LOSING access to quite a share of their fish quotas in order to get the Brexit trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom finally over the line on Christmas Eve last has brought about a replication of the scenario of almost 50 years ago when the negotiations that led to Ireland and Britain joining the then European Economic Community saw our fishing industry being sacrificed as stronger vested interests – notably the more vociferous farming sector – prevailed in the wheeling and dealing.
Because the British government has re-asserted a rightful claim to its territorial waters, as part of a compromise deal EU fishing boats will have to reduce the quantity of fish they catch in British waters by 25%. While French fishermen are worst-hit, mackerel and prawn fishermen from Ireland are suffering a sizeable blow to their livelihoods.
The latest outcome would have tireless campaigners for fishermen’s rights over many decades, such as Donal O’Driscoll and Tom Hassett, turning in their graves. Fishermen are to be ‘compensated’ for the latest blow to the industry, but this will not replace lost livelihoods and there is nothing for the knock-on job losses in fish processing and the services sector, which includes oil distribution companies supplying fuel and supermarkets where provisions are bought.
There was much talk during the Brexit trade deal negotiations about ‘level playing fields’ and the Irish South & West Fish Producers’ Organisation is calling for a new Common Fisheries Policy based on ‘zonal attachment.’ It is something that will have to be scoped out within the EU and that our government needs to pursue vigorously on behalf of the industry.