concessions. It is disappointing the Hague preferences have not been given permanency. It is interesting that every year we fight and achieve the Hague preferences and it is right that we must surrender some political capital to achieve that because it is better if we focus on the battles we can win. I accept this is a challenging time for the Irish fishing industry in the white and pelagic sectors. The Commission's proposals on discards are universally popular but, equally, they are difficult to enforce.
I look forward to ongoing briefings on the CFP and wish the officials well in their work.
I thank Deputy Harrington for his observations. Members are in agreement on the need for the elimination of discards, as far as practicable, and achieving the targets on sustainable catch through conservation measures so that yields are sustainable and fish stock remain healthy. The major problem arises from what the fishing fleets were allowed to catch in the past.
After this meeting, Dr. Beamish and a colleague will be present at the Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries to brief us on aquaculture and island and coastal fisheries within the 12-mile zone. What is the relevance of the Common Fisheries Policy?
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
I had better preface my remarks by saying that many of the comments were of a political or policy nature and it would not be appropriate for me, as a civil servant, to enter into that area, so I must constrain what I say. If I go beyond that, please pull me back.
One of the main issues of concern to the Irish fishing industry is relative stability. Some of the principles were agreed in the 1970s and the code was rolled out from the early 1980s. The reforms in 1992 and 2002 both had requests for change to the relative stability provisions. Neither of them was successful. In the context of the current reform, it was the subject of a lengthy debate in 2009 and 2010 with those in the fishing industry. Some in the fishing industry demanded larger shares. Given the political reality that such demands had not been acceded to in the two previous reforms, greater thought on how to approach that issue in the current reform is needed. The then Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Tony Killeen, published a document which, following discussion on relative stability, had the support of the fishing industry. It stated: "Ireland believes that Relative Stability and its attendant TACs & Quotas, whilst imperfect, must remain the primary community mechanism to manage fish stocks." Ireland firmly believes that, while imperfect, the TAC and quota system must remain the bedrock of access to fishery resources in the Common Fisheries Policy. It continued: "However, Ireland advocates that adjustments can be made to the present share out (relative stability) of a number of white fish and pelagic stocks so that the future allocation of Community resources is better adjusted to match today's needs and is seen to deliver increased shares of stocks adjacent to shores for coastal Member States through a range of mechanisms including the improved use of swaps." It was looking at the use of mechanisms that were within the realm of what was likely to be proposed to try to achieve progress in that area. In the most recent stock allocation of boarfish a couple of years ago, Ireland achieved two thirds of EU stock. This is now an important fishery, with 56,000 tons of quota this year.
The Common Fisheries Policy reform is a very large package and legal instrument and not all of it is available for members, as the financial fund that would support the policy is not agreed and the areas in which spending would be prioritised or permitted have not yet been finalised. Thus, there are parts of the CFP that have not been settled and are not available to members.
One of the proposals the Minister put into the package in respect of discards was agreed in December during our Presidency. The terminology that is used for a discard ban in Europe is a landing obligation; in other words, one cannot throw fish away but must land them. I will quote: "When a landing obligation for a fish stock is being introduced [in other words, when a discard ban for fish stock is being introduced], fishing opportunities [which is code for quotas] shall be set taking account of the change from setting fishing opportunities to reflect landings to setting fishing opportunities to reflect catches on the basis that for first and subsequent years, discarding of that stock will no longer be allowed." The principle was put into the package agreed in February that quotas must be set, once a discard ban is brought into account, taking account of the fact that fish that were previously being discarded will now be landed. The quota must be adjusted to reflect that. That could be very significant. If we look at the levels of discards in Ireland between 2003 and 2009, among our top ten commercial white fish species there was an average catch of 36,600 tons per year, with associated discards of 14,000 tons per year. That gave an average discard rate of 38%. Deputy Ó Cuív asked about the impact of this. The figures are all set out clearly in the atlas produced by the Marine Institute and BIM for the Department, which is available from the institute or BIM. We set out the level of discards for each fishery in order to examine the practical implications.
With regard to overall discards, the FAO did a global review and found that the north east Atlantic, the area in which Ireland operates, has the highest discard level in the world. It was estimated at 1.3 million tons, and the majority of discards took place in EU fisheries.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Probably demersal. There would be some discards of pelagic fish but there are not strong reasons for large-scale discarding of pelagic fish. Clearly, if the reform policy could prevent unwanted catches, particularly of juvenile fish, that would contribute significantly to building stock to higher levels and sustaining higher catches.
The real debate on relative stability was on the Commission's proposal for the introduction of individual transferable quotas and the privatisation of quotas to individual level, allowing them to be sold, bought up, concentrated and aggregated. Deputies were concerned about inshore fishermen, fishermen with smaller boats, family-owned trawlers and so on. That Commission proposal was regarded by the Government as a significant threat to the way in which our fishing industry is organised and a significant threat to the national quotas. Very strong opposition, with unanimous support from the fishing industry, was exerted in respect of that central aspect of the Commission's proposals for reform. The fear in the Irish context was that the larger industrial companies that operate fishing fleets in white fish fisheries to the south and pelagic fisheries in the North Sea would effectively buy up Irish quotas. If that happened, landings to Ireland would diminish significantly, as would the associated employment downstream. There was an intense debate and Ireland was at the forefront of opposition to this proposal. That element is not in the Council's agreed position today. It is there to a small extent in the Parliament's position but it is not in the Council's position. That was a significant change in what the Commission had proposed in this reform and was the core debate about the code of management.
With regard to quotas for inshore fishermen or smaller fishing operations, the principle agreed in the general approach of the Council is that it is for member states to decide how to distribute their quotas. This morning we had an initial meeting with the fishing industry for about four hours, updating them on the reform process. We keep close contact with them on what is happening in the reform process.
The fishermen sit down with the Department, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and others on a monthly basis to pool all the information and decide, essentially, on the quota arrangements for the following period. That process will be allowed to continue under the reform. It would not have been permitted if the quotas had been privatised under a individual transferable quota system. As the extent to which quotas are available for particular segments of the industry is subject to national decision, there can be a national debate on it.
I am trying to stay within areas that do not involve policy, but it is not easy. It is difficult to assess the exact implications of the decision that has been made with regard to maximum sustainable yield. The stock situation changes every year. That is nature. There are significant fluctuations in many species. The maximum sustainable yield is a target that is being aimed at. The pace at which a stock moves towards that target varies from stock to stock. A stock might be subject to a different trend for wider reasons than the level of fishing. For the last two or three years, the December Council has been receiving proposals from the Commission which have focused on aiming to achieve the maximum sustainable yield. The Council has decided to do this on a graduated basis. It is not as if the process of aiming to achieve the maximum sustainable yield will start when the new reform comes in. We have been moving in that direction. An increasing number of stocks are reaching maximum sustainable yield. It is not a goal that is beyond many of the stocks. It is difficult to quantify the exact effect of this measure. According to the Council decision, attempts will be made to achieve maximum sustainable yield by 2015 where possible and in all cases by 2020. This has quite a long lead-in period. It has been guiding the way quota decisions have been taken for a number of years.
I was also asked about the position on the Hague preferences. At the moment, both versions of the text reflect the Hague preferences. It is not the case that they are in one version but not in the other. They are reflected differently in each version of the text. The Council position is the one that has been in place since the outset of the Common Fisheries Policy, which means the Hague preferences will remain. The opposition to the retention of the preferences in the Common Fisheries Policy has not won out. They will remain under both versions of the text. It is not the case that Ireland has lost with regard to the Hague preferences. I do not think I have missed anything. As I said, I do not wish to stray into policy areas.
Dr. Beamish said that the whitefish catch is 36,000 tonnes and the level of discarding is 14,000 tonnes. He also said the quota will be adjusted to take account of discards. What will that mean in practice?
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
In the first instance, it will have to be done on the basis that stocks must reach maximum sustainable yield. A proposal will come from the Commission and will be decided on by the Council. The Common Fisheries Policy text is giving guidance to the Commission on how it makes the proposal. When we are bringing in the discard ban, we cannot simply propose a quota as if nothing has changed. The quota must take account of the fact that from 2016 or 2018 - the date that applies to the stock in question - the previous discards of a stock will have to be landed. In the case of each of these stocks, a higher quota will have to be put in place to reflect the discarding of that stock which will no longer take place. That is the principle. The Council cannot determine that in advance - it can simply set out the principle. The Commission makes the proposal to the Council on the quota. This is one of the principles that the Commission will have to take into account in proposing a quota. It will also have to consider where the stock is and the direction in which the stock is going, etc. This will be taken into account when the discard ban is introduced. I am referring to the Council's proposal. The Parliament has not done anything like that. The Parliament proposal does not reflect the idea that the quota will have to be changed to take account of the fact that the sizeable discards we saw in the past will no longer take place and will have to be landed. This is another example of something the Council has worked through in greater detail. It has in place a greater range of flanking measures around the decision to introduce a gradual discard ban. All of that will have to be worked through during the discussion.
I did not come back to the Deputy on the question of regionalisation, which he raised earlier. Everybody agrees that a "one size fits all" Common Fisheries Policy is not desirable because it would not work from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and the western waters. It gets complicated after that. In most of the fisheries around Ireland that matter, at least two or three big member states are fishing alongside the Irish fishing fleet. It is desirable to be able to make targeted regional decisions on measures to manage stocks in particular sea basins and areas. The question of how this can be done has been the subject of a fairly detailed debate at Council level over a couple of years. One of the principles of the debate is that there must be fairness in the decision-making process. It is easy to envisage how two or three bigger member states might form a gang and do something that a smaller member state might not like and might wish to vote down or overrule. The fisheries sector is a very competitive environment.
There has been a debate on this at Council level. The outcome, as set out in the text that was agreed in February, is that when unanimous agreement on a set of measures is reached by all the member states involved in the fishery in a particular area, the Commission will fast-track those measures into European law. That was seen as important by Ireland because if there is to be fairness in the system, all fishermen fishing the same species side-by-side under European flags should be subject to the same EU rules. The relevant coastal member state - Ireland in the case of Irish waters - should be able to apply those EU laws to all the vessels fishing in its area. That is the version of regionalisation that the Council has supported. If unanimous agreement is not reached, the Commission will have to make a proposal in the normal way. Like any other proposal, it will have to go through the co-decision process. Unanimity among the member states involved will be required if a proposal is to be fast-tracked. That is the Council version.
The proposal made by the Parliament is different. Essentially, it has suggested that each member state should make the rules for its own fleet and that an attempt should be made to co-ordinate between the member states. In the view of the Council and the Irish Government, that is a problematic way of going about shared fisheries. At a minimum, it would lead to a perception that fishermen under different flags in the same fishery are operating under different rules. If that happens, very negative things will happen in the fishery and in terms of perceptions. There is quite a difference between the approaches to regionalisation of the Council and the Parliament. Member states that tend to speak about the repatriation of powers tend to prefer the Parliament's approach as it would allow them to make the rules under national law. Almost all of Ireland's fisheries are heavily shared fisheries. Large fleets from other countries are fishing alongside our own fishermen. That is why the Irish Government has been supporting the approach that the Council included in the February agreement. Everybody wants regionalisation, but how will it work in practice? How can it be fair to the fishermen on the ground? That is the debate. If something like the Council version of the text is adopted, significant progress will have been made because it will speed up the process of arriving at more tailored solutions for fisheries in particular areas.
That would obviously be a good development.
On the debate about who has access to what waters, etc., this was one of the first items of the reform process on which there was no desire for change. From the outset, member states did not seek to change the six and 12 mile arrangements that have been in place since 1964, long before the Common Fisheries Policy was introduced. The limits were viewed as elements that were settled, as it were, even before the Commission made a proposal. The Commission did not make a proposal to change the six and 12 mile limits in the Green Paper. However, it should be noted that fishermen are not treated differently in terms of their access to a stock, whether inside or outside a zone. The stock is divided out on a relative stability basis and the member states then decide which fishermen receive what share of the national quota.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
There was a proposal early on in the process but there was no support for it. In 2010, Ireland's response to the Commission Green Paper stated the following: "Ireland considers that further consideration should be given to an extension of the 6/12 mile limit to 10/20 miles whereby the access rules currently applicable to the 6 mile zone will be extended to 10 miles and the rules for 6-12 mile zone will be applicable in the 10-20 zone." This proposal did not gain purchase with anybody in the process. It was, however, the position set out by Ireland.
That means a number of countries which do not have a coast or significant coast are dictating to us. It is not a wonder that we cannot win because it would suit such countries if we did not have anything. Irish people have been kept in the dark about what is taking place. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has not made any effort to stir people up to his point of view.
We are talking about chalk and cheese. When the limit was extended to 200 miles we did not follow suit with our national limits. The Irish Government sold out at that point and again subsequently when Spain and Portugal joined the European Economic Community.
When I was a child the international limits were six and 12 miles. However, when the limit was extended to 200 miles for every other country in the world, we made the extraordinary decision to give our fisheries away for nothing. I stated at the time that it was the wrong decision.
I am anxious to conclude because a meeting of the sub-committee is due to commence. Dr. Beamish outlined the principles articulated by Ireland in 2010 in consultation with the fishing organisations. Notwithstanding that we would prefer different relative stability arrangements, the current position is the best option available. I will be brave and suggest that we try to submit a political contribution on the policy, with this discussion as a backdrop. The briefing document on policy developments is informative. The background to our contribution could be that the relative stability is regretted. We could also agree to work within the parameters laid down, given that this was the position agreed by the fisheries industry at the opening of the consultation process. When did that take place?
The Minister appears to have signed off on his side but I notice the European Parliament is still on our side, particularly with regard to the Hague preferences. I suggest, therefore, that we send a political message to our Members of the European Parliament to hang tough on the Hague preferences and demand that they lobby their colleagues not to submit to the Council's position on the Hague preferences. We should make a clear public statement that the joint committee supports the European Parliament vis-à-vis the Council on the issue of the Hague preferences.
Perhaps we should have a discussion about that. Will we also make a statement refusing to support the European Parliament's position on regionalisation and urging our Members of the European Parliament to adopt the Council's position on the issue?
We will then have five different issues we want to raise. We unanimously support the position taken on individual transferable quotas, ITQs, which was an achievement. The Commissioner pointed out that ITQs and discards were the two main planks on which the Commission was framing its new Common Fisheries Policy. There has been considerable movement on both issues. We could consider doing a position paper on the issue. Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank Dr. Beamish and Ms Kelly for attending.