Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals
I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are completely turned off. I welcome from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dr. Cecil Beamish, assistant secretary, Ms Josephine Kelly, principal officer, and Ms Carol Forrest, assistant principal officer, in the sea-fisheries policy and management division. I thank the witnesses for coming before us today to brief us on COM (2018) 149, a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a multi-annual plan for fish stocks in the western waters and adjacent waters.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an 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 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 Dr. Beamish to make his opening statement.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to meet the committee today to discuss the western waters multi-annual plan. As the Chairman said, I am accompanied by my colleagues, Ms Josephine Kelly and Ms Carol Forest from the sea-fisheries policy and management division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I will make a short presentation to give a general background of the multi-annual plan and also to outline the content of the plan, the consultation we have had with stakeholders and the issues of concern that we have identified in the plan.
The aim of multi-annual plans, which were a feature of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, is to restore and maintain fish stocks at sustainable levels while ensuring the social and economic viability for fishermen operating in the region covered by the plan. In this case, the region is known as the western waters, which covers 48,000 fishermen, 18,000 fishing vessels and about 400,000 tonnes of fish quota. A multi-annual plan for the Baltic Sea has already been adopted and political agreement has been secured at EU level between the co-legislators, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on a North Sea multi-annual plan. The western waters multi-annual plan includes the seas around Ireland. These are known as ICES sub-areas 6 and 7, and they contain some of the most productive and biologically sensitive areas in EU waters.
The current Common Fisheries Policy has been in place since 1 January 2014 and will remain in place until the next review of the Common Fisheries Policy which is scheduled for completion by 2022. The overarching goal of the Common Fisheries Policy is to ensure that fisheries are environmentally sustainable in the long term and deliver economic, social and employment benefits. The Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, provides the framework for the long-term sustainability of fish stocks around our shores and a long-term approach to fisheries management and sustainability.
A significant policy change in the current CFP is the introduction of the landing obligation which is also commonly known as the discards ban. Ireland has fully supported this objective in the Common Fisheries Policy in order to rebuild the fish stocks on which our industry and coastal communities are dependent. However, there are concerns regarding the implementation of this plan that remain to be addressed. In particular, there is a serious concern that fishing vessels may have to stop fishing early on a target stock because there is no quota available for unavoidable by-catch. This is known as choking in the target fishery. Intensive work is progressing in close consultation with the fishing industry and other stakeholders on finding appropriate means to help address these matters. All available options must be utilised to avoid such choke situations.
One of the other key objectives of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was to have all fish stocks maintained at a level known as at FMSY, which is the fishing mortality maximum sustainable yield, and to restore stocks to a high level by 2020. Again, Ireland is fully supportive of this objective, but as it is currently applied, which involves fixing the stocks by reaching a fixed point, and given that we have a multiplicity of mixed fisheries there is a danger of this system being overly rigid in the setting of total allowable catches, TACs. The multi-annual plan we are discussing partially addresses this rigidity by introducing ranges of FMSY that are assessed by scientists as precautionary. The introduction of ranges is particularly important for stocks such as haddock in the Celtic Sea which often see large increases or decreases in abundance from year to year. Utilising a range in achieving the maximum sustainable yield decreases the possibility of setting the TAC either too high or too low. The multi-annual plan provides for the use of ranges for all of the main target stocks that drive fisheries and are the main targets for fishing vessels operating in the western waters.
The multi-annual plan concerns the fishing fleets of Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom. It covers a broad area - from Scotland down to Madeira and the Azores. Ireland does not have any fishing interests in the Bay of Biscay or in the Madeira-Azores area and, accordingly, our total focus is with the stocks in areas 6 and 7, which extend from the north of Scotland to the northern coast of France. The multi-annual plan covers commercial fisheries targeting 37 demersal stocks, of which 26 are in areas 6 and 7 and of interest to us. It covers all of the whitefish and prawn stocks that are subject to TACs and quotas on which our fleets are dependent.
I will now outline what is included in the plan in a little more detail. In relation to the fishing mortality maximum sustainable yield rule for managing fish stocks, the multi-annual plans are an essential step in achieving the maximum sustainable yield in all stocks by the target set in the Common Fisheries Policy of 2020. The multi-annual plan introduces new flexibilities by using the fishing mortality maximum sustainable yield range. Those ranges will allow greater room for manoeuvre when setting total allowable catches and quotas, rather than at present where the TACs are set in relation to a single FMSY point. This is a more pragmatic approach to managing mixed fisheries, while it is consistent with the broader MSY objective in the Common Fisheries Policy.
Article 1 of the plan includes a list of stocks which, although not specifically so named, can be considered to be the target stocks. These target stocks will be fished within the FMSY ranges. Until now, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, which is the international scientific body, would have given advice according to the FMSY point estimate - a single point - and therefore recommend a particular TAC. Stocks not listed in the plan are considered by-catch stocks and are to be fished according to the precautionary approach as set down by ICES for the relevant stocks. For some of those stocks, this will result in a change in the basis of the advice and this change may imply less restrictive limits on fishing pressure. This approach can provide flexibilities also in a mixed fisheries context where more than one species is caught at the same time.
The upper end of the FMSY range may be used, subject to three conditions set down in Article 4.5 of the plan. We believe the most relevant of these conditions are those designed to reduce discards in mixed fisheries and to limit TAC variation by +/-20%. That should support improved economic performance by our industry and yield stability of the fishery.
Another important element in the multi-annual plan is that it supports the introduction of technical measures for selective fishing based on the recommendations of the regional member states' groups, following consultation with the advisory councils. This is a very welcome measure. There are provisions already in place in the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, regulation that allow for the introduction of technical measures but these are only in the context of a discards plan to support practical measures, reducing unwanted catches and in particular reduced catches of juvenile fish.
This provision in the plan extends the opportunity for technical measures, for example, more selective nets, escape mechanisms and limitations on fishing areas to protect juvenile fish, across fishing activities and gives a strong role to the advisory councils of industry to suggest or give guidance on measures for their fisheries.
In terms of the timeline so far, since the Commission proposal was published on 23 March of this year, we have thoroughly examined the details of the plan in consultation with the Marine Institute, our scientific advisers, and Bord Iaiscaigh Mhara, BIM. We have endeavoured to keep our stakeholders fully informed and allow ample opportunity to hear their views. The proposal was first presented by the Commission and discussed at the Council's working party on internal fisheries policy on 28 March. Prior to that, we contacted all stakeholders for their initial observations. The proposal was next presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of Ministers on 16 April and that was followed by an exchange of views by Ministers. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, expressed his support for the plan but also made clear that he was engaged in ongoing consultation with stakeholders and that process would inform Ireland's position as the technical examination of the proposal continued.
At the most recent departmental sea fisheries liaison group meeting with the industry on 18 April, the proposal was discussed in detail. At that meeting the Marine Institute gave a presentation on the content of the proposal and the potential issues. As a follow-up to its presentation, the Marine Institute provided the industry with an overview of the list of stocks covered in Article 1 and considered as target stocks. The material was sent to industry representatives to inform further consideration and it formed the basis for our position in the ongoing Council discussions.
I will now move on to our concerns with the proposed plan. The first relates to the list of stocks under Article 1. It is unclear to us why some stocks were included and others were not. A technical meeting to discuss the list of stocks took place in Brussels on Friday 18 May and was attended by Department officials and the Marine Institute. One major concern regarding stocks is the inclusion of sea-bass within the list of stocks. As members are aware, there are currently no commercial catches of sea-bass permitted in the waters around Ireland and we believe it should not be included in this proposal as it is not a TAC and quota species. We also do not think deep-sea stocks should be included in the plan, along with certain other stocks caught as by-catches.
We have also requested information on the timeline for ICES to provide FMSY ranges and the frequency for updating them. Finally, we have queried the inclusion of recreational fisheries within the scope of the plan. We are of the view at the moment that there is a gap in our knowledge concerning the impact of recreational fisheries on commercial stocks and that gap would not support their inclusion in the scope of the plan at this stage.
As it stands, the proposal remains on the agenda of the Council's working party. The process is moving along at a very steady pace and the Presidency of the Council has advised that it is planning to secure a Council general approach by mid-June. It is unclear at this stage when negotiations with the European Parliament will commence but it is unlikely to be until the autumn at the earliest. We are committed to keeping all relevant stakeholders informed and will discuss with them the issues that arise and in particular those that impact directly on the fishing operations of the Irish industry. I hope this presentation has been of assistance to the committee. I am happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Dr. Beamish drew attention to sea-bass. I will take his guidance on that as I presume what he said is based on the work of the Marine Institute and assessment of the stock by scientists. Where is the measure coming from? I accept that Dr. Beamish's position is based on science and data but where is the Commission getting its information that has led to this proposal? Similarly, I would like clarification on the approach in terms of a divergence of opinion on deep-sea stocks. It appears there has been extensive engagement with stakeholders such as the representative organisations for fishermen.
What are their views? Have they conveyed any concerns or objectives they wish the Government and the delegation to negotiate?
I thank Dr. Beamish for his presentation. My concerns are along the same lines as those of Senator Mac Lochlainn. Dr. Beamish stated it was unclear why some stocks were included while others were not and outlined some of the Department's concerns. Did he outline all of his concerns? The presentation states that the Department has queried the inclusion of recreational fishing within the scope of the plan. What impact would that have on Ireland? Where is that coming from? As I understand it, we participate in the north-west waters and would have been involved in the drafting of this plan. Why would anything have come out of the blue when we have been involved in the process from start to finish? Is the European Commission acting totally independently and launching this on top of the north-west waters? What is the process?
I understood the process was sold to the fishing industry on the basis that we were actively involved in the drafting of the plans and that the plans would be drawn up at a local level by the countries which had concerns about the waters. I ask Dr. Beamish to outline the process and why we would be so surprised that they would be part of the in the process.
The plan concerns fishing fleets from Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom. As I understand it, those countries sit on the western waters regional council and draft and adopt the plans for the area. In that case, how can this be launched on its end, unknown to us? How do other countries contribute to the plan and the catching ability within it? The matter has been rectified, but I ask the delegation to clear that up. I refer to the reporting structures which, for example, Spain would give in regard to what it can catch. Has that been resolved? Is what it is catching and its ability to catch feeding into the plan and making it more robust?
I thank the officials for their presentation. My question follows the contributions of the two previous speakers. I would like further detail on the engagement with stakeholders and any concerns they have expressed to the Department about the plan. I ask the officials to deal with the discards issue and how the proposed measure can be implemented in a way which deals with the issue and is practical. There is a grave concern that in the absence of allowances for the type of catch which would previously have been dumped the objective would become unenforceable. It is something which is a great waste as things stand. The overall implementation needs to be practical in a way which is fair to fishermen and ensures the practice of discards can be discontinued.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Senator Mac Lochlainn asked how the industry has conveyed its concerns and objectives. I will address the process, because that will answer some of the questions Deputy Pringle asked. The Commission has the right of initiative. This is a co-decision, not one made by regional member states. The Commission has made the proposal and has the complete right to do that. Member states feed into the Council of Ministers and the Council will take a general approach, possibly by June. The Parliament then takes its approach. The Council and Parliament then come together to try to hammer out a common approach which is adopted. This proposal will go through the co-decision and co-legislation process. The Commission has made a proposal and it is now in the Council. That is normal business in terms of looking at the detail and getting into the technical detail.
Before we get into the technical detail, I wish to state that CFP reform requires that the stocks all be managed for a maximum sustainable yield by 2020. From 2015, we have had to bring more and more stocks into this way of managing. At the moment, that is based on advice that there is a particular point at which one should set the total allowable catch. The system is quite rigid. If all of the stocks are set on that basis, there is no margin for manoeuvre in mixed fisheries. Sometimes in mixed fisheries one stock is going up and another coming down, fish are getting caught together and one or other stock has to be fished at the upper or lower end of the range in order to stay related to what is happening for fishermen in the water. The plan allows for flexibility. The ranges we have discussed will allow the Council some margin of manoeuvre when it is deciding the total allowable catches.
The industry understands this and that, in broad principle, it is a good thing. It allows flexibility in management, reduces unwanted catches, etc., while protecting sustainability. The industry would like to have maximum sustainability ranges in the multi-annual plan in broad terms before we get the 2020 stock figures. Industry is generally supportive of the direction of travel. We are into the detail after that.
Industry understands that the timeframe is quite tight because there will be elections to the Parliament next year. We can only get a co-decision if the Parliament and Council reach a common position. Therefore, the Council needs to move quickly to get a decision and the Parliament needs to move quickly, probably at best by the end of the year. The two together then have to come out with a common position, which makes for quite a tight timeframe early next year. In general, industry is in favour of trying to get a multi-annual plan in place before we hit the 2020 deadline.
On the specifics, the Marine Institute has advised on the list of stocks it feels should be covered by this. We have shared this list of target stocks with industry and talked about it. We are all broadly on the same track. The concerns I have talked about are broadly shared with industry.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of sea-bass. Sea-bass fishing in Ireland was prohibited for more than two and a half decades because we are at the northern range of the sea-bass population. We are at the outer limits and therefore the population is more vulnerable. When the stock was depleted in our area in the mid-1990s, it was decided to effectively close commercial fisheries to sea-bass but to retain some recreational fisheries because of the recreational tourism business in the southern half of the country.
That position continued until a couple of years ago when it was possible to get agreement at EU level to close all commercial fisheries in our area. Prior to that, the Irish fleet was restricted but it was not possible to restrict other fleets in our area. The western waters comprise a large area. Sea-bass is much more prevalent in the Channel and is a big target for fishing. The stock is in some trouble and many measures are being brought in to manage it, but it is still a commercial operation in that part of the overall area. As an Irish industry we are not engaged in that, but France and the UK are.
The inclusion of sea-bass fishing in the western waters is really with a mindset towards that area rather than our area. We do not want such fishing included in our area because we do not want to reopen commercial sea-bass fishing, which remains vulnerable and is the scientific advice in our area. I apologise for the long story but sea-bass is a particular case.
In terms of deep-sea stocks, at this stage they are largely fished by France in deep water. That fishery has been reduced to a low level. The plan focuses on the main target stocks, for which we are setting total allowable catches.
Deputy Pringle also asked about sea-bass and I have dealt with the matter.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
No. In our area, and I mean the area around Ireland, one can set higher standards for our industry than the European minimum. In 1990, it was decided to prohibit our fleet from commercial fishing. A great deal of sea-bass fishing is almost on the surf. It is right up on the coast because that is where sea-bass congregate. A number of years ago the EU started to bring in management measures to address the sustainability of sea-bass fisheries further south. In that context it was possible, after considerable work, to close commercial fishing for everybody in our area thus creating a level playing field.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
It was closed prior to that for many years because there were no real management measures for sea-bass at an EU level. A number of years ago the sea-bass population was in trouble.
Ireland has a sea-bass angling business which has a knock-on effect in rural areas. The hobby generates a demand for accommodation in small hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, etc. Tourists visit this country to spend time sea-bass angling. It has been a priority to protect the business yet limit the impact on sustainability. At present there is no commercial fishing for sea-bass by anybody around Ireland but there is a sea angling business. The multi-annual plan aims to manage commercial fishing stocks. If sea-bass is not being fished commercially, we do not see why it should be included in our area. There are other areas in the western waters where sea-bass is fished commercially and in significant quantities, namely, further south and down around the channel. The Commission's logic for keeping it in is that it wants to govern this fishery through a multi-annual plan. We think it would be cleaner if such fishing was taken out of our area but there is logic on both sides to retain the option. The plan does not change anything. It is not going to reopen commercial fishing, we think, and we would be very opposed to such a move.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Colloquially, the term is used both ways. Ireland has a 200 mile zone. Like any other such zone, Ireland is responsible for control and enforcement in the 200 mile zone but what swims in that zone is managed by European law. That is the same in any other instance. Ireland catches two thirds of its fish in its own 200 mile zone and the remaining one third outside of that zone in the 200 mile zones of other countries. No country has exclusive rights to a 200 mile zone in terms of what swims in the water. That is the way this works.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Deputy McConalogue asked whether there had been engagement with stakeholders. I outlined in my opening statement the various meetings that have taken place. We made a scientific presentation to the stakeholders and gave them the scientific documentation compiled by the Marine Institute. In broad terms, we are all pretty much on the same track. This matter is not controversial. It is more about trying to encourage this plan and get it in place, as much as we can. While there is some tailoring at the edges, in general, people want this because otherwise we will have a very rigid maximum sustainable yield way of managing and setting total allowable catches for all our stocks from 2020 onwards. That scenario could lead to awkward situations.
The technical measures are another important element although they always sound boring. These measures relate to what Deputy Pringle mentioned. They allow regional member states in a region in which they have an interest - in our case, France, Spain, the UK, Ireland, and perhaps Belgium and the Netherlands - to get together to set the conditions for fishing, for example, the mesh size of the gears and the selective escape arrangements. A decision may be taken not to fish in a certain area for a period, etc. Such matters can be unanimously agreed by the member states concerned. If it is in compliance with the basic EU regulation, the Commission will turn it into EU law, by a delegated Act, and that will be the law that governs the gear or technical aspects of fishing.
I will outline why this option is important. As we move towards the elimination of discards, and by that I mean we do not want fish caught, killed and thrown away, we equally do not want to catch fish that we do not want to catch, that are of no value and thus have to bring them back to the coast. Therefore, we want more selective fishing and fishermen want more selective fishing. For example, we have very high rates of mortality of young fish in certain fisheries. If young fish are being killed, there will not be an abundant stock. If we want to grow the stocks to secure higher quotas, etc., we must have selective fishing. If we want to bring home the big fish, we want selective fishing. The multi-annual plan creates the possibility for member states to move forward and set technical rules and selective gears. There is strong industry support in Ireland for moving forward with technical measures. We do not the stocks on which we are dependent to be damaged by heavy fishing of young fish, which are then discarded.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
The plan must be adopted first to grant power to the member states, in regional groups, to set the technical measures. At present we can set technical measures for what are known as discard plans, and that work continues. The discard plans will not last forever and the multi-annual plan creates a legal possibility to continue doing this, post-2020 or post-2021, when we will need to do so. That scenario is viewed as a positive by the industry because it allows the measures that govern the fishery to be tailored to the region in question. In addition, the member states, working with their industries, can come up with new measures, etc., to move forward.
Deputy McConalogue mentioned the landing obligation and discards plan. One of the other big initiatives in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was that by the start of next year all species covered by total allowable catch, TAC, and quota would be subject to a discard ban. In other words, one can bring home what one catches but with some minor flexibility at the margins.
To do this, member states have been working together, under regional powers that were given in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, to develop some tailored ways and flexibilities for governing this area and allow fishermen some marginal manoeuvre, if one likes, in achieving this objective. The member states work closely with what are known as the industry advisory councils. The industry from the same member states and at the same regional level will come together and decide the industry position and the member states will only proceed with work on the basis of having the industry position on board. While this is helping to tailor the discard ban, it will not solve all the problems. The way it is working is that the member states will agree by unanimity on a discard ban which will implement some of the flexibilities required to introduce the ban at the end of the year. There will still be problems, however, and much work has been done between the member states and the advisory council of industry on where those problems are likely to emerge. The plan is that once the member states agree what they can agree on flexibilities under the regulation, close work will be done with the Commission from that point until the December Council to identify what additional steps will be taken to enable the obligation to be introduced at the end of the year.
There are undoubtedly concerns as this is a major change in behaviour. While people are concerned about its potential impact, we should not lose sight of the benefit. If we can avoid discarding 40%, 50% or 60% of the catches of some of the stocks on which we are dependent and ideally reach a point where these are left in the sea to grow, we will create a much more sustainable basis for higher yields in future. We are trying to move towards smarter, more environmentally friendly fishing that will sustain the industry.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
The Presidency is working to that target. It will be a matter of how well the Council and Presidency work as to whether they can reach that point by mid-June, which is a fairly short timeframe in the nature of these things. The ambition is to try to secure Council agreement as early as possible because the Parliament then has to get to work and arrive at its position. If it does not reach a position by the end of the year, it will be difficult to have this measure in place before elections to the Parliament are held.
I asked a question on compliance among member states and the reporting in the procedure. How is that working? Dr. Beamish stated Ireland was responsible for the policing of the catch in Irish waters. How is this procedure working in terms of compliance among other member states? I have in mind the example of the Spanish fleet, which will not land catches from Irish waters in this country. How will that be policed? Will we rely on the Spanish authorities to inform us of what Spanish vessels catch in Irish waters?
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
There is a common control framework under the European Union. Vessels have to report in every night on what they have caught and what they have on board. They also have to report what they have when they land and inspection checks occur either at landing or at sea. In our 200 mile zone, the Naval Service has the responsibility at sea and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has responsibility on shore. The satellite vessel monitoring system provides visibility on the locations of vessels. The control authorities know who is in the waters, who is fishing, what is being reported every night and what is reported when landed. They work to cross-check all of this information to verify the accuracy of the reporting. The control authorities also work together through the European Fisheries Control Agency to co-ordinate their activities. All the operational aspects are done by the SFPA. I cannot discuss that in detail, however, because it is the authority's independent role to perform the operational aspects of law enforcement.
A review is under way at European Union level of what is known as the control regulation. Further fisheries control initiatives will undoubtedly be taken as this is an ongoing scenario. There is a common control framework, however, and the control agencies co-operate, work together and receive shared inspection plans. The Commission has inspectors who inspect the inspectorates of the member states. They carry out inspections of how Ireland, Spain, the UK and other countries are performing their control functions. That is the hierarchy in place.
In terms of the western waters plan, the idea is that an annual report will be produced by the regional member states' groups and the plan would be subject to a five year review by the Commission.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Some of the areas in western waters are not under the control functions of the Irish authorities. We are only a part of the western waters. There is a French area, a UK area and a Spanish area and the Irish Sea is divided between Ireland and the UK. There are, therefore, many different areas and fisheries involved and a wide variety of circumstances.
In that case, perhaps we should discuss the areas in which the Irish fleet fishes, how our fleet is policed, how the rest of the European fleet is policed and whether the system of policing is working adequately.
As the organisation responsible for negotiating fishing rights, quotas, stock, etc., I presume the Department must be able to stand over the accuracy of the figures it receives. It must have some role in the matter.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
Each of the member states reports monthly on the catch of its fleet and all of this information is collated at European level. The catches are also shared with scientists who feed this information into their assessment of the state of the stocks. A number of our stocks have been improving. In the past three or four years, we have had significant improvements in the commercial fisheries in the north west, which had not been in a good place previously. We also had some signs of recovery in the Irish Sea, particularly in the haddock fishery, and last year we had the first signs of recovery in Irish Sea cod in many years. There are scenarios where cod stocks in broad terms have been improving and more stocks have been at maximum sustainable yield level. There are always stocks increasing and decreasing.
Basically, the Department is not interested in how fishing is policed, whether it is accurate or what is caught by other European countries. All of that is up to the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA.
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
No, there are different roles and responsibilities. The control framework is agreed at European level. The operational implementation of that is carried out by the SFPA in Ireland. It makes its reports which are freely available to the Oireachtas and so forth. All of that is absorbed as part of the data flow. Discussions are ongoing at the moment in relation to a new control regulation with a view to strengthening fisheries control further. Obviously as the Common Fisheries Policy evolves and as we move to the introduction of the discard ban or the landing obligation, there will be new control challenges associated with that initiative which will have to be addressed. It is not a static field.
As things stand at the moment, the Department is quite happy with all of the reporting from the other member states as to what is being caught in Irish waters. Is the Department happy that the system is working?
In terms of fish caught in waters around Ireland, the SFPA polices the Irish boats but who polices the boats from Spain, Belgium, Portugal, the UK, Germany and so on? Those boats catch fish in Irish waters but land their fish in their own countries. Is the Department happy that-----
Dr. Cecil Beamish:
The Irish industry takes about 42% of the catches in the Irish 200 mile zone and the other EU fleets that have access would take the balance. There is some access for Norwegian vessels in the blue whiting fishery as well. Control at sea is carried out by the Naval Service working with the SFPA while control on land is carried out by the SFPA. The Commission then inspects all of that control effort. It does the same in the other marine exclusive economic zones. The Commission is ultimately overseeing all of this. That is how it works.
This committee has highlighted these issues previously to the SFPA. The authority will be before us again towards the end of the year and we can highlight them again at that stage. Is Deputy Pringle happy enough with that?
We addressed these issues at a committee meeting on 1 May. Members were circulated with a copy of the schedule for that meeting. The committee agreed to seek an update from the Department which we have done today. Following today's meeting, we must determine what we will do next. We have a number of options. We could conclude our consideration of this proposal and make a political contribution to the EU institutions or we could write to the Minister while also submitting a political contribution. Time is moving on and we need to do something this week.