Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Priority Questions

Fisheries Protection

2:30 pm

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the unsustainable fishing practices by Iceland and the Faroe Islands for mackerel in the north east Atlantic; the steps he is taking to protect the interests of the Irish pelagic fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14725/12]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Browne for tabling a question on this extremely topical matter. I have set out for the House on numerous occasions the background to the mackerel dispute with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, most recently last week during a Topical Issue debate with Deputy Harrington. I have also set down the importance of the mackerel fishery for our fleet and the serious concerns we have about the current unacceptable situation.

It is clear that the irresponsible actions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands cannot be allowed to continue unchecked and we have to deploy all effective means to persuade them to re-examine fundamentally their position in this matter. I have called for and broadly welcome the EU Commission proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the European Council which will allow for the introduction of trade sanctions against third countries engaged in irresponsible or illegal fishing activities which may lead to depletion of the fish stocks.

In conjunction with my UK colleagues, I placed this issue on the agenda of Monday's EU Fisheries Council. I took the opportunity to explain to my EU counterparts that this mackerel crisis relates to four issues, namely, jobs, economics, sustainability and, most importantly, fairness. I made it clear that EU member states cannot accept the Faroe Islands' and Iceland's unjustifiable and unsustainable fishing of mackerel stocks. Ireland and Norway share those stocks with the Faroe Islands and Iceland. I received strong support from Commissioner Damanaki and Ministers from other member states which have been impacted by this for my call for the EU to fast-track the adoption of effective trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands for continuing unsustainable fishing practice. I also made clear that Ireland is a strong supporter of Icelandic accession to the European Union. Given that it is another island in the north-east Atlantic, I am of the view that Iceland's interests and those of the EU would be best served by it being a member of the Union. That said, I made it clear at Council that I find it difficult to accept that we could move ahead, in good faith, in opening a fisheries chapter in the EU's accession negotiations with Iceland while the issue relating to mackerel remains unresolved.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

I received support from Commissioner Damanaki and fellow Ministers for my position in relation to fast-tracking trade sanctions against both Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Some member states, including Germany, also expressed concern about opening the fisheries chapter in the EU's accession negotiations with Iceland in the current context.

I consider that we have now reached a point where the EU, working in partnership with Norway, must set out actions it is prepared to take in order to make it unacceptable for Iceland and the Faroe Islands to continue their current irresponsible fishing activity. I am satisfied, after these discussions at Council this week, that there is a strong commitment from both Commissioner Damanaki and fisheries ministers of other countries that have been impacted upon to pursue vigorously and urgently available actions that will be seen to be proportionate and will be effective.

3:00 pm

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for his reply and I recognise that for 2012 he secured for fishermen the same quota which obtained in 2011. However, there are serious concerns among those in the north west that the unsustainable fishing practices being engaged in by fishing vessels from Iceland and the Faroe Islands will eventually destroy the industry here. In a joint statement issued on 16 February last, Commissioner Damanaki and the Norwegian Minister for Fisheries, Ms Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, said "In spite of five rounds of consultations in autumn 2011 and early 2012...it is particularly disappointing that neither Iceland nor the Faroe Islands really engaged in the negotiation process." Has there been any movement in the interim? Have the two parties in question been encouraged to return to the table in order to engage in the negotiation process in a meaningful way?

Is it the case that the Commission has proposed that sanctions should only relate to mackerel being imported into the EU?

That is tantamount to doing nothing as 95% of the mackerel exports are sent outside the EU.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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What I have been doing with this issue, I do not do it lightly. We have made statements that I am sure make some people in Iceland uncomfortable and angry but we cannot stand by and allow the plundering of a hugely valuable stock, worth €1 billion in terms of quayside value to the European Union, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. There have been changes in the migratory pattern of mackerel which has resulted in stocks moving north to Icelandic and Faroese waters, and the European Union accepts that there must be an upward reallocation of mackerel quota to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. What is being sought is none the less totally unrealistic.

The EU, in an effort to achieve a deal, offered a 2,000% increase in Iceland's quota. It was at 0.3% and the offer was made to increase it to 7%. In addition, the Faroese were being offered a quota of 8%, having previously caught 4.7% or 4.8% of the quota. We are talking about offering a combined 15% of a €1 billion quota to countries that would previously have had approximately 5% access to the quota. The European Union has been more than generous in trying to find a resolution based on encouraging responsible fishing. Nevertheless, last year Iceland caught approximately 150,000 tonnes of fish from a recommended catch of approximately 630,000 tonnes or 640,000 tonnes. That is approximately 23% of the catch. This country would historically have had 0.3% or 4,000 tonnes of the catch but it decided to catch 150,000 tonnes last year. That country encouraged vessels from other parts of the world to help it catch large volumes of fish.

It is totally unsustainable for us to allow this type of fishing of the most valuable stock in the Irish fishing industry. I will do what I have to in order to protect the industry's interests on the issue. We are taking the current approach to attempt to encourage future dialogue. We have had five rounds of negotiations on the issue in the past 12 months but got nowhere. The European Union must show some teeth at this stage, and that is why I am pushing the Commission and Council, and the reason I have got strong support from member states such as the UK, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Scandinavian countries to fast-track sanctions.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Minister happy to support the European Parliament fisheries committee, which is led by our own MEP, Pat "The Cope" Gallagher, in initiating broader sanctions on Iceland and the Faroe Islands with regard to all types of fish and fisheries products?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Pat "The Cope" Gallagher is on a twin-track approach with me. We are both trying to increase the pressure. Sometimes we need to rattle cages to get things done. If we do not do what we are now doing, in two years people will be screaming and roaring because a mackerel quota will have been halved for Ireland. This quota is worth at the quayside, or in terms of landed fish, approximately €106 million per year to the industry. We must act now to try to force a resolution on the issue in order that we can progress with positive issues with Iceland, including accession to the European Union, which I hope can progress apace when we deal with the mackerel issue.