The mackerel fishery is worth €125 million in a €1 billion fishing industry. It is a cause of huge concern for the present industry and, if it continues, the danger exists that the sustainable mackerel stock will be wiped out in the north-east Atlantic because of overfishing by these two nations. The breach of the fisheries agreements may cost the Irish fishing industry between €10 million and €15 million in potential TAC adjustments. Abusing the quotas in this way by breaking all international agreements on mackerel quotas can be regarded only as modern day piracy.
This abuse illustrates an irresponsible and barefaced disregard for the rules set down by the European Union, Faroe Islands and Iceland. This cannot be allowed to go unchecked. If states feel there is no fall-out from breaches of this nature, what incentive is there for them to stay within the guidelines? The situation is detrimental for Irish fishermen.
Last year I called for the resolution of this matter and, in the absence of progress, the adopting of sanctions against the Faroe Islands and Iceland, beginning with trade sanctions at the least. I am now asking the Minister to consider further measures, including the possible suspension of accession talks with Iceland. Five rounds of talks have taken place in the past two years in Clonakilty, London, Brussels, Norway and Iceland but so far very little progress has been made. A sixth round of talks is scheduled for the next ten days and there should be no further trade-off on this issue. It is a smash and grab on limited fish stocks by two countries that have overfished their traditional fishing grounds by ignoring traditional conservation methods. They are taking 1,000 tonnes per day more than they should from sensitive and finely balanced and managed fish stocks. I have called for sanctions to be imposed on these countries since December and I understand the Minister will also press for immediate and hard sanctions against these countries.
An EU-sponsored fish factory is being built on the Faroe Islands capable of processing 1,000 tonnes per day. It is regrettable that negotiations conducted by the Commission are treated with scepticism by Irish fishermen because they are worried about the resolve of the Commission. We need a strong approach to this.
We are entering a new troika on 1 July in advance of Ireland’s assumption of the EU Presidency on 1 January 2013. In the next 12 months we will have some power to bring these negotiations to a speedy conclusion, hopefully before we assume the Presidency.
Deputy Simon Coveney: I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It will not come as news to him that this has caused me a great deal of concern. Mackerel is the most valuable fish stock for the Irish fishing fleet and prices for it are at an all time high, between €1,400 and €2,000 per tonne. After Scotland, Ireland has the second highest quota of mackerel to catch in the European Union in the waters referred to here. Mackerel, therefor, is the most important fish stock for our industry. The stock we rely upon is being damaged significantly by irresponsible and arguably illegal fishing by two countries, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
I do not say that lightly. This has been going on for some time. The European Union has tried, with Norway, because there is an arrangement between the EU, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, to manage this mackerel stock in a sustainable way. This has been one of the great success stories of European fisheries because we have seen the fish stock grow and many people in Ireland have made a living out of catching it, but we are now seeing an ignoring of a sustainable management system for this stock.
It is true to say mackerel stocks in western waters have moved north into Faroese and Icelandic waters. We must negotiate a fair quota settlement with those countries. Unfortunately, however, what has happened is that there has been no sign of a willingness, particularly from the Faroe Islands but also, more recently, from Iceland, to do any sort of a reasonable deal with the European Union and Norway and, as a result, nearly half of the entire mackerel stock is being caught in Icelandic and Faroese waters, despite the fact that combined, they had less than 6% of the agreed quota until recently. Now, both of these countries catch more fish than Ireland, the second largest of the European countries in terms of this stock.
The European Union must show some teeth.
Iceland is in the process of looking for EU accession. I hope it is successful in that regard. However, I believe the mackerel issue needs to be resolved to the satisfaction of all the countries concerned, including Iceland, before the fisheries chapter of that accession process opens. We have to come to a conclusion in terms of quota allocation with the Faroe Islands. It seems the view that is being taken politically is that in the absence of an agreement, fishermen should physically catch as much fish as they possibly can until such an agreement is forced on them. Both Iceland and the Faroe Islands are catching more than 150,000 tonnes of this stock, which is way above sustainable levels. Some time ago, I requested at Council of Ministers level that we introduce a mechanism whereby trade sanctions could be imposed against Iceland and the Faroe Islands in relation to fish and fish products. The European Commission and other member states agreed with me. The Commission has come up with a mechanism whereby that can be done. I will push it to use that mechanism to force a much more serious negotiation between the member states and the associated states that are doing so much damage to a valuable stock that we have all worked hard to protect.
Deputy Noel Harrington: I thank the Minister for his response. We are aware the Minister and the officials in his Department are taking this issue seriously. He has brought the matter to the European Commission with great force. The EU fisheries industry is not entirely clean in this regard, regrettably, as these breaches are being supported by vessels that departed the EU fisheries register to help the Icelandic and Faroese industries to process large amounts of fish. They do not have the capacity to process such amounts of fish without the help of individual companies within the EU. It is regrettable that they are being facilitated by EU companies. It will complicate issues when the negotiations mentioned by the Minister take place. I am very hopeful that the Commission will show its teeth when it uses this process and this instrument to propose sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands. I hope the Commission will force those countries to honour the fisheries agreements into which they have entered.
It has to be noted that Iceland has form in this regard. I imagine that Irish people looked on with great glee when Iceland took on the UK in the cod wars of the 1950s and 1970s. Now that we are the victims of what is happening in Iceland, it is not as funny anymore. People in this country looked on nonchalantly and thought it was okay when Iceland took on our neighbours across the water in the UK and virtually wiped out fishing towns like Grimsby and Hull. We are now being directly affected by Iceland’s efforts to uphold what it sees as its rights. As the Minister quite rightly said, Iceland agreed to total allowable catches to support and enhance sustainable fisheries for future generations. That agreement was reached not just in the interests of Iceland and the Faroe Islands, but also in the interests of Ireland, Scotland and the rest of the EU. If the agreement is not defended, our coastal communities will suffer as a direct result, unfortunately. I commend the Minister on his approach to this matter.
Deputy Simon Coveney: For the purposes of clarity, I would like to inform the House of what the proposed sanctions entail. The EU Commission has proposed a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council which would allow for the introduction of trade sanctions against third countries that engage in irresponsible or illegal fishing activities which may lead to the depletion of EU fish stocks. The sanctions proposed would include restrictions on the importation into the EU of fish and fishery products from offending states, restrictions on the use of EU ports by vessels from offending states, prohibition on the sale and purchase of fishing vessels between EU member states and offending states and prohibition of trade agreements between nationals of an EU member state and nationals of offending states. It could be argued that we should go even further.