Simon Coveney

The Federation of Irish Fishermen has welcomed the publication by the Marine Institute (MI) and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) of the “Atlas of Demersal Discarding, An Atlas of Discarding Profiles by the Irish Demersal Fleet with a Toolbox of Mitigation Measures” and its launch today by Minister Simon Coveney.

The document clearly identifies the complex nature of discarding and provides a range of workable and stock specific potential solutions rather the simplistic and populist approach adopted by the Commissioner Damanaki of banning discards.

FIF Chairman Seán O’Donoghue said:  “This atlas is positive step by Ireland in addressing in a meaningful way the extent of  discarding in certain demersal fisheries and in putting forward a range of options for reducing discards. Discards must be tackled with a view to their reduction to the lowest practicable level on an EU wide platform – not just by Ireland.

FIF has trenchantly expressed the view that EU Commissioner Damanaki’s stated objective for the future Common Fisheries Policy of banning discards and forcing fishermen to land fish which has no prospect of sale –  which would then have to be transported great distances to be processed as fishmeal –  is totally unacceptable, uneconomic and most importantly will not contribute to the sustainable exploitation of stocks. The Commissioner’s approach demonstrates only a superficial and PR driven approach to the issue. The EU measures taken must of course address conservation issues but also must be practical and allow the fishing fleets operate in an economic manner.”

A key component of the Atlas is the substantial treatment given to modifications to fishing gears and indeed other measures to reduce discards. Irish fishermen already have taken a leading role in promoting such measures:

· Seasonal closures for Cod fisheries off the North coast (Greencastle Box) and off the South-east coast (Celtic Sea Box), promoted and supported by the Irish industry are proving highly beneficial with a resultant major improvement in Celtic Sea Cod stocks for example and whose value is accepted scientifically at EU level;

· The Irish industry spearheaded the important seasonal closure in response to stock depletion for the Nephrops (Dublin Bay Prawn) fishery on the Porcupine Bank – an area to the west of Ireland –  and successfully negotiated it with our EU counterparts, leading to its adoption by the EU in 2010.

· As long ago as 1999, the Irish Nephrops (Dublin Bay Prawn) industry was instrumental in promoting a seasonal closure in the Irish Sea which, although watered down subsequently, continues annually.

· The use of mesh sizes greater than the legal size allowed has grown significantly in recent years for example in fisheries targeting Nephrops and Monkfish.

· A number of Irish vessels have pioneered the use of a selective “Swedish Grid” to target Nephrops but eliminate as far as possible Cod, Haddock and Whiting by-catches – but at a considerable economic cost in relation to losses of marketable landings of those species. There remain practical and economic difficulties with the use of this type of gear.

· In 2011, the Irish industry has been at the forefront in proposing the introduction of escape panels in trawls which would allow the escape of the majority of juvenile Haddock and Whiting.

This Irish Atlas is based on analysis and catch sampling of the Irish fishing fleet, which accounts for only 15% of the fish landed from waters where the Irish fleet fishes. The same issues which are highlighted in the Atlas apply to French, Spanish, Portuguese,  Belgian, UK and other fleets which account for 85% of the landings in the same areas.

Ireland is coming out in confronting both the issues and potential solutions  in a forthright manner and other EU countries should follow suit, says the FIF.  “The Irish industry is already responding to that challenge as shown above.

“As is said in the Atlas, ‘It is critical that the EU develop a European Discard Atlas in order to understand the extent of the problem and therefore introduce appropriate mitigation measures.’

“Ireland has put its cards on the table and should be given credit for leading the real debate. We need  reasoned dialogue on discards and the EU must take measured, practical decisions in the lead-up to the new Common Fisheries Policy,” said the FIF.

It should be noted, added the FIF, that one major cause of discarding is that such discarding is a legal requirement under current EU law, due to the need to adhere to both quota restrictions and legal minimum landing sizes. Some decisions of the EU had in fact caused more discards, they said. “For example, the FIF is clearly on record as being vehemently opposed the reduction in mesh size for gillnets off the Irish coast, introduced by the EU some years ago at the behest of other countries, as being anti-conservation and leading to higher levels of discarding of small Hake by non-Irish vessels who utilise smaller mesh sizes allowed.”