Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Common Fisheries Policy must be renegotiated – Ferris

1 July, 2008 - by Martin Ferris TD


Sinn Féin Fisheries Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD, speaking in the Dáil this evening on a Private Members Motion on Irish Fisheries, called for a fundamental renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy as is affects Irish fisheries.

Deputy Ferris tabled an amendment to the motion as he said neither the original motion nor the Government amendment, for all their good intentions, address the basis and core problems facing Irish fishermen.

He said, "The reason I have tabled my amendment is because neither the original motion nor the Government amendment, for all their good intentions, address the basis and core problems facing Irish fishermen.

"And fundamental to that is the Common Fisheries Policy which has been the bedrock of the disastrous mismanagement of the Irish fishery since this state joined the EU. Unless and until an Irish Government reverses the shameful sell out made at that time, we will be merely tinkering around and allowing Brussels to engineer the effective liquidation of the Irish fishing sector. And yet there seems to be little political will here to demand a radical overhaul of the Common Fisheries Policy.

"The overall impression is of this state constantly having to fight a rearguard action to preserve whatever crumbs have been thrown our way. That in itself is reason enough, as one of the significant stakeholders in the sector to demand that the Policy is reformed in such a way to ensure that the interests of Irish fishermen are protected and enhanced.

"The harm done by the CFP is generally recognised. In 2002 the Review Group which reported to the Forum on Europe referred to the 'inequalities and injustices' inherent in the CFP. Perhaps it best summed up the situation when it declared that 'Ireland has only a small piece of its own cake.'

"Had our fisheries been properly managed and developed under domestic control they might have become a valuable resource that could have played a vital role in the economic development of the country. Instead the Irish fishery was squandered and is at the current moment in mortal danger. Not only due to current pressures such as those brought about by the steep increase in fuel prices, but by the overall trust of EU policy which many believe, and with justification, is deliberately designed to reduce the Irish fishing sector to insignificance.

"I would therefore ask that Deputies support this amendment as incorporating the best way of tackling the crisis facing the Irish fishing sector, beginning fundamentally with a re-negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy as it affects our fisheries." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ferris' speech follows

Full text of Deputy Ferris' speech follows

The reason I have tabled my amendment is because neither the original motion nor the Government amendment, for all their good intentions, address the basis and core problems facing Irish fishermen.

And fundamental to that is the Common Fisheries Policy which has been the bedrock of the disastrous mismanagement of the Irish fishery since this state joined the EU. Unless and until an Irish Government reverses the shameful sell out made at that time, we will be merely tinkering around and allowing Brussels to engineer the effective liquidation of the Irish fishing sector.

And yet there seems to be little political will here to demand a radical overhaul of the CFP. In a reply to one of my questions today the Minister claims that many of Ireland's priorities have been delivered on during the 10 yearly reviews but admits that this state has received no support with regard to addressing the fundamental issue of the quota.

Indeed the overall impression is of this state constantly having to fight a rearguard action to preserve whatever crumbs have been thrown our way. That in itself is reason enough, as one of the significant stakeholders in the sector to demand that the Policy is reformed in such a way to ensure that the interests of Irish fishermen are protected and enhanced.

It is significant that at the same time as this state was negotiating entry to the EU so was Norway. The CFP was drawn up during the talks as a means of allowing "equal access" to British and Irish waters for the fishing fleets of the then six member states of Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

Sensibly the Norwegians decided that such a sacrifice of a national asset was not worth it and they still have a thriving fishing sector.

The harm done by the CFP is generally recognised. In 2002 the Review Group which reported to the Forum on Europe referred to the "inequalities and injustices" inherent in the CFP. Perhaps it best summed up the situation when it declared that "Ireland has only a small piece of its own cake."

Just how small is illustrated by the fact that even though we have 11% of EU fishing waters we have only 4% of the quota. But even that fails to adequately illustrate how badly done we are as the Irish fishery is the most lucrative in the EU with 40% of edible fish consumed in the EU caught in Irish waters.

As I referred to in my statement two weeks ago the 2004 estimate of the catch by the Irish fleet in waters around our coast was that it amounted to 15% of the total catch. Within the area under EU jurisdiction it was only 28%. In the same year it was estimated by the Marine Institute that the value of the catch in surrounding waters was €800 million of which €460 million was taken in the EU zone.

I also referred to EUROSTAT statistics which would place the accumulated processed value of fish taken in Irish waters between 1974 and 2004 at around €200 billion. Five times the value of the total transfer funds we received from the EU, mainly in CAP and structural funding over the same period.

Had our fisheries been properly managed and developed under domestic control they might have become a valuable resource that could have played a vital role in the economic development of the country. Instead the Irish fishery was squandered and is at the current moment in mortal danger. Not only due to current pressures such as those brought about by the steep increase in fuel prices, but by the overall trust of EU policy which many believe, and with justification, is deliberately designed to reduce the Irish fishing sector to insignificance.

What is worse is that the intent of Brussels is being reinforced here by the actions of the Irish state and its enforcement authorities. As is illustrated by the manner in which the sector is policed and by recent legislative changes to both the Criminal Justice Act and the Sea Fisheries Act which in effect criminalise fishermen in a manner not applied to any other economic sector.

That is why I am again calling on the Government to follow the wishes of the entire sector, and the Committee here, including its Fianna Fáil members, in substituting the criminal penalties with administrative sanctions. Such a change was hinted at by the previous Minister but we have yet to see any move in that direction.

Another area to which I refer is the need to tackle illegal fishing. This has been estimated to be as much as one third the value of the entire legal catch in Irish waters but that could be a gross under-estimate. The reason why it is an estimate and why it could be so inaccurate has to do with the inadequacy of policing Irish waters and in particular of foreign vessels.

Irish fishermen believe that they unjustly bear the brunt of fisheries protection surveillance and that in any event this state does not have the necessary resources to adequately monitor the non Irish fleet. Nor it seems are the states from which those vessels originate particularly concerned about what their boats do in Irish waters.

The amendment also refers to the need to properly develop and grow the processing sector. That is impossible in fact at the current moment due to the straitjacket of the Common Fisheries Policy and indeed the processing industry based on the Irish catch faces the same threat of being run down or even closed down.

At present there are almost 5,000 people employed either directly or indirectly or on a seasonal basis in processing. That is not an insignificant figure but it could be far greater if Irish fishermen had a fairer share of the catch in Irish waters and if more processing of the fish caught in our waters was done in this country.

The figures on fish imports illustrate the potential for growth. In 2007 import sales accounted for forty three percent of total fish sales. That is a substantial proportion with clear potential to substitute at least some of that with domestically caught and processed fish.

The potential which processing has to add value to the fish landed here and aquaculture products is illustrated by the fact that while the more than 190,000 tonnes landed in Irish ports in 2006 was worth €162 million, total seafood exports of 158,000 tonnes were valued at €360 million.

I would also back the call for country of origin labelling. That would represent a significant boost for the domestic processing sector but also illustrate to some extent the ridiculous situation whereby fish caught in Irish waters by foreign vessels are then being imported here from Spain or Portugal.

To conclude, I would ask that Deputies support this amendment as incorporating the best way of tackling the crisis facing the Irish fishing sector, beginning fundamentally with a re-negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy as it affects our fisheries.

Connect with Sinn Féin