Representation in Ireland

The Common Fisheries Policy

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Fishing trawler
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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.

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 environment and consumers of fish products are supported through the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that’s negotiated and agreed between Member States.

The CFP sets rules that gives 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.

Benefits of the CFP

The link between the environmental health of fish stocks and the economic health of fishing communities is well documented.

Sustainable fishing is at the heart of the CFP, but it isn’t just about establishing rules to protect stocks.

Communities that once almost exclusively depended on fishing need to be supported as they adjust to quotas and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is providing financial assistance so they can continue to fish sustainably and develop new sources of revenue.

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

The CFP’s current target is to ensure all fish stocks are exploited at sustainable levels by 2020.

That means using the best available scientific advice to work out the highest possible amount of catches that can be taken from the sea without affecting the long-term productivity of stocks. Total allowable catches (TACs) divided into national quotas determine the amount of fish that can be caught.

Ireland’s total share of TACs in 2017 amounted to 234,493 tonnes with a value of €226 million. Ireland negotiated a total package of fish quotas worth €266 million for 2018 at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH).

The CFP is also eliminating discarding, the practice of throwing unwanted fish overboard either because they are too small or the fisherman has no quota for the catch.

In 2013 discarding accounted for an estimated 23% of total catches but it’s now being phased out through a new landing obligation that bans the practice.

The EU policy for managing the market in fishery and aquaculture products is another one of the pillars of the CFP. This supports producers through the development of a common market for fisheries and seafood as well as standards for products that ensure quality and enable consumers to make informed choices about the fish they buy.

Fisheries and seafood is one of the world’s most globalised and interconnected industries and the CFP places the EU as a frontrunner in the global fight against illegal unreported and unregulated fishing through international fisheries law.

The EU also negotiates fishing agreements on behalf of all Member States so fleets from Member States can fish sustainably outside EU waters.

Around 8% of EU catches are made under these fishing agreements with countries outside the EU, while another 20% are taken on the high seas, mainly in regions under the care of regional fisheries management organisations.

The EU is also 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.

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Infographic about the amount of plastics that go into the sea
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Over 45% of dumped plastics found in the ocean is abandoned or broken fishing nets and the global cost of marine litter to nautical ecosystems is €10.7 billion.

The EU has set a target of reducing marine litter by 30% and €52 million of funding has been allocated to help tackle the problem.

A new 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.

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

The EMFF is the fund for the EU's maritime and fisheries policies. It’s one of the five European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds that complement each other to promote growth and jobs in Europe.

The EMMF is 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.

Due to its geographical position, Ireland has major responsibilities in enforcing the rules of the CFP, and also in 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 EMMF 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.

Future funding

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

The fund will continue to support the fisheries sector towards more sustainable fishing practices and it will also help unleash the growth potential of the blue economy to ensure a prosperous future for coastal communities.

The new EMMF will give small-scale coastal fishing improved preferential treatment compared to the 2014-2020 period through a higher intervention rate.

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.

The 2021-27 EMMF will contribute to strengthening international ocean governance for safer, cleaner, more secure, and sustainably managed seas and oceans.

The environmental impact of the fund will be reinforced with an expected 30% of the budget dedicated to protecting marine ecosystems in keeping with the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

The fund will have several new features to make it more effective and efficient including better targeting and improved alignment with other EU funds.

The Commission is urging agreement on the next long-term budget in 2019 to provide a seamless transition to the new EMMF and avoid delays similar to those experienced at the beginning of the current 2014-2020 budgetary period.

Ireland and the CFP

Data from the extensive Sea Around Us Project for Irish waters shows that 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.

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Infographic showing Ireland's main export markets for fish
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Part of the reason for 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 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was extended from 12 to 200 miles, and the EU paid for four new fisheries protection vessels so we could patrol our own waters.

Fishery plays an important role in the sustainable development of the economic and social fabric of Ireland’s small coastal communities.

Aquaculture activities are located all around the coast, offering employment opportunities and contributing to local coastal economies.

The Irish national strategic plan on aquaculture foresees a more than twofold increase in production quantity by 2023.

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Infographic showing Ireland's seafood exports
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FLAG projects in Ireland

Fisheries areas across the EU are facing significant challenges that are being tackled by Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs).

Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) is a tool that enables local fisheries communities to address these challenges and it’s implemented across the EU by the FARNET network.

Irish FLAGs have supported the development of six Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFFs) and a National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF) to ensure representation of the small-scale segment of the fleet in regional and national decision-making.

Projects in Ireland funded by FLAGs include the purchase of equipment to enhance native flat oyster stocks through spat collection in Tralee Bay.

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.

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The founders of Bláth na Mara
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Another project has helped local fishermen to explore how solar lighting might improve safety and make working hours more flexible at the remote pier on Bere Island, where they land their fish.

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

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).

The FLAG boards consider applications for support and select projects for funding. Bord Iascaigh Mhara assists them to deliver Ireland’s EMFF Operational Programme 2014-2020.

Fish facts

  • 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.
  • The waters around Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds and biologically sensitive areas in the EU.
  • Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory. These waters are home to a plethora of marine biodiversity.
  • In 2017, the overall fishing opportunities for stocks to which the Irish fleet has access to, was 1.3 million tonnes of fish, with an estimated landed value of €1.44 billion.
  • Over €400 million of seafood was landed into Irish ports during 2017. This comprised €283 million from Irish landings and €118 from non-Irish vessels.
  • Ireland imported €335 million worth of seafood during 2017, including €228 million from the UK.
  • Ireland’s exports increased by 10% in 2017, reaching €666 million. The main export markets for seafood are the UK (€85 million) the rest of the EU (€392) and Asia (€79 million).
  • The main driver of export growth is Irish Organic Salmon, which increased in value by 69% from €71 million to €121 million in 2017.
  • The world now eats more fish than ever before. This is forecast to increase to over 30 kilos per person annually by 2030. Demand is particularly high in Asia, where preference for seafood dominates.
  • Ireland’s Seafood Sector is a significant contributor to the Irish economy, providing over €1.15 billion in 2017.
  • In some coastal communities, such as Donegal, seafood accounts for up to 12% of total coastal employment.
  • A total of 14,638 people were employed directly and indirectly around our coasts in 2017.
  • The most valuable seafood landings by the Irish fleet in 2017 were Mackerel (€83 million), Dublin Bay Prawns (€55 million), Horse Mackerel (€16 million) and Monkfish (€14 million).
  • There are a total of 2,050 vessels in the Irish fishing fleet.

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)