“As deputies are aware, one vital aspect of EEC fisheries policy which came into operation on 1 February 1971 had been a cause of concern to all of us. This concern arose from that part of Community policy which provided for equality of access to and exploitation of fishery waters of each member-state by the fishing vessels of other member-states.
“However, after protracted negotiations we have been successful in securing a satisfactory arrangement which has removed what we regarded as a serious threat to the livelihood of our fishermen and to the continued expansion of our fishing industry. This represents a major breakthrough, having regard to the position adopted by the Community earlier in the negotiations.”
—Jackie Fahey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Dáil Éireann, 3 February 1972.)
Perhaps no other aspect of Ireland’s involvement with the EU brings out the blatant dishonesty and cynicism of the country’s political elite as clearly as the history of our participation in EU fisheries policy.
Ireland’s treaty of accession to the EEC, signed on 22 January 1972, only a few days before Fahey’s statement, in fact incorporated the principle of “equal access”; and all that had been “successfully” negotiated were transitional arrangements to take the bad look off the fact that the Government had in fact given away the most important principle of all, namely the EEC’s power to control our fishing waters up to our beaches.
Now, nearly forty years later and twenty eight years into the Common Fisheries Policy, the latest of a series of ten-year “reviews” has even seen the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, María Damanáki, admit that the policy has been a failure.
But Brussels still refuses even to devolve day-today management responsibility, let alone return the control of fisheries policy, to EU member-states.
Along with grass-roots Irish fishing organisations, the People’s Movement rejects this presumption and believes that the repatriation of decision-making powers to EU member-states is the only democratic foundation for proper fisheries management. This approach is based on the core principle that land and sea resources are national assets and the heritage of the entire people of a country and should be managed and developed for the benefit of that country.
The custodianship of marine resources should rest with the state, which should then allocate rights to utilise the living resources, and regulate this use to ensure long-term sustainability and the maximum social and economic benefit of its people and especially its fishing communities.
If an Irish Government were really serious about trying to halt the social and economic decline caused by the Common Fisheries Policy it would campaign for the principle that member-states should have greater flexibility in implementing policies that reflect their own economic and social conditions and should have primacy in deciding the correct policy for fishery areas for which they have a well-founded and legitimate interest.
The main recommendations
- Arguably the most dramatic recommendation in the Damanáki document is the one calling for the mandatory adoption of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) “for all fishing vessels of 12m or more . . . and for all fishing vessels under 12m length fishing with towed gear [such as trawls].”
As the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Simon Coveney, correctly observed in the Dáil on 20 July last, what is involved in this “reform” is that
“quotas are currently treated as a national asset, to be distributed by governments to fishing fleets in consultations between the government and the industry.”
But the effect of this proposal would be “a 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.”
The minister said that the Government would resist this. We shall see!
Skippers would be guaranteed shares of national quotas for periods of at least fifteen years, which they could trade among themselves—even, if the national government agreed, trading with fleets from other countries.
As a spokesperson for an environmental organisation correctly observed,
“fish stocks are a public resource; we all own them; and access to this resource should be given to those who demonstrate [that] they fish in the most environmental and socially beneficial ways, and it should not be for any great length of time . . . This is the virtual privatisation of the oceans.”
- Another proposal is for “regionalisation,” described as a state of affairs in which general policy principles and goals are prescribed from Brussels, “while Member States will have to decide and apply the most appropriate conservation measures.”
Certainly no devolution of decision-making power to regional bodies, much less to member-states.
Thirdly, the waste of food resources and the economic losses caused by throwing unwanted fish back into the sea, a practice known as “discarding,” is to be phased out. Fishermen will be obliged to land all the fish they catch. All fish stocks will have to be brought to sustainable levels by 2015. The commissioner has acknowledged that this will lead to a further loss of employment in the fishing industry.
Challenged by Deputy Thomas Pringle to outline “what resisting and opposing entails in respect of the privatisation of quota, as well as what steps ultimately are open to Ireland,” Simon Coveney reminded the Dáil just how far the country has travelled in the forty years since Fahey’s boast:
“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.”