IRISH fishermen are being forced to dump millions of euro worth of cod because of quota limits that will not allow them to land their catch.
An explosion in cod numbers in the Celtic Sea has astonished both fishermen and marine scientists but bumper catches are now benefiting only French and British trawler operators.
Such has been the inexplicable recovery in cod numbers off the Wexford, Waterford and Cork coasts that even amateur day-trip anglers are now catching prime cod.
However, the recovery in numbers of one of the most valuable fish available to Irish fishermen has proved hugely frustrating for operators.
While French and British boats are savouring their best catches in 25 years, Irish fishermen have no option but to dump valuable catches once tight quota limits are exceeded.
In one incident, Irish boats were forced to dump six tonnes of cod amid fears of crippling fines if they attempted to land the catch.
Fishermen here are struggling to cope with soaring overheads, including rocketing marine diesel prices which now account for up to 60pc of their entire operating costs.
The Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) said it underlined the plight facing Irish operators.
Ireland is allocated just 15pc of the allowable cod catch in the Celtic Sea -- with the lion's share going to France and Britain. Spain has only a tiny portion.
"It really has underlined how restrictive the quota regime can be," FIF chairman Sean O'Donoghue explained.
"The fish numbers are there, the fishermen are able to catch them but they simply cannot land them."
Mr O'Donoghue pointed out cod could not be specifically targeted as it was caught in nets along with other species which operators may be fishing for.
But once a boat has reached its cod quota, the operators have no option but to dump fish or risk fines if caught landing them ashore.
"We also operate our quota regime in a different way to the manner in which the British, Spanish and French operate theirs," Mr O'Donoghue said.
The British and French operate their quota as a national resource, allowing it to be allocated to fishing grounds with the best yields.
But for individual Irish fishermen, having to dump valuable catches that could transform the finances of their entire season is heartbreaking.
"It makes absolutely no sense. There are large numbers of cod out there but we aren't allowed to land them. It is totally wrong to be dumping fish like this," one Waterford fisherman said.
The man -- who asked not to be named -- warned that scientific estimates of cod stocks in the Celtic Sea seemed to be totally at odds with the reality.
"I have never seen cod numbers like this and I'm fishing for almost 20 years," he said.
The cod season runs from January to December, with a ban on catches in February and March to protect spawning stocks.
Unlike other sea areas, cod stocks in the Celtic Sea have rocketed over recent years -- a factor that is now being studied by marine biologists.