As an island nation, fishing has always been economically and socially important to Ireland. The natural, clean water around its 7,500km of coastline has provided exceptionally good seafood for thousands of years, and it’s important to protect it for future generations.
During much of the 20th century relentless fishing and marine pollution pushed some fish stocks to the brink of extinction. Sustainable fishing has become a matter of survival – not just for fish stocks, but for fishing communities too.
The interests of Ireland’s fishermen, fishing communities, the marine environment and consumers of fish products are now supported by being part of the European Union and working together with other Member States to protect our seas and oceans.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
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 helps organise the market for fishery and aquaculture products and supports measures that protect the marine environment from threats such as overfishing, climate change and the dumping of plastics in our oceans.
Fish stocks are renewable, but they are also finite, so in order to sustainably manage fisheries, the European Commission regularly proposes catch limits, called Total Allowable Catches (TACs), that are based on the latest scientific advice.
TACs are distributed fairly between EU countries in the form of national quotas. Ireland’s total package of agreed fish quotas for 2020 was 195,000 tonnes, worth an estimated €275 million for the Irish fishing industry.
Following Brexit, the European Commission engaged in consultations with the UK on behalf of the EU to set fishing opportunities for shared stocks for 2021. Agreement was reached at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to set provisional quotas for EU fishermen for the period up to 31 July 2021 while consultations continued.
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 CFP places the EU as a frontrunner in the global fight against illegal unreported and unregulated fishing through international fisheries law.
- 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 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 EMFF is being replaced by the new European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for 2021-2027. It will have a budget of €6.108 billion which will be used to particularly support small-scale coastal fisheries and vessels up to 24 meters, as well as to promote aquaculture.
With the new European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, we will be able to invest in improving the health, safety and working conditions on board fishing vessels, while at the same time ensuring that the EU fleet is sustainable.
The EMFF helps Ireland fulfil its fisheries obligations both globally and locally and it’s implemented through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Marine Agencies & Programmes Division.
There was approximately €239.2 million available to Ireland under the EMFF 2014-2020 to support fishermen, the seafood industry and coastal communities.
Targeted EU funding is helping support the fisheries industry through the coronavirus pandemic with:
• Emergency aid for fisheries and aquaculture
• New ambitious EMFF measures
• A €500 million boost from the Just Transition Mechanism
Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs)
EMFF funding supports Irish coastal communities and small-scale fisheries 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.
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).
Examples of Irish FLAG projects
- Locals on Achill Island developed the Achill Experience, Aquarium and Visitor Centre in a disused building, creating six full-time and three part-time jobs for local residents, mostly relatives of fishermen, in the process.
- Locals living and working near Galway Bay set up Cuan Beo to reverse a decline in the quality of its famous shellfish producing waters.
- Ireland FLAG West 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.
- According to the Bord Iascaigh Mhara Seafood Report for 2020, the total value of Ireland’s seafood economy in 2020 was just under €1.1 billion. This represents a year-on-year decrease of 12% due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Employment in the seafood sector remained stable in 2020 despite the pandemic, with more than 16,000 people employed directly and indirectly in the industry.
- According to the World of Organic Agriculture 2021 report, Ireland had the largest production of organic aquaculture products in Europe during 2019, with more than 27,000 metric tons.
- Data from the extensive Sea Around Us project shows that up to 1973, Ireland took just 12% of the catch from Irish waters. The figure increased to as much as 40%, and averaged out at 30%, after joining the EU.
- In 1976, when the Irish Marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was extended from 12 to 200 miles, the EU paid for four new fisheries protection vessels so Ireland could patrol its own waters.
Latest fisheries news
The Commission is proposing a new approach for a sustainable blue economy in the EU for the industries and sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts.