Newlyn Fish Market - boats due to land.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

‘Mackerel maternity ward’ Ireland angry at Brexit fishing waters carve-up

 


Ireland’s catch losses in price terms are roughly double those for other EU nations, says Cabinet minister. Irish officials concede it will be tough to put EU partners on the hook for further sacrifices of their own fishing quotas.

DUBLIN — Ireland says its loss of U.K. fishing rights in the Brexit trade deal is disproportionately high and expects EU partners to share more of the burden.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, speaking after his first post-deal meeting Monday with EU colleagues in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, said other EU nations that fish in British waters must “urgently” share quota losses currently assigned to Ireland.

The EU and U.K. will soon begin negotiations on setting catch quotas for the rest of 2021, with current rules set to expire at the end of March.

McConalogue says Ireland’s catch losses in price terms are roughly double those envisaged for other EU nations’ fleets operating in British waters. Losses are sharpest for Ireland’s most valuable catch, mackerel.

“A disproportionate burden is being borne by Ireland in relation to the package of fish quotas being transferred from the EU to the U.K. under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Ireland’s concerns have been raised at the highest level,”

McConalogue said after Monday’s online meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers. McConalogue said he had “strongly expressed my disappointment that the principle of burden sharing within the EU has not been adequately respected.”


Privately, Irish officials concede it will be tough to put EU partners on the hook for further sacrifices of their own quotas.

“We must tread gently when raising this issue, given how supportive Europe has been to Ireland on matters of critical importance, particularly in defending the Northern Ireland Protocol,” said a government official, speaking on the condition he was not identified.

“We of course don’t expect France or the Dutch to just hand some of their quotas to us. But we expect a serious hearing,” he said. “We want our European colleagues to take a closer look at the real sums involved and, frankly, the lack of fairness that is apparent.”

According to the Agriculture Department’s forecast of fisheries losses from Brexit, Ireland takes by far the biggest financial hit among the eight EU states that fish U.K. waters.

It says Ireland’s pre-Brexit ability to catch fish in U.K. waters was worth €288 million yearly, based on 2019 Irish market prices. This, it says, will be cut by 15 percent, dealing a €43 million annual loss.

France will suffer a marginally higher value loss of €52 million, the department calculates, but this will represent only an 8 percent loss from France’s previous landing of fish caught in U.K. waters worth €614 million annually.

All other EU members will lose less value from their catch, and only Germany will take a loss similar in proportion to Ireland’s, at 15 percent.

Ireland concedes its calculations, like all matters related to fish, attempt to capture a moving target.

“It is difficult to assign a monetary value to quota reductions as both the TAC [Total Allowable Catch] and the fish prices fluctuate significantly,” its report notes.

Indeed, Ireland’s fishermen argue that the government’s figures grossly understate the true depth of losses. They warn that a quarter of jobs in the sector are at risk, and see the decommissioning of many vessels in Ireland’s 2,000-ship fishing fleet as the only likely outcome unless some of the quota lost from the U.K. can be regained from EU partners.

At stake is an industry employing around 10,000 people directly and 4,000 more in fish-processing factories.

While Ireland is earmarked to receive a quarter of the EU’s €5.4 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve, it plans to ship only a tenth of that aid to fisheries, given the need to support bigger parts of the economy similarly weakened by Brexit.

And Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the most powerful fishermen’s lobby group in Ireland, dismisses the potential of such one-off payments as meaningful compensation for permanent losses of mackerel and prawns.

“It’s just peanuts,” he told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting focused on Irish fishermen’s potential losses from Brexit.

His Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, based in the northwest port where most of Ireland’s mackerel catch is landed, estimates that the Brexit trade deal means the EU is surrendering fish quotas in British waters worth €188 million annually — and Ireland contributes nearly a quarter of that. This includes a 26 percent cut to its previous quota of mackerel, Ireland’s most lucrative seafood product.

Much of that mackerel previously was caught in Scottish waters, including off the isolated islet of Rockall, 300 km west of Scotland and 425 km northwest of Ireland. The U.K. claims these rich waters for Scotland but Ireland, Iceland and Norway stake competing claims. Marine Scotland ships this month have begun warning Irish fishing vessels away from Rockall.

“What’s perhaps most galling … is that the fish are spawned in Irish waters,” O’Donoghue told lawmakers.

 “While we cannot and do not claim ownership of them, we’re now being discriminated against catching the fish off the coast of Scotland when they are in their prime and at their most valuable,” he said. “In essence, we’re providing the fish for Britain to net. We’re a ‘mackerel maternity ward’ for others to profit from.”


The Agriculture Department’s official analysis finds that Britain’s share of mackerel caught in its waters will rise from 58 percent to 69 percent, while Ireland’s will fall from 21 percent to 16 percent, an annual loss of mackerel worth €27 million.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation based in Cork, said the Brexit deal similarly reduced Ireland’s take of hake more sharply than for other EU members.

And John Lynch, chairman of the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation in Wexford, said its vessels based in the fishing village of Dunmore East were at risk of being shut out of trade in everything from herring to scallops.