Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Our purpose this evening is to discuss the Common Fisheries Policy which was debated yesterday for the first time in a real sense at the European Council when the Commissioner presented her policy reform document to Ministers. I welcome much of what is contained in the document and the principle behind many of the objectives set regarding the introduction of reforms. In particular, the Government is very supportive of ensuring the sustainability of stocks, with the maximum sustainable yield to be reached through stock management when and where possible.
There are, however, a number of proposed reforms outlined by the Commission which we cannot support, or at least not in their current format. The first is the proposal to fundamentally change the way in which we allocate quotas across the European Union. Quotas are currently treated as a national asset to be distributed by governments to fishing fleets in consultations between the government and the industry. That is certainly what happens in Ireland. We have done this successfully with a relatively small quota to keep our fishing communities intact and fishing harbours busy. It is being proposed that we move away from political control of the allocation of fishing quotas to what is termed an individual transferable fishing concession or fishing quota. In other words, we would be moving towards privatising the long-term use of quotas, although not ownership. Boats would be able to transfer between them a quota for payment. In other words, what the Commissioner would like to facilitate is consolidation within the industry, reducing the number of boats in the fleet and allowing trawlers with buying power to purchase quota from those looking to get out of the industry. We cannot support this and fear, in particular, that not only would we see consolidation of the industry in two or three ports in Ireland which would damage other fishing communities but also the potential for quota to be transferred from the Irish fleet. The Spanish fleet is an obvious issue in this respect as it is too big for the size of its quota and must buy more. The Commissioner has insisted that her proposal will result in quota being transferred within member states only. We do not see how she can prevent quota from being transferred out of Ireland. That is something we cannot accept and will not support. There needs to be much more discussion on how we reach maximum sustainable yield for fish stocks. We need to consider how we can adopt a species-by-species, fish-by-fish approach. I will work in consultation with the industry and the Commissioner to try to get to where she wants to go. I do not think it can be imposed as quickly as she is proposing to do.
I strongly agree with what the Commissioner is trying to do about discards. She wants to end the indefensible practice whereby huge volumes of dead fish, including juvenile fish and fish that were caught out of quota, are discarded over the sides of boats by people who do not have a quota to bring them ashore. However, the Commissioner’s proposal, which involves simply banning all discards in a relatively short period of time, is simply not workable for a country like Ireland that has a mixed fishery. When one is trying to catch haddock and whiting in the Celtic Sea, one will catch cod at the same time. If one does not have a quota for cod, one cannot bring it ashore.
Given that cod stocks are pretty strong in the Celtic Sea at the moment, it is crazy in a mixed fishery that dead mature fish which are suitable for the market have to be ditched by fishermen who do not have a quota to catch them. We need to make significant progress on the discards argument. Apart from the damage it does to stocks, it is immoral that we are dumping approximately 400,000 tonnes of dead fish into Irish waters each year. We can deal with discards in a way that makes sense by working with the industry. Ireland has been very progressive in terms of putting together pilot projects to make a positive impact on the discards problem. We will continue to do that in the coming year.
I welcome the fact that a full discussion on the Common Fisheries Policy proposals is taking place. I welcome the Commissioner’s willingness to listen to different points of view. I look forward to working with the Commission to find an acceptable compromise. I hope that can happen during the Irish Presidency in the first six months of 2013, or before then if possible.
Deputy Noel Harrington: I thank the Minister for agreeing to share time. One could spend 15 hours discussing the Common Fisheries Policy without touching on everything one would like to address. Although fishing is not a nationally popular or well-versed industry, unfortunately, it is the main industry in some parts of the country. The impact of the decisions taken under the Common Fisheries Policy has a huge bearing on the operation of the industry in coastal communities throughout the country. I welcome the fact that the Minister will make the Irish case strongly at the European negotiations to get the best deal for Ireland under the policy for the next eight, ten or dozen years.
The reality is that the Common Fisheries Policy we now have is a broken model. It was drawn up with the best of intentions to provide for communities while conserving fish stocks. The quota system that is in place simply has not worked. It needs a fundamental reform. It is right that the quota system proposed by Commissioner Damanaki should be opposed by this country. I am glad the Minister intends to resist it firmly at the European negotiations. That is important because the individual fishing quotas that have been proposed by the Commissioner would have a detrimental effect on the Irish fishing industry if they were allowed to go through. A great deal of work needs to be done in that regard.
I would like to speak about the issue of discards. It is a crime, essentially, to throw dead fish — good food — overboard. It is legal to catch it, but it is illegal to land it. Quite frankly, it is difficult to know how it should be dealt with. If one brings non-quota or over-quota species onto the quays, it will affect the market and have an impact on the individual quota allocation of one’s vessel. It is a difficult challenge to try to minimise discards on the seas. I hope we will find a way of resolving it successfully.
I hope the Hague preferences, which we have successfully negotiated and renegotiated in recent years during the most recent reviews of the Common Fisheries Policy, will be maintained. We will support the Minister’s efforts to maintain these preferential agreements on the Irish fishing industry. That is very important.
I hope we will have a united front when Ireland’s case is being made during the negotiations that will take place as part of the review of the Common Fisheries Policy. We need to build alliances of like-minded allies in Europe. That happened when it was proposed to impose sanctions on the Faroe Islands and Iceland, for example. When those countries tore agreements asunder, they damaged the shared mackerel stock that is important for the European fishing industry. It is important we put forward a united front. We should support the Minister, the Department and the officials when they make Ireland’s case in Europe.
It is a sad fact that fishing is not a very well industry, by and large. That is a challenge for those of us in this Parliament who are interested in the fishing industry. We use terms like “refrigerated sea water”, “polyvalent”, “pelagic” and “demersal”, which are as fundamental to the fishing industry as terms like “tillage”, “dairy”, “cattle” and “dry suckler” are to the agriculture industry. Farming terms are well understood in this Chamber, whereas the fishing terms I mentioned are well understood by a minority of Members but vaguely understood or disregarded by a majority of Members. The challenge for Deputies who represent coastal communities is to try to rectify that and bring the fishing industry to the fore of the debate.
I am glad to have had an opportunity to speak on the Common Fisheries Policy. I hope we can reach consensus and show a united front in the interests of an industry that badly needs the help of this Chamber. This much maligned industry, which is under severe pressure, is of great importance in areas that are facing constant economic and social pressure. We need to reverse the unfortunate trend whereby we import the fish we eat and export the fish we catch. We should try to do the best we can to maximise the onshore resource that is our fishing industry. I am grateful to the Minister for sharing time with me.
Deputy Joe McHugh: In the short amount of time available to me, I will not go over the historical issues, such as transferable quotas, discards and Hague preferences, which were covered by my colleagues. I wish the Minister well in the ongoing negotiations. He is the right person in the right job at the right time. It is important to put into context where our fishing industry is at by referring to the psyche or general feeling within the industry. It is battered and bruised and has been pulled and dragged all over the place. We have completely obliterated the potential of our inshore fisheries. That does not have positive ramifications for the industry itself.
I do not propose to focus on negative or historical aspects of the industry, however. I will not dwell on the fact that non-Irish fishing vessels have extracted approximately €500 billion worth of fish from Irish seas since we joined the EU. I do not think it would be productive to do so. It would not help the debate. We have to be cognisant of the fact that we have an international job to do. We have to look at things in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy negotiations. We have to consider the fact that the Faroese and Icelandic governments are allocating ridiculous mackerel quotas at the moment. That has the potential to wipe out this country’s mackerel sector. Representatives of our mackerel sector have told me they are absolutely disgusted with what is going on. They know it is not even the right time of the year to be fishing mackerel. We need to pull in the pioneers, the ambassadors in the mackerel industry whom we have in this country, because they want to lead the campaign against this outlandish activity by the Faroese and Icelandic governments. For example, as we speak there is a re-calibrated oil tanker cargo ship processing fish off the Faroe Islands. This is the reality of what is happening. We need international clout. The Minister, from his experience in Europe, must use the EU as a mechanism to work together with our comrades in Canada and right across international shores to come up with mechanisms for preventing the type of mass destruction that is going on within international waters, be it by Russian factory ships or whatever. For example, the Greenland authorities are introducing their own quota system and catching salmon and we are introducing severe restrictions for drift-net fishermen and draft-net fishermen for fish that are being completely exploited in international waters.
We need one voice within the fishing sector. One of the self-criticisms within the fishing industry is that it did not have one voice. It is a challenge for the fishing industry. I call on those within the fishing sector to look at it as an industry with potential.
The Minister has been focused on the aquaculture sector. However, we need a break at the inshore. We need a break where there are fishermen in my constituency. Only yesterday, a fisherman from Urris, County Donegal telephoned me, not about going fishing because he knows he cannot do so but about going out in one of the BIM survey boats just to get out in the water. We must look at our psyche as a nation. We are a maritime nation, we have a coastal community, we are an island and we have to get people back in the waters. This was an example of a fisherman who had fished all his life — generations down through the years fished in Irish waters — and all he wants to do is to get out on the sea on a BIM survey boat. He cannot get out otherwise because of ridiculous rules that have been introduced down the years. Another example up in our waters is fishermen who have been fishing lesser spotted dogfish, known locally as sand dogs, which is a scavenger used as bait and for which they cannot get a quota.
There are so many challenges. I wish the Minister well. I encourage the industry to come collectively with one voice. It is important to lead the debate and lead the drive in an industry that has given away €500 billion worth of fish to non-Irish vessels. That is a fact of history and we must do something about that in terms of driving a more positive future for those within the marine sector.
Deputy John Browne: I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Cuív. I thank the Minister for bringing the debate to the House tonight. He told me during the week that he would try to have a debate here before we adjourned for the holidays and it is important we recognise that he has come forward here tonight and given us an opportunity to talk about CFP reform.
I was Minister of State in the Department when then Commissioner Borg introduced the Green Paper in 2008. Obviously, it is a slow, tedious process. There were in the region of 17,000 responses to the Green Paper at the time and one can imagine the difficulties in teasing out all the different points of view put forward. I appreciate that the Minister has a difficulty on his hands right across the EU in the sense that he is dealing with some of the big players such as the French and the Spanish, all of whom want to protect and hold what they have. At that time, I remember Commissioner Borg stating there would be a radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I do not know whether the Minister would describe what was put to him during the week as radical. I would contend it is not in so far as Irish fishermen are concerned. This will probably drag on until 2012 or probably 2013 before we get a final decision on these issues.
There are a number of issues for fishermen, some of whom are in contact with me — like many Deputies, I come from a coastal county — and the Minister himself has referred to them. The fishermen are concerned that the introduction of mandatory transferable quota rights for all member states would be detrimental to the Irish fishing industry as it would be only a matter of time before the Irish fishing industry was in the hands of large European companies. The Irish fishing industry is entitled to know how the European Commission can legally ring-fence the buying and selling of quota to individual member states in order that our quota does not end up in foreign ownership. In his reply, the Minister might outline his views on this area. Transferable quota rights must be introduced on a voluntary basis, if they are to be introduced at all.
The area of discards is a contentious issue which will not be resolved overnight, something on which I agree with the Minister. We need to bring forward suitable incentives to address the problem of discards effectively. The reality is that it is not practicable or environmentally favourable to land everything that is caught. The discards proposal must be based on the principles of avoidance, minimisation and incentives. Landing dead fish defeats the purpose. This is a key area on which the European Parliament will need to come forward with practical solutions to minimise the discarding to the lowest possible levels.
The fishermen are also concerned that there is not greater regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy. They feel it has been watered down to such an extent by the Commission that the proposal put forward will not deliver any meaningful regionalisation. The existing one-size-fits-all policy has failed to deliver for Irish fishermen, and this is their concern. This is a lost opportunity to introduce regional management structures that have the potential to a create simpler, cheaper and more effective CFP. Localised management structures with devolved powers have many positive effects, including increased responsibility on the part of stakeholders and a CFP more sensitive to local concerns. It is important that the Minister would continue to battle in this particular area to bring forward effective and workable regional management measures.
I welcome the establishment of a separate regime for small-scale fisheries. However, as currently proposed, it will exclude a large portion of the Irish fleet. It is important to recognise that all boats under 15 m in length must be included under these new provisions. Over 80% of the Irish fleet are small boats under 15 m in length, fishing mainly inshore and off small coastal islands in rough Atlantic waters. These boats are of considerable importance to the fishing communities around the coastline. It is also important to recognise that in many cases there is no alternative employment and that is an area where the Minister must take stock of what the fishermen are saying.
It is also important to recognise some good points of the Lisbon treaty. One of them is that the European Parliament, the MEPs from all political parties and none representing this country, will have a direct role in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. It is important that Irish MEPs would have their voices heard to ensure some of the concerns and difficulties facing Irish fishermen would be addressed through the CFP. They need to deal with the provision of the quota transfer rights, the discard measures and regionalisation. From speaking to Mr. Pat “The Cope” Gallagher, MEP and MEPs from other political parties in this country, they will be keeping an eye out and playing a role in ensuring the Minister will have full support in his battle to ensure Irish fishermen get a fair deal from the reform of the CFP.
The other area which arises every Christmas, which I dealt with and which the Minister dealt with last Christmas, is the Hague resolution. Fishermen would like this to be written in some form into the CFP proposals with which the Minister will be dealing. It happens on the table every Christmas where some countries want to take off the Hague preference, there is a row and the Irish fishermen insist on it being kept on. I am aware that the Federation of Irish Fishermen issued a statement following the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, proposals last week. They specifically called for the Hague preferences to be a de facto feature of the distribution of quota between countries. They are keen for this to be written in stone in future.
I wish to raise two further issues to which the Minister might respond, although he does not have much time to do so. The fishing industry is important to the country with approximately 11,000 people employed directly or indirectly. There are great opportunities in Europe now since 65% of fish is imported from outside the EU. There are important opportunities for Irish fishermen in this regard.
Deputy McHugh raised the issue of mackerel. Last Sunday, I read in a UK newspaper about great concern being expressed about the breakdown between the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the EU. There is indiscriminate fishing of mackerel now which will cause major problems for the mackerel industry in future, especially for Irish fishermen. What action does the Minister intend to take in this area? The headline stated “Super trawlers sail in to obliterate stocks of mackerel”. As Deputy McHugh suggested, huge boats and factory-type ships are now running wild on the mackerel industry. Will the Minister comment on this?
At an IFA meeting last night I met our friend Richie Flynn from the IFA who deals with the aquaculture industry. It is important that the Minister deals effectively with the aquaculture industry. This is not an easy problem to solve because of the licensing system. However, I call on the Minister to try to put in place a system that would speed up the issuing of existing licences and new licences in future.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: That is right. I try to be good every day. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this subject. When we joined the European Union I was publically opposed to it and I campaigned against it. One of the main grounds on which I campaigned was that we would be selling away forever and a day our fishing rights. At the time the argument was that we would get plenty of money for the farmers. I remember predicting at the time that the day would come when the money for the farmers would reduce because any grant system is vulnerable to reduction and we would find that we had sold the huge wealth that is our fishing waters around the coast.
It annoys me to this day that peculiarly among all the assets of the European Union the one they insist that small countries share with the big countries is the fishing rights. The reasons fishing rights above any other rights must be shared on a communautaire basis is because it suits the big and powerful countries. I put it to the Minister that we can argue around the edges of this but great damage has been done to our potential as a nation to reap a dividend from the fantastic resources we have. My understanding is that we have approximately 4% of the fish available to us but 14% of the waters.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: This means we are getting one quarter of our entitlement from the Common Fisheries Policy. In my six minutes’ contribution I have a simple suggestion to make to the Minister. It is of its time because no matter how long a problem goes on, if one persists long enough the day will come when one gets an opportunity. My suggestion to the Government is that the next time President Sarkozy mentions anything about corporation tax, the Government should make it clear that before it will discuss that, there is an issue that it wishes to open up, that is, we want our fishing waters back.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I am sure he would suggest that we could have a rational and reasonable discussion about it and further that he would agree fully that we could solve the Irish financial problems by giving back to the Irish Government its entitlements. I have no doubt that since I have suggested this here tonight, the Minister will in turn suggest it to the Taoiseach who will see it as being a rational. I do not say this jocosely; I mean it seriously and it would put right something which I made clear was wrong back in 1973. I have never changed my mind on that issue because it is a natural resource.
One of the great questions raised all the time about the attitude towards fisheries in Europe is whether Europe is all about money and big companies or the people. I represent a coastal constituency and I see the decimation that has taken place in coastal communities because they do not have access to their own resources which are out in the bay beyond them.
The only argument I was ever given on this matter was that we had not developed our fishing industry enough in 1973 and that was why we were willing to give it away. It is like suggesting that one has a farm but because one has not been using it for one reason or another one may as well give the farm away because one has not stocked it. Any farmer in the country would make it clear he would never do that and that he would never give away the land because he could always restock the land if he owned the farm but if he gave away the land he would not be able to restock it because he would not have it.
It is time this country started talking tough. I do not share the view with my colleague that bringing the European Parliament into this would be of great benefit. We have only a small number of MEPs out of 800.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The Deputy can say it absolutely. Countries that have no sea resources and a disproportionate amount of our resources will out-vote and out-muscle our very good MEPs, who are in a tiny minority in that situation. The only way this can be tackled is at government to government level. We have a unique opportunity now with the talks going on in Europe to put this back on the table and make it clear that we no longer accept it. If others wish to re-open things, we wish to re-open things and this is a fundamental thing we wish to re-open. We sold the fisheries for the farming.
Where I live now, Europe, through its designations, is virtually strangling the life of ordinary people. They cannot do on their own land what they have done traditionally as custodians of that land. We have a major issue with the designations on the land and in the sea. They are stopping our people. The building of small piers becomes very difficult because of the Natura 2000 designation. There is a great deal that we should raise in Europe and there was never a better time to raise these issues in Europe because the Europeans are looking for things from us. For everything they seek, we should seek it back ten times more.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: I wish to share time with Deputy Ferris by agreement of the House. Deputy Ó Cuív must have seen a sneak preview of my few words and he expressed them far better than I ever would. As he was speaking I began to take the view that it was a pity he was not a Minister with responsibility for fisheries in the last Government. He would have been out there carrying out all the negotiations.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: We can all agree that the Common Fisheries Policy has been a bad deal for Ireland. All sides accept that and it is not the Minister’s fault. He did not negotiate it. However, it is a reality that we must address and a fact that we must change. To say our waters have been plundered by our EU partners is not putting it too strongly. We gave away a most valuable resource in our coastal waters. It is no wonder the level of employment in the fishing, maritime and ancillary industries has fallen consistently and dramatically since we gave away these natural resources. It is also no wonder that those who love fishing, the sea and related industries are as frustrated as they are at what they see as the continuing throwing away of our resources, which is wrong.
Like Deputy Ó Cuív, I spoke out at the time we joined the European Union. I said one inevitable consequence of signing up would be the selling out of our fisheries. Unfortunately, there were not many on Deputy Ó Cuív’s side of the House who agreed with me and my party and with my analysis. I commend Deputy Ó Cuív on his foresight and honesty in speaking up when he did.
Before the publication of the reform proposals, I had hoped they would open up a new era for fisheries in the European Union, one that would benefit Irish and European fishermen, food producers, ancillary industry workers and consumers, one that would be fair and reflect the level of resources EU nations had at their disposal. I had hoped this set of proposals would amount to more than a fine-tuning of what was already in place, but it is not. It is a tinkering at the edges and a barely concealed attempt by the Commission to take from those who are barely surviving in the fishing industry and put the money into the hands of the conglomerates. I am delighted to hear that the Minister will, on behalf of the people, resist and oppose compulsory privatisation, which is what it is. We will support him in his opposition to this proposal.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: I find it difficult to understand, if there was an Irish input, why it was not listened to. Is no one listening to what we are saying on behalf of the people? Surely anybody who represents them would have come back with something much more substantial than what is contained in this document. It is not the radical new era the country and its fishermen need or the one that will ensure the achievement of the ambitious but very necessary targets set out in Food Harvest 2020. Unless the whole Common Fisheries Policy environment changes, we cannot achieve the targets set out in Food Harvest 2020 or the changes outlined in the management of our harbours policy.
This is a foundation industry on which so much can be built, but the European Union has to loosen the chains and take off the handcuffs. It is tying us up and what it has come up with is nothing more than fiddling about the edges. We need to get back in contact with the Commission. It is not just a question of booting out what is wrong in these proposals but of saying to the Commission that what is needed is a total re-write of the design for a new era. We must go back to the drawing board on the Common Fisheries Policy. I would negotiate with the Commission on what was good, right and fair. However, it must take into account the fact we have an invaluable natural resource which we must protect on behalf of the people. We should never have sold it from day one and must now get it back.
The Commission’s proposals in regard to the privatisation of quota — I deliberately and advisedly call it such — will further exacerbate the problem of fish stock depletion. The radical reform needed is not evident, nor is the re-write needed, and there is no suggestion it will be done. We should be looking at this issue on an island-wide basis, as well as a Twenty-six Counties basis. We need to go back to the Commission and say this is not good enough, that we will not wear it and that it has to be changed. We will support the Minister when he opposes the more obnoxious parts of the proposals put before us.
Deputy Martin Ferris: I thank the Minister for coming to the House and giving us an opportunity to speak on what I would like to see, namely, a renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy. I first started fishing with my father when I was eight years old in 1960. At the time I fished out of the port of Fenit. At certain times of the year, from October to the end of February, the port was alive because there was an inshore oyster fishery which has not been affected to date by the European Union. During the winter months there was the landing of herring and whitefish, while in the summer there was potting and so forth. This provided a very substantial income for the area and surrounding towns, seasonal though it was.
I went fishing full-time in 1969-70. I worked on trawlers and there was potting in the summer and fishing for oysters in the winter months. We made a reasonable living. In modern terms we had what I would consider very primitive boats, but while the work was hard, it was very rewarding as one was working with nature.
In 1972, in the lead-up to the referendum on EU entry, I campaigned day and night against it for two reasons: first, the erosion of our sovereignty and, second and crucially from a practical economic point of view, the situation of the farming and fishing industries, both of which were very badly served. For the people involved, small farmers working on 12, 14, 18 or 20 acres of land, it was hard work, but it provided an income. They are all gone now, anyone with less than 50 acres is practically gone. Rural Ireland has been severely decimated through the loss of its population, particularly its young and vibrant members.
The worst affected of all has been the fishing sector which has been utterly destroyed. Somebody mentioned the figure of 11,000 people currently involved in the fishing industry and associated industries. However, we must consider the potential of the industry. We are an island nation, with huge resources off our coast. However, no thought was given to fishing and there was no vision shown by the politicians of the day. At the time they were looking at the carrot being dangled by the European Union. Effectively, we have given away one of our greatest resources as a result. What was needed at the time was investment in the fishing fleet and, more importantly, onshore to complement existing resources. Had that happened, it would have been absolutely huge but unfortunately, it did not. Although Deputy McHugh suggested one should not dwell on the past, I believe we must learn from it, which is the reason I have brought it up. Having looked back on it and when anticipating how things will develop from now on, I note the figure mentioned was 4% of the European catch and 16% of the waters. In fact, the percentage is a lot less than 4% because of a number of vessels that work out of Ireland under a flag of convenience.
Ireland has now been presented with a deliberate policy to further reduce its fishing fleet, which reminds me of the decommissioning aspect of this issue. I note that fleet decommissioning has taken place in the past 12 to 14 years, whereby carrots effectively were being thrown at people who had struggled to make a living all their lives to buy them out. This resulted in the accumulation of quota that went to the bigger boats and consequently, the fleet of necessity became progressively smaller.
Another attempt now is being made by the Commissioner to influence matters regarding the quota, its management and its probable transfer into a form of privatisation. This effectively will mean that Irish fishermen will not be able to compete. This is the reason they depend on all Members, Government and Opposition alike, to put their shoulders to the wheel to stand against these efforts and to do everything in their power to try, as Deputy Colreavy stated, to ensure a fair quota system can be made available to Ireland. Members must stand up for this and should consider the example of Iceland, which I note has been mentioned as a predator. In recent years, that country developed another form of economy and neglected its fishing economy. However, after they went broke and belly-up on foot of the collapse of their banking system, they returned to exploiting their natural fishing resources and are thriving. This is because Iceland did not give up on a national industry. They fought a war with the Brits over their waters. They stood up against the might of the British navy to defend their rights.
While one cannot put back the clock, this State has given away what probably is the most lucrative resource available to the people of this island for a short-sighted vision. Members must now look ahead and plan ahead and as much as possible of what remains of that resource must be taken back. In respect of conservation, the depletion of stocks and discards, I fail to understand how thousands of tonnes of perfectly good fish can be thrown back into the water at a time when people ashore struggle to put bread on the table. This does not make sense and I acknowledge the Minister shares my views in this regard.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Imagination must be used to come up with a system whereby discard or by-catch, or whatever one wishes to call it, may be brought ashore, perhaps at a reduced rate, rather than being thrown back. It is morally wrong to throw good food back into the water to satisfy a regulation under which one operates and this issue must be considered.
In conclusion, the Minister has the good wishes and support of all Members to do a fair deal for Irish fishermen and coastal communities. While Members will not be found wanting in that regard, they will be highly critical if the Government does not put it up to the Europeans, the Commissioner and all concerned that all Ireland seeks is fair play. They have taken from us and it is time they gave us justice.
Deputy Thomas Pringle: I thank the Minister for providing this opportunity to have a debate on the Common Fisheries Policy and the Commission proposals that were published last week. It has been interesting to listen to the debate and I note there has been much mention of how the fishing industry was sold out to look after the farmers or for various reasons or because we did not know what we were doing. This is not the case, as what happened was that while Ireland was negotiating its accession to the EEC, as it then was, it changed the rules to make fishing the sole responsibility of the Commission before we joined. They set out to steal our resources because they knew what we had and we did not. Funnily enough, in correspondence I received from the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Lord rest him, a number of years ago, he accepted that fact but stated in his letter that they did not treat us as badly again. They did not treat us as badly again because they were not obliged to. According to Deputy McHugh, they have taken €500 billion from the seas around our coast in the intervening period and have left us with the scraps. One million tonnes of fish are taken from our waters every year out of which we take 170,000 tonnes. Our boats are not allowed into the North Sea to fish as our so-called European partners exclude us from there, while keeping for themselves full access to the Irish west coast. Unfortunately, Members must consider the past and the first thing they must do is to rid themselves of the myth that we sold out fishing for farming because we did not. Fishing was stolen from us before we even got there. Dr. FitzGerald’s words to me were that had we wished to negotiate on fishing back in the late 1960s, there would have been no negotiations.
Today, Members are discussing this document and proposal that comes from the Commission. Unfortunately, Irish fishing will be finished if they continue to talk about the Common Fisheries Policy or continue to talk about trying to work within that system. The Irish fishing industry and coastal communities will continue to die because the more we try to work the system, the more we are being screwed by it. We are being screwed by our so-called partners. It is a pity that in the past 35 or 40 years, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party when in government never adopted the attitude suggested by Deputy Ó Cuív. However, I agree with his suggestion that whenever Mr. Sarkozy mentions corporation tax, we should mention cod, haddock, hake, mackerel and everything else back to him. I believe that were we to do a deal with regard to corporation tax on that basis in which we secured a fair deal for our fishing, we would win and derive real benefits therefrom.
I wish the Minister all the best when negotiating on this issue in Europe although if Ireland negotiates on the basis of this document, it is finished before it even begins. However, the Minister still must go and still must fight it. I acknowledge this will not happen within the next six months or the next year or two but unless an Irish Government, with the support of all Members, can propose something different and begin a conversation with our so-called partners and unless Ireland begins to build alliances around Europe on the basis of looking beyond the Common Fisheries Policy and getting rid of it completely, we never will have coastal communities that realise their potential or the benefit they could bring to this country. Unfortunately, the Common Fisheries Policy will be adopted and quotas will be privatised. This will constitute the first step on the road towards privatising them on a European-wide basis, whereby everything can be sold off to the Spaniards and the French and the west coast will be closed down completely. This is what will happen because no matter what anyone involved in fishing in Ireland may think, they will be unable to compete against the might and financial power of the companies in Europe which will be able to buy out our resources.
There are some positive elements in this document in respect of discards, which is an issue that must be sorted out and the proposals contained therein may go some way towards doing this. Moreover, the proposal to create a regional advisory council on aquaculture would be an interesting development and I look forward to this taking place. Perhaps then we could be advised as to the reason a more strict regime is being imposed on Ireland than on the rest of Europe or perhaps it simply is the manner in which small countries are treated within Europe. In his closing remarks, the Minister should outline what resisting and opposing entails in respect of the privatisation of quota, as well as what steps ultimately are open to Ireland. In addition, the Minister and his departmental officials should begin considering something different. It is a road on which to start and to move on and then we might see some real benefits. I wish the Minister well with the negotiations.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I am not an expert on fishing by any means. However, I know the fishing industry is facing a massive crisis and it has been brought to my attention whenever I go to the west and by those fishermen in Dún Laoghaire who are left. It is a coastal town which used to have a thriving fishing industry. All the fishermen say that EU fisheries policies have been a disaster for Ireland and this is visibly apparent. The crisis seems to be intensifying very significantly over recent years, with more people being driven out of fishing while others are struggling to make a living in the industry.
I do not doubt the Minister’s bona fides in this matter. There seems to be general agreement on the seriousness and tragedy of this situation. It is a crime for an island country such as ours that the fishing industry is teetering on the brink of extinction. It is even more of a crime that this is the case when so many people are unemployed and there is an accelerating depopulation of rural Ireland. Jobs must be created and, as Deputy Ferris said, the sea is probably our greatest resource. The sea defines us. If this country does not have a fishing industry, we will have lost something of what we are as a people. We are perilously close to losing what defines us. The fishing industry has provided jobs in the past and could provide many more.
As much as I have criticised the Government in other arenas, I commend the jobs initiative on its focus on tourism. Our attractiveness as a tourism destination would be damaged if fishing, which is one of the things which defines us, were made extinct as a result of the policies of the European Union. It is obvious that this plan to privatise quotas can only benefit the big fishing interests, the big European states and the multinational companies. They are responsible for the parlous state of the fish stocks. It is really a case of the big fish eating the little fish in every sense and this policy will further accelerate that situation and sound the death knell for Irish fishing and the small-time fisherman. The issue of discards is an obscenity by which perfectly good fish are thrown away. Something needs to be done about this policy.
If the figures given by the Minister are correct, that we only receive 15% of the fish from our own waters, we must say to the EU that this is unacceptable and that we will not put up with it. What benefit is there in being part of a European Union that is plundering our resources in this way and which has brought us to this state? This echoes the current economic crisis. Our so-called partners are supposedly helping us but in fact they are burying us in the interests of big financial and corporate interests in Europe. We must stand up to these people and we have to defend our fishing industry and small fishermen. We should oppose this privatisation of fish quotas. We must work together on an all-party basis to decide how to stand up to these big European interests who just regard our seas as something to be plundered at our expense.
Deputy Mick Wallace: I am not an expert on the fishing industry, even though I live beside the sea in County Wexford. However, I have seldom seen such consensus on a subject in this House as there is on the fishing industry. The Minister will have the support of everyone when he goes to Europe to try to get a fair deal. I have no doubt it will be very difficult for him. Mistakes have been made in the past. However, I do not agree with the theory that we should not look back at the past, because those who do not study their history are destined to repeat the mistakes.
It will be a struggle to change the arrangement with the European Union. Ireland has not had a fair deal in this regard. We have not only lost out on an industry with significant financial potential but serious damage is being caused to communities. This is a small island with a very long coastline for the size of the land mass. I refer to the culture of the communities built around these little ports. I live near Kilmore, Duncannon and Fethard-on-Sea. Everyone in the surrounding areas has traditionally found work in the industry, either dealing with landing the fish or going out on the boats, but this has been dwindling over time. The rules were changed, but not in the favour of these communities. Not only is an industry being destroyed, a whole way of life is threatened all along our coastline and it should instead be treasured.
Getting the Europeans to start treating us fairly, accepting that things were not done for the best in the past and achieving a more equitable arrangement is challenging. On the financial side, interest rates are slowly creeping up because the French, Germans and Dutch are wary of inflation, even though they know well that this is the last thing the countries on the periphery, such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, need. Despite this, central Europe does what suits itself and it is doing very nicely. We are being forced to accept the policy that suits them. This notion of Europe being a family with all of us in together, and the notion that the big guy will help the small guy was how the Union began, and this is what we thought would happen. Sadly, it has not worked out that way. It would be great if the powers in Europe could bring themselves to apply a greater degree of fairness and could begin to treat the small individual countries like Ireland in a more fair manner.
Aside from the bad deal which Ireland has received, I note the wastage of fish in the discards policy, the practice of over-fishing and the fact that Europe must now import two thirds of its fish for consumption because there is such waste and the stocks have been killed through over-fishing which is being carried out to a ridiculous degree. We are depleting the oceans. It is like cutting down the forests in Brazil to make money on selling the wood, despite the fact that we are damaging the environment in a dramatic way.
It reminds me of a saying by a Cree native North American tribe that only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Simon Coveney): I will try to respond to that profound comment at the end. As I have only five minutes, I wish to concentrate on the job at hand which is to get the best deal possible from the existing document on the table. I agree with Deputy Pringle that the idea that we sold out fishing to get a good deal on farming is totally inaccurate. Ireland’s deal on farming is no better or worse than that of other European countries. That is evidenced in our Common Agricultural Policy discussions at the moment. We have looked at the countries that have traditionally done well out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the countries that have not done well. Ireland is right on the average. This idea that we got some great deal for farmers but sold fishing down the drain is wrong — the two are not connected. It is true that we persuaded people to vote in favour of EEC membership on the basis of payments to farmers. The historical discussions on fishing are just that, historical discussions. However, I need to deal with the realities of political negotiation to get the best possible deal to ensure we have a fishing industry in five or ten years’ time.
Some of the commentary here has been inaccurate. The Irish fishing industry is not dying on its feet. Last year Irish fishing industry exports grew by 15%. There are 2,095 boats in the Irish fishing fleet employing 5,000 people. Some 175 processing companies employ almost 3,000 people and a further 1,500 people are employed in ancillary services to the fishing industry. While we want to employ considerably more people than that, we have a good base from which to work. We have had consolidation of fleet as the Irish fleet has grown in terms of the trawler size and efficiency of catch. If we did not have that we would have many more boats. We also had some extremely wealthy people in the Irish fishing industry, in the pelagic sector in particular where there are 23 boats.
Deputy Simon Coveney: However, we should consider the catch. The capacity for catch is just as high now. That said, I am not happy with the state of the industry. We have the capacity to expand the fishing industry but we need to use the tools available to us to do that. In recent weeks we have been trying to encourage the catch in Irish waters by non-Irish trawlers to be landed in Irish ports to be processed and graded here, which can add significant value to the processing sector in Ireland. We are doing what we can to expand the industry and we will do the same with aquaculture which has great potential for growth and expansion.
However, the idea that Deputy Ó Cuív seems to suggest that we can go over to Europe and demand that we get back all our quota from other countries and expect other people to support us and vote for that is incredibly naïve. Let us deal in reality here. Ireland needs to continue to get the best possible deal we can on quota allocation and we will fight for that every December when quota allocation is on the table. In the discussions on the Common Fisheries Policy we are talking about the strategic development of the European fishing industry of which Ireland is a part. For what it is worth, the European Union does not regard Irish waters as Irish waters but as EU waters, which Ireland has a responsibility to monitor and control. That is the political reality of what we are dealing with.
In discussing what is being proposed as fisheries policy up to 2022 we need to defend ourselves against proposals that will further undermine the Irish fishing industry. The proposal on individual transferable quotas, or fishing concessions as the Commissioner likes to call them, should not become a reality. We are not alone on that because yesterday the German and French Ministers spoke out against it. We are already building an alliance of countries that have real concerns over the ITQ proposal. Ireland has led that debate and will continue to do so.
Ireland is also leading the debate on the mackerel issue the Deputy raised. We have successfully called for trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The Commission has reassured us that it will have proposals for a legal base to implement sanctions by the start of October. What is happening to mackerel stocks at the moment is disgraceful, particularly in Faroese waters. The ship Deputy McHugh mentioned is the Lafayette, a Peruvian-registered vessel, which is the largest floating fish-processing factory in the world. It has come to Faroese waters because they do not have the capacity to process the volumes of mackerel they are catching at the moment. So they are doing it at sea and bringing in mercenaries to do it. That is what is happening to European mackerel stocks which in the past we shared with the Faroese, but their take was approximately 4% of overall quota.
We are doing a considerable amount about things over which we have some influence and control. Ireland is taking the lead in the debate on the mackerel issue for good reason because of the impact it will have on our fishing fleet. Mackerel is the most important stock to our fleet and is a €3 billion industry in the European Union and a big segment of that comes to Ireland. We are acting in areas where we have influence and we can impact on decision making. We will do that in negotiations on mackerel and will also try to do that to the best effect possible in the ongoing negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy. We are in a position of some influence because everybody realises at this stage that the final agreement on the CFP will happen during the Irish Presidency in the first half of 2013, as will be the case in all likelihood for the CAP also.
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