Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this topic for discussion and the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, for coming to the House to respond to it. The background to this issue rests with what I would describe as the jewel of the crown of the Irish fishing industry, namely, the mackerel fishery, which is worth more than €100 per annum to the State and the industry.
During the past number of years, the fishery has changed, with countries such as Iceland and the Faroe Islands arbitrarily allocating themselves a huge amount of the quota which historically has been bound by international agreements in the North East Atlantic between the countries of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia. The effect of this unilateral allocation of quota has led to a huge political impasse and an economic crisis in the industry. I commend the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on his efforts in terms of being the first to call for the imposition of sanctions on Iceland and the Faroe Islands owing to what they had done. This led to feverish negotiations at a European level. Ultimately, over a series of meetings an agreement was, regrettably, reached between the European Union and the countries, with the exception of Iceland. In my opinion, this agreement will impact negatively on the mackerel fishery in this country. Included in the agreement is an increase from 890,000 metric tonnes to 1.24 million tonnes, in allowable catch in the North East Atlantic waters, to be shared among the countries mentioned. The problem is that the European Union share in this allocation has decreased considerably.
While there will be an increase in the 2014 total allowable catch, the future for this fishery will more than likely be a severe decrease in subsequent years, as a result not alone of the advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, but from the decreased share which the European Union will have in this fishery. This will lead to two significant problems for all sectors of the mackerel industry in this country. First, an increased allocation for the coastal States, including Ireland, will lead to increased landing and as a result depressed prices. This will be inevitable. Second, will be an increased expectation on some of the segments for an increased share of the Irish mackerel quota, particularly those within the polyvalent-pelagic segment. Currently the Irish mackerel quota is divided, with 87% of it being allocated to the RSW pelagic sector, which comprises 23 large vessels, and the remaining 13% being sub-divided between the remaining sectors and based on vessels' gross tonnage-size.
I understand the need for a large allocation for the RSW segment. There have been huge investments made in that segment, leading to greater quality fish landed at our ports. However, it would be unfair not to put on the record that there will be increased demands on this industry as a result of a short term gain. This matter needs to be handled carefully.
I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to outline the position in this area on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who is, unfortunately, unavailable owing to another commitment.
A three-party agreement on the management of the mackerel stock in the north-east Atlantic involving the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands was agreed on 12 March in London, following lengthy discussions over many months and years. Iceland, despite being involved in all of the negotiations is not party to this agreement. The key elements of the agreement are as follows: the total allowable catch has been set at 1.24 million tonnes for 2014 and in subsequent years it shall be based on the levels advised by the International Council on the Exploration of the Sea, ICES; the agreement is for five years; 12.6% of the total allowable catch has been allocated to Faroes; and a further 15.6% has been held as a coastal state and fishing party reserve. The latter would cover the possible accession of Iceland to the agreement as well as the interests of Russia and Greenland.
Ireland could not support the final agreement because of the unacceptably high number of shares allocated to the Faroe Islands and the level set aside for a reserve. However, there are aspects of the agreement that we can welcome. I refer, for example, to the fact that there will be no access to EU waters for Iceland, access for Norway has been restricted and the relative shares of the EU and Norway have been respected, with each paying proportionately to cover the new arrangements. In addition, the quota for the Irish fleet for 2014 has been increased - from the initial one set at the December Council - by over 60% to 105,000 tonnes. The final quota involves an 82% increase on the quota for 2013.
We have always been supportive of a deal that would bring an end to the irresponsible and excessive fishing of the mackerel stock which we have witnessed during the past five years. This new five-year agreement while far from ideal will at least ensure that, in line with the EU and Norway, the Faroese will be subject to fixed quotas set on the basis of ICES advice. This will protect against the previous dangerously high levels of fishing in which they participated. However, we are disappointed by the fact that the final outcome gave the Faroe Islands a significantly increased 12.6% share of the stock. The 15.6% reserve is intended to cover Iceland, Greenland and Russia but as all these parties are operating outside a formal agreement, there can be no confidence that they will respect even this very generous allocation.
From an Irish perspective, there is considerable disappointment with the high level shares and set aside granted. These appear to reward irresponsible behaviour. Ireland consistently argued at Council, and during the wider negotiations, that the levels being proposed for the parties to which I refer were too high. It is on that basis that we cannot support the overall deal. However, the European Commission and the EU member states with mackerel fishing fleets, including the UK which is the largest mackerel quota holder in the Union, were willing to accept the granting of those levels of share to the Faroes and the share set aside in the reserve.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I agree with the sentiments he expressed and I share his disappointment. The European Commission sacrificed sustainability for expediency in the context of the agreement that was reached. Unfortunately, the UK authorities were blinded by the offer of 30 pieces of silver for short-term gain.
The point I really wish to get across is that the deal changes the game completely in respect of the sustainability of the mackerel fishery, not just for Ireland but also for the European Union as a whole. As already stated, the mackerel sector here is divided into two segments and I strongly urge that the Minister of State and the Department consider the economic impact this will have in terms of depressing prices in the longer term and giving rise to smaller quotas. I am of the view that, despite the initial reward relating to the deal being done, quota levels are going to plummet in the future. The latter is going to have an impact on both the RSW pelagic segment, which is entitled to be dealt with in a sustainable way, and polyvalent pelagic segment, which comprises the vast majority of those vessels that have an entitlement to fish mackerel. It is unwise to allow to be carried through a deal that is going to prove unsustainable in the context of one or both of these segments. I request that a strategic review be carried out in respect of the long-term impact of the agreement on the Irish fishing sector and on coastal communities throughout the country.
The points the Deputy makes in respect of the economic impact are extremely important. In that context, I wish to outline the position with regard to where we find ourselves.
Ireland was prepared to concede significant shares to both Iceland and the Faroe Islands in the interests of stability and sustainability. However, we do not consider that there is any justification for the EU to have conceded as it has done. The share for Faroes is, unfortunately, now fixed. Ireland will be working hard to ensure lessons will be learned and that, in negotiations to come, EU member states will work more effectively together in order to better protect the Union's share of this vital resource.
In the context of the internal allocation of quota to the fleet, as a result of the coastal states agreement the adjusted national quota for 2014 is 104,967 tonnes. At the December Council, a provisional quota of 65,000 tonnes was set and this was allocated at the beginning of the year. There has been a recent request for a review of the redistribution of mackerel quota allocations between the polyvalent and refrigerated sea water, RSW, pelagic segments of the fleet based on the increase in the quota in 2014. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has given full consideration to this request and is not of the view that there were changed circumstances which would support a review of the allocations between the segments. It is considered that the percentage-based allocation between the segments can properly deal with year on year fluctuations in national quota in a fair, transparent and balanced way.