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Prawn fishers' action over quotas referred to European court

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The Supreme Court has asked the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to determine questions concerning an appeal by two fishermen over the way the fishing authority calculated catches of prawns in order to conserve the species.

In 2018, the High Court dismissed a challenge by Pat Fitzpatrick, who fishes out of Ros a Mhil in Galway, and Michael J Flannery, of Dingle, Co Kerry, over the methodology used by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) to assess catches which then dictates whether EU quotas had been reached.

A new methodology had led the Minister for Agriculture Food and Marine issuing a closure order from November 2017 over a particular section of sea off the west coast, known as functional area 16, to fishing for Nephrops, known as Dublin Bay prawns, Norway Lobster, scampi or simply prawns.

The fishermen, who said they were paying mortgages on their vessels and employing 12 to 14 fishermen between them along with more people onshore, said the decision was causing them serious hardship and might even put them out of business.

They sued the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine and the SFPA. The defendants stood over the methodology used to assess catches.

The SFPO said there was a serious problem of Irish fishermen under-reporting in their personally entered electronic fishing logs the amount of prawns actually caught in functional area 16.

It said that the problem was of such grave proportions that in order to comply with EU law to provide accurate information, it had to employ a methodology whereby it calculated the catches based on the actual time spent by a vessel at sea rather than what was in the fishing logs.

As a result, while the overall logged catch up to October 2017 was 733 tonnes, the figure assessed by the SFPA was 1991 tonnes. The quota was therefore reached and the fishing area was closed.

The High Court dismissed the fishermen's action.

They appealed, arguing the new methodology of calculating fishing outtake was not in line with a 2009 EU regulation system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy and was in breach of Ireland's obligations under EU law. They also sought a reference of the matter to the CJEU.

On Friday, a five-judge Supreme Court ruled that reference should be made.

Irish Independent