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Ireland and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
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Fisherman examining netsAs an island nation fishing has always been economically and socially important to Ireland.

The natural, clean water around Ireland’s 7,500km of coastline has provided exceptionally good seafood for thousands of years, and it’s important to protect it for future generations.

The sailing boats, spears and makeshift nets our ancestors fished with didn’t pose any threat to jobs, the coastal environment or fish stocks, but modern fishing vessels and methods do.

Commercial trawlers can now travel vast distances across the ocean and some are fitted with hydraulically powered winches capable of scooping up several tonnes of fish in a single net.

During much of the 20th century relentless fishing and marine pollution pushed some fish stocks to the brink of extinction making it necessary to regulate the fishing industry.

Today, the interests of Irish fishermen, fishing communities and consumers of fish products are supported through the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The CFP is negotiated and agreed between all 28 Member States and initiatives that promote sustainable fishing have been encouraged and part funded by the European Fisheries Fund (EFF).

Following three years of extensive consultation with industry representatives and negotiations between the European Commission, Member States and MEPs, the CFP has been substantially reformed and from 2014 will be financially supported through a new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

It’s often a controversial subject in Ireland but the CFP’s main aim is to protect the seafood industry and the marine environment for future generations.

Fish facts

Graph showing Irish seafood exports

  • Exports of Irish seafood during 2012 amounted to €493 million, an increase of 18% on 2011. The domestic market was worth €329 million.
  • 60% of Irish seafood is exported to 54 countries around the world with approximately 65% to EU, 14% to Africa and 4% to Asia, 3% to the Middle East, 2% to Russia and 1% to USA.
  • Ireland harvests over 40 different types of high quality seafood including salmon, whitefish, pelagic and shellfish species.
  • The Irish seafood industry generates an estimated 12,000 jobs, supporting the economic viability of many rural and coastal communities.
  • It’s estimated that as many as 80% of all fish species in EU waters are currently overfished. There are simply too many fishing vessels for the number of fish that can be safely removed from the seas.
  • The number of fishing vessels in EU Member States amounted to 83,014 in 2011. That’s 23,715 fewer than in 1995 but the fleet still needs to be further reduced. In 2011 Ireland had 2,176 fishing vessels; 2.6% of the EU fishing fleet.
  • The EU fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world, providing over six million tonnes of fish every year and jobs for more than 350,000 people.
  • Global consumption of seafood has doubled over the last 50 years and with growing world population it is estimated an additional 42 million tonnes of seafood will be required by 2030.
  • Ireland has ambitions to become a global player in the international seafood market by capitalising on emerging markets in Asia. It’s estimated that the Irish seafood industry has the potential to achieve €1 billion in sales by 2020, creating 3,000 new jobs in the process.
  • Irish mussel harvesters were among the first in Europe to achieve organic certification and today supply retailers and premium caterers in many French and German cities, including Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris.
  • The EU celebrates European Maritime Day on May 20 every year to highlight the importance of our seas and oceans.

Benefits of the CFP

Fish processingThe main objective of the CFP is to make sure the needs of today’s EU fishing industry are met without jeopardising fish stocks for future generations.

It also aims to provide a guaranteed income for fishermen and ensure a regular supply of top quality seafood at reasonable prices for consumers while maintaining healthy coastal ecosystems.

The threat to the fishing industry is a global one so the EU has partnership agreements with non-EU countries that help manage the Earth’s seas and oceans through a regulated, transparent and sustainable framework.

These agreements also allow EU fishermen to fish in distant waters in return for a financial contribution that allows non-EU countries to invest in their fishing industries and build up global fish stocks.

Here are some of the important issues the CFP addresses:

  1. Protecting fish stocks:
    Overfishing can have devastating consequences. At present, 39% of assessed fish stocks in EU waters of the Northeast Atlantic are overfished. However thanks to CFP fishing rules that figure has been reduced from 47% in 2012 and 95% in 2005.
  2. Enforcing rules:
    Rules agreed through the CFP to protect fish stocks and protect the marine environment are enforced through a control system. The system ensures that only the allowed quantities of fish are caught and allows action to be taken to combat illegal fishing.
  3. Fishing fleet:
    One of the biggest problems facing the global fishing industry is that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. The EU is trying to reduce pressure on fish stocks by limiting the overall size of the fishing fleet and regulating the amount of time vessels can spend fishing.
  4. Funding:
    The European Fisheries Fund (EFF) supports the fishing industry and coastal communities by providing financial assistance to help them adapt to changing conditions in the sector. Under the EFF Operational Programme that ran from 2007-2013 Ireland received €42,266,603 in EU funds. Ireland also benefited from €70 million in EU fisheries funding between 2000-2006. The money helped support 850 Irish projects during that period. The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will replace the EFF from 2014.
  5. Quality and Price:
    The CFP helps producers, processors and distributors get a fair price for their produce. It also promotes standards and enforces rules that ensure consumers can trust the seafood they eat. 

Reform of the CFP

Fish - ready to cook

The Irish Presidency of the European Council secured agreement on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in May 2013. It was the first major reform since 2002. The reforms include measures to prevent overfishing and put an end to the controversial practice of discarding fish.

The new CFP comes into effect from January 1st 2014 and it will be delivered with the help of a new €6.5 billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) covering the period 2014-2020.

The aim of the reformed policy is to make fishing sustainable environmentally, economically and socially. Here are some of the main elements.

  • Yields
    Fishing will progressively be managed at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels, and setting of quotas will respect scientific advice. By 2015, and at the latest by 2020, all EU fish stocks will be managed at MSY levels.
  • Discards
    Discarding, the practice of throwing unwanted fish overboard, is currently estimated at 23% of total catches. This practice will be phased out progressively between 2015 and 2019.
  • Management
    The new CFP will bring decisions on technical and conservation measures closer to national administrations, local fishermen and other interest groups, putting an end to micro-management from Brussels. EU legislators will only define the general framework, overall targets, performance indicators and timeframes and Member States will then develop recommendations on actual implementing measures.
  • Fish stocks
    Member States will work to establish new fish stock recovery areas to replenish EU seas. This will be in addition to already existing protected areas.
  • Fishing fleet
    Member States will have to ensure that their fleet capacity is in balance with the fishing opportunities. Any Member State with overcapacity will have to develop an action plan to reduce its fleet.
  • Small fisheries
    Small-scale coastal fisheries often play an important role in the social fabric and the cultural identity of many of Europe's coastal regions. The reformed CFP extends to 2022 the right for Member States to restrict fishing in a zone within 12 nautical miles of the coastline to help protect them.
  • Aquaculture
    Member States are developing national strategic plans to remove administrative and other barriers to the aquaculture industry, while upholding environmental, social and economic standards for the farmed-fish industry. A new aquaculture framework will help increase production and supply of seafood in the EU and reduce Europe’s dependence on imported fish.
  • Scientific data
    The new CFP establishes basic rules for Member States to help with collecting, maintaining and sharing data about fish stocks, fleets and the impact of fishing at sea-basin level. This will lead to better scientific knowledge to guide policy and management into the future.
  • Market policy
    A new CFP market policy will strengthen the competitiveness of the EU industry, improve the transparency of seafood markets and ensure a level playing field for all products marketed in Europe. New standards on labelling, quality and traceability will give consumers better information and help them support sustainable fisheries The existing intervention regime will be modernized and simplified to help producer organisations.
  • International responsibility
    The EU will promote sustainability, good governance and the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in bilateral fishing agreements with non-EU countries. Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs) will replace existing agreements and partner countries will be compensated for granting access to their fishing resources and given financial assistance to implement a sustainable fisheries policy. 

Ireland and the CFP

Hook with Irish flag

The new CFP gives Ireland and Irish fishermen more responsibility in implementing the measures contained in the reformed CFP.

That’s because the new policy provides for the development of actions appropriate for each region by Member States in consultation with stakeholders through new Regional Advisory Councils (RACs)

In November 2013 Ireland hosted the first official meeting of the North Western Waters RAC of Member States (Ireland, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain and the UK). This group is made up of stakeholders from the Member States who will work to devise and implement measures to manage fisheries in waters where Ireland has quotas.

A national Discards Implementation Group has also been established to ensure the Irish fishing industry is fully prepared for, and engaged in, the implementation of the CFP’s discards ban.

Ireland successfully argued for maintaining an arrangement known as the Hague Preferences in the reformed CFP. The arrangement grants Ireland additional shares of key whitefish stocks.

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Last update: 12/12/2013  |Top