Brexit poses 'fundamental threat' to Irish fishermen
The UK fishing industry's desire to exclude foreign boats from its fisheries zone post Brexit poses a "fundamental threat" to Ireland's fishing sector, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has warned.
The sector in the UK wants to see a "pulling up of the drawbridge" to ensure non-UK fishermen will no longer have access to the country's waters. In that scenario, fish stocks will be "theirs and only theirs for the taking", the minister told a gathering of industry representatives.
"Such an extreme outcome would be a fundamental threat to the well-being of the Irish fishing industry," Mr Creed said. "On average 36pc of Irish landings are taken from UK waters, however for some of our most important fisheries, the figure is substantially higher."
Mr Creed said the twin threats of access and quotas could lead to increased activity by other EU vessels in the waters around Ireland, "threatening the long-term sustainability of our stocks".
Mr Creed was speaking at a sectoral dialogue on Brexit for the seafood sector, organised by the Department of Agriculture.
Cecil Beamish, assistant secretary general at the department, said that while the UK fishing sector has expressed its view, the UK government has yet to articulate its position with negotiations yet to begin.
But he highlighted the risks posed to Ireland's fishing sector by the UK industry's ambitions.
The UK's exclusive fisheries zone creates sea boundaries with Ireland on three sides, dividing the Celtic Sea in half, the Irish Sea in half, and dividing an area to the north west of Ireland.
Currently, each member state has full access outside the 12-mile (19km) territorial zone to a given area, provided they have quota to fish in that area, he said. Post Brexit, the UK fishing industry wants exclusive access to its fishery zone for its own use, excluding foreign vessels, the gathering heard.
Mr Beamish said that currently, 58pc of all the fish stock that is taken from the UK zone is taken by non-UK vessels, according to averages from 2012 to 2014. Of the 1.1 million tonnes collected in the UK zone, 650,000 is captured by foreign vessels.
"It is that 650,000 which is going to be the centre of the discussions around Brexit. Who gets that?" Mr Beamish said.
Some 64pc of Ireland's mackerel catch is taken in the UK zone, according to the averages, Mr Beamish said, while 39pc of Ireland's prawn catch is from the UK zone.
He pointed out that the UK currently takes less than one-fifth of its entire stock from outside its zone.
"The bottom line is, when you're looking at it from the UK perspective, the UK is much less dependent on access to EU waters than the other member states, including ourselves, are on access to the UK's waters," he said.
The gathering heard that the Government needs to place a greater emphasis on the risks faced by the fishing sector.