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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 are being 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 was substantially reformed in 2014 and is now 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

  • Taking our seabed area into account, Ireland is actually one of the largest EU countries with sovereign or exclusive rights over one of the largest sea to land ratios (over 10:1) of any EU member state.
  • Ireland's seafood sector is worth over €800 million to the economy, and employs around 11,000 people.
  • Despite a decline in 2013, exports of Irish seafood have increased by 29% since 2010 from €378 million to €489 million. The domestic market in 2013 was worth €326 million.
  • An estimated 65% of Irish seafood exports are sold in EU markets, with France being the main market followed by the UK and Spain.
  • Ireland exported seafood worth €38 million to Asian markets in 2013, an increase of over 40% on 2012. Exports to China alone were worth €12 million.
  • Nigeria is Ireland’s top export market outside the EU. In 2013 exports amounted to €40 million.
  • Ireland aims to increase total seafood sales to €1 billion and create an additional 1,200 jobs by 2017 under the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 strategy.
  • Ireland harvests over 40 different types of high quality commercial seafood including salmon, whitefish, pelagic and shellfish species.
  • 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.
  • 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 total number of fishing vessels in the 28 EU Member States amounted to 87,445 in 2014. That’s 19,284 fewer than in 1995 when there were 15 member states. However, the fleet still needs to be further reduced. Ireland had 1,914 fishing vessels in 2013.
  • Ireland was one of ten EU member states found guilty of overfishing in 2013. Under agreed EU rules, overfishing results in reduced quotas to repair the damage done to stocks.
  • Overfishing in the North and West of Europe has fallen from 86% of stocks in 2009 to 41% in 2014. However, there are still serious problems in the Mediterranean Sea with 96% or more of Mediterranean bottom-living fish being overfished.
  • Irish marine researchers received funding worth over €50 million from EU sources including FP7 and INTERREG between 2007/13.
  • Around €200 million has been earmarked for European marine research and innovation in 2014/15 under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.
  • The EU fishing industry is the world's fourth largest, providing almost 6.5 million tonnes of fish every year and jobs for over 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.
  • 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:

  • Protecting fish stocks: Overfishing can have devastating consequences but the CFP is helping to manage and protect Europe’s seas for future generations. In the Northeast Atlantic area, including the Baltic and North Seas, overfishing has fallen from 86% (30 stocks overfished out of 35 assessed) in 2009 to 41% (19 out of 46 stocks) in 2014. However, there are still major problems in the Mediterranean where 96% of bottom-living and 71% of middle-water fish are overfished, and the Black Sea where all bottom-living fish and 33% of pelagic stocks are overfished.
  • 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. Member states that overfish have to make up for it through reduced quotas.
  • 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 and catch capacity of the fishing fleet and regulating the amount of time vessels can spend fishing.
  • Funding: The European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) introduced in 2014 supports to the fishing industry and coastal communities by providing financial assistance to help them adapt to changing conditions in the sector. Under the previous funding vehicle, the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) that ran from 2007-2013, Ireland received €42,266,603 in EU funds. Ireland also previously benefited from €70 million in EU fisheries funding between 2000-2006. The money helped support 850 Irish projects during that period. At current prices Ireland has been allocated over €147.5 million under the EMFF between 2014-2020.
  • 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

Inspectors checking the catch on board a trawlerThe Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (January to June 2013) 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 came into effect on January 1st 2014 and it's being delivered with the help of a €6.5 billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) covering the period 2014-2020.

Here are some of the main elements of the latest CFP

  • 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, was estimated at 23% of total catches in 2013. This practice, where fish are thrown back to the sea because they’re either too small or the fisherman has no quota, will be phased out progressively between 2015 and 2019 through a new landing obligation. Under the obligation all catches have to be kept on board, landed and counted against quotas. Undersized fish cannot be marketed for human consumption purposes.
  • Management
    The latest CFP brings decisions on technical and conservation measures closer to national administrations, local fishermen and other interest groups, and puts an end to micro-management from Brussels. EU legislators now only define the general framework, overall targets, performance indicators and timeframes and Member States develop recommendations on actual implementing measures.
  • Fishing fleet
    Member States have to ensure that their fleet capacity is in balance with the fishing opportunities. Any Member State with overcapacity has 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 coastline to help protect the aqua eco-system.
  • 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
    The new CFP market policy strengthens the competitiveness of the EU industry, improves the transparency of seafood markets and ensures 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.
  • International responsibility
    The EU promotes 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) are replacing 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 flagCatch value data collated by a US academic fisheries impact project shows that Ireland has benefited significantly from being an EU Member State.

The Sea Around Us Project, based at the University of British Columbia, collected data for Irish waters from 1950 to 2004 that dispels the myth that Ireland lost out on Irish fish catches to the rest of the EU after we became a Member State.

Calculated in US dollars at year 2000 prices, the value of all fish extracted from Irish waters from 1950 to 2004 is $16.8 billion. Before we joined the EU the catch value from 1950 to 1973 was $4.8 billion and after we became a Member State it was $11.9 billion between 1973 and 2004.

Up to 1973, Ireland took just 12% of the catch from Irish waters. After becoming an EU state the share rose to as much as 40%, and averaged out at 30%.

The French catch from Irish waters, on the other hand, halved from 42% before we joined the EU to 21% in 2004 – and it continues to decline.

The Russians, who used to hoover up another 20% of Irish fish, are now virtually excluded from our waters. Since we joined the EU, they have managed a paltry 3.7%, most of which was in the years 1973-1977, before the Irish Marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was formally defined.

Part of the reason for the low Irish catches prior to EU membership was our inability to patrol Irish waters, and the lack of legal recognition for the exclusivity of those waters beyond the 12 mile limit.

That changed in 1976, when the Irish Marine EEZ was extended from 12 to 200 miles, and the EU paid for four new fisheries protection vessels - the LE Deirdre, the Emer, the Aoife and the Aisling – so we could patrol our own waters.

The US data shows that the Irish fish catch has never been more than 1.25% of GDP. In fact, since the late 1970s, the whole value of fish taken from Irish waters has never exceeded 2% of Irish GDP in any year, and was only worth a quarter of a percentage point of our 2004 GDP.

The figures indicate that at no point before becoming an EU Member State were we ever a viable fishing nation, even if we had succeeded in taking absolutely every fish caught in Irish waters for ourselves.

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Last update: 22/10/2014  |Top