Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Michael Creed has introduced new legislation to allow NI vessels to fish within Ireland’s exclusive fisheries zone, 0-6 nautical miles from the shoreline, reports Pauric Gallagher.

Many from within the fishing sector are dismayed at the decision to introduce this legislation as there has been no consultation between the Irish fishing industry and Minister Michael Creed on this issue.

In a letter to Minister Creed before the legislation was introduced, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) CEO, Francis O’Donnell, stated: “You have indicated that you intend to introduce this legislation and to date we note that there has been no consultation with the Irish fishing industry in that regard. Nonetheless, you have stated a policy intention. This is clearly a departure from the norm. It is equally in breach of the Common Fisheries Policy that you referred to in the Dail. You are obliged to consult with us prior to the exercising of your Ministerial Prerogative on policy.

“Access by vessels which are non-Irish to Irish territorial waters is of major concern to the directorship and membership of the IFPO, and Irish citizens in general, as they relate to natural resources.

“It is not the case that the Supreme Court found that the 1964 arrangements were unlawful, rather it found that they had no standing in law. This is an important point.

“On behalf of my directors and members, I have to express grave reservations in relation to the intent of bringing legislation forward that would allow UK vessels to operate within Ireland’s exclusive fisheries zone contrary to EC council regulation 1380/2013. These vessels have never lawfully fished in Irish waters and it is more than unclear if Irish vessels can fish inside the six and 3-mile limit on the coast of Northern Ireland.

“Why does the State feel obliged to adhere to an arrangement which was never implemented, some 52 years later without consultation and without due and proper consideration of the issues, which are many?

“The Board of the IFPO requests an urgent meeting with you to discuss this, as there should be no rush in bringing in such legislation, as we believe that, strategically, Ireland is weakening its own hand prior to Brexit negotiations. While our interests lie in commercial marine fisheries it cannot be overlooked that our mussel seed fishery was destroyed due to the open access of voisinage, whereby the length and kilowatt restrictions were dispensed with to allow large aquaculture vessels to enter inside our 3-mile limit to harvest and repatriate the seed elsewhere.

“The State also argued in the High Court, prior to the Supreme Court case, that mussels were not a natural resource – an argument that I found bizarre. In fact, I would argue that the State itself would have had to go to the Supreme Court to challenge its own position, in that if mussels and mussel seed were regarded as not being a natural resource, by extension fish fell into the same category. My reading of the Irish Constitution is that the State cannot manage a resource that it does not own.

“The IFPO will not support this legislation without a proper and transparent stakeholder consultation process and, in particular, we need to see and understand the full parameters of the extent of the legislation you now propose to introduce.”

Speaking at a recent Brexit meeting in Dublin on seafood, Mr O’Donnell challenged Minister Creed to explain why he was introducing this legislation before Brexit negotiations on Ireland’s access to UK waters. There were no logical answers offered to a gathering of 150 delegates.

The argument being put forward by some is that this will restore reciprocal fishing rights. However, no one has yet been able to demonstrate that reciprocal rights exist. In fact, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, has recently claimed that all the waters of Lough Foyle right up to the shore of Co Donegal belong to the United Kingdom.

Equally, the Bill states, ‘Subject to section 9, a person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fishery limits, unless he or she is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles as measured from the baseline’ (within the meaning of section 85). This will mean that large pelagic vessels registered in Northern Ireland can fish up to the shore, while Irish vessels are excluded.

Mr O’Donnell said, “This will allow full access to our inshore waters for vessels registered in Northern Ireland. Equally it will allow Republic of Ireland citizens to register fishing vessels in Northern Ireland and avoid buying tonnage and kilowatts, giving them an unfair advantage over those who have had to invest.

“This may have implications for State aid rules and may now leave the Irish government open to litigation. Moreover, the four Irish Producer Organisations and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum were not consulted again.

“Open dialogue on key fisheries issues is not happening and failure to admit this, or to pretend otherwise, would be disloyal to the Irish fishing industry. I would think this is also heading for the Supreme Court as it discriminates against Irish citizens,” he concluded.

 

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