Representation in Ireland

The Common Fisheries Policy

As 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.

Fishing trawler

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.

Sustainable fishing has now become a matter of survival – not just for fish stocks, but for fishing communities too.

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

The CFP sets rules, negotiated and agreed between Member States, that give European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters, allowing them to compete fairly while conserving fish stocks for the future.

It also promotes and supports measures to protect the marine environment from threats such as climate change and the dumping of plastics in our oceans.

European fishermen and aquaculture producers play a key role in the transition to a more equitable and sustainable food system as part of the European Green Deal.

Supporting them through the CFP with new streams of funding and eco-schemes to take up sustainable practices is an important element of the European Commission’s comprehensive new Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies.

Benefits of the CFP

  • The CFP is eliminating discarding, the practice of throwing unwanted fish overboard either because they are too small or the fisherman has no quota for the catch.
  • The EU policy for managing the market in fisheries supports producers through the development of a common market for fisheries and seafood. It also sets standards for products that ensure quality and enable consumers to make informed choices about the fish they buy.
  • The CFP places the EU as a frontrunner in the global fight against illegal unreported and unregulated fishing through international fisheries law.
  • The EU negotiates fishing agreements on behalf of all Member States so EU fleets can fish sustainably outside EU waters.
  • The EU is taking action to combat the estimated eight million tonnes of plastics that end up in the sea each year, much of it from the fishing industry.
  • The Europe-wide strategy on plastics includes rules on port reception facilities and measures to ensure waste generated on ships or gathered at sea is returned to land to be managed sustainably.


Infographic about the amount of plastics that go into the sea

Ireland and the CFP

The waters around Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds and biologically sensitive areas in the European Union.

Data from the extensive Sea Around Us Project shows the catch value from Irish waters from 1950-1973 before Ireland joined the EU was $4.8 billion.

However, after becoming a Member State the figure rose to $11.9 billion between 1973 and 2004.

Up to 1973, Ireland took just 12% of the catch from Irish waters while the figure increased to as much as 40%, and averaged out at 30%, after joining the EU.

Part of the reason for low Irish catches prior to EU membership was Ireland’s 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 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was extended from 12 to 200 miles, and the EU paid for four new fisheries protection vessels so Ireland could patrol its own waters.

The European Union has a responsibility to guarantee only legally caught fish end up on our plates and using the best available scientific advice the CFP ensures catch limits are set at responsible levels.

Total allowable catches (TACs) divided into national quotas determine the amount of fish that can be caught.

Ireland’s total package of agreed fish quotas for 2020 is 195,000 tonnes, worth an estimated €275 million for the Irish fishing industry.

Infographic about employment in the Irish seafood economy

Fisheries and Covid-19

Fishing and aquaculture are among the sectors hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The European Commission proposed emergency aid for the industries that allowed for a range of initiatives to address the challenges faced by the seafood community.

These included financial compensation to fishermen and aquaculture farmers affected by the temporary cessation of fishing activities, with the EU funding 75% of this through new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) measures.

Visual about EU coronavirus supports

Producer organisations were also supported for the temporary storage of fishery and aquaculture products for human consumption.

The Commission also proposed to apply simplified procedures and a more flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programme of each Member State so they could swiftly address needs resulting from the crisis.

These targeted measures for the seafood community came on top of other support options available under EMFF rules and a State aid Temporary Framework adopted in March 2020.

In May 2020 the Commission proposed that a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU, be incorporated into a revamped long-term EU budget.

As part of this, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will be boosted by €500 million through the Just Transition Mechanism, which was proposed in January 2020 to support the European Green Deal.

The funding will be used to strengthen the resilience of fisheries sectors and provide scope for crisis management.

CFP and Brexit

An agreement on the future of fisheries is part of the negotiations on the future partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

It’s important for Ireland that agreement is reached, not least because, on average, 34% of Irish landings are taken from UK waters.

The EU negotiating mandate sets out to “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and traditional activity of the Union fleet”.

That would mean stable quota shares that could only be adjusted with the consent of both parties. It’s hoped the future partnership will reflect continued responsible fisheries in line with the principles of EU law, particularly those underpinning the CFP.

A European Commission measure allows EU fishermen and operators to receive compensation for any temporary cessation of fishing activities due to Brexit.

A legal framework is currently in place to allow EU and UK vessels to grant access to each other's waters until the end of 2020.

The European Commission is working closely with Ireland and other affected Member States and stakeholders on preparing a coordinated response to the potential significant impacts of an agreement on fisheries not being reached.

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

The EMFF is the fund for implementing the EU's maritime and fisheries policies. It’s used to help fishermen transition to sustainable fishing and support coastal communities in diversifying their economies.

The fund co-finances projects along with national funding, with each Member State allocated a share of the budget based on the size of its fishing industry.

The European Commission is proposing changes to the CFP that include a simpler, more flexible €6.14 billion EMFF for European fisheries and the maritime economy to cover the 2021-2027 period.

The new EMMF will help unleash the growth potential of the blue economy and give small-scale coastal fishing improved preferential treatment compared to the 2014-2020 period through a higher intervention rate.

Visual about the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

Member States will also be asked to develop an action plan for small-scale coastal fishing that sets out a strategy for the sustainable development of the sector.

Due to its geographical position, Ireland has major responsibilities in enforcing the rules of the CFP, and providing sound data for the management of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

The EMMF helps Ireland fulfil its obligations both globally and locally and it’s implemented through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Marine Agencies & Programmes Division.

The Irish EMFF Operational Programme also supports coastal communities and small-scale fisheries, mainly through seven local Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs).

Each FLAG has its own development strategy that addresses specific local issues in its area. That means the funding allocated to Ireland can be prioritised for projects that benefit local communities the most.

Fisheries Local Action Groups

Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) are partnerships that provide funding to local projects that contribute to local development in areas where fisheries are important.

The seven Irish FLAGs are South FLAG, (Cork), Southwest (Kerry, Limerick), South East (Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow), West (Mayo, Clare), Northwest (Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim), North (Donegal) and North East (Dublin, Louth, Meath).

Irish FLAG boards consider applications for support and select projects for funding and Bord Iascaigh Mhara assists them to deliver Ireland’s EMFF Operational Programme.

Explanatory visual about FLAGS

The Marine Institute is implementing three EMFF Operational Programme schemes: Blue Growth & Marine Spatial Planning, Data Collection and Marine Biodiversity.

Irish FLAG projects

  • A local company set up by the community on Achill Island created an aquarium in a disused building. The project was extended to also include a fisheries heritage museum and by 2019 visitor numbers were up to 30,000. The project has created six full-time and three part-time jobs for local residents, mostly relatives of fishermen.
  • Locals living and working near Galway Bay who were worried about a decline in the quality of the bay’s famous shellfish producing waters set up Cuan Beo to tackle the problem. They’ve been involved in several initiatives highlighting the importance of the local marine resources, including talks, workshops, seafood cooking demonstrations and an oyster restoration project.
  • By adopting spat collectors used in France, Tralee Oyster Fisheries Society (TOFS) is offering a brighter future to its oyster fisheries and the local tradition they represent. This project has allowed TOFS to innovate by searching for existing technology and applying it to their fishery on a large scale.
  • Ireland FLAG West has assisted the transition of seaweed business Blath na Mara from a source of supplementary income for one person into a viable enterprise now employing four full-time people on Inis Mór.

Fish facts

  • Ireland’s marine territory covers an area of 880,000 sq kms.
  • Ireland’s ocean economy had an estimated turnover of €6.2 billion and provided estimated employment to 34,132 in 2018.
  • Ireland’s Total Allowable Catches (TACs) species include mackerel, horse mackerel, boarfish, blue whiting, herring, cod, whiting, haddock, saithe, pollack, hake, megrim, anglerfish, plaice, sole and Nephrops.
  • Seafood landed into Irish ports in 2019 was worth €424 million.
  • Ireland had 2,022 registered fishing vessels in 2019. The country also had 278 aquaculture production units and 164 seafood processors.
  • In 2019, Ireland’s top fish exports were salmon (€104 million) and mackerel (€95 million).
  • Irish seafood exports were worth €605 million in 2019, a 6% increase on 2018.
  • In relative terms progress with EMFF absorption is led by Ireland and Finland – by 2019 both had paid more than 40 % of the total EMFF funding available to beneficiaries.
  • The EMFF supports gender equality projects in the fishing industries, including the BIM Women in Seafood audio stories, which features women working in the seafood sector in Ireland.

Useful links

European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Bord Iascaigh Mhara – Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency

Fish and Seafood industry information from Bord Bia (Irish Food Board)

Foras na Mara - The Marine Institute