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File image of fishing trawlers in harbour in Husavik, Iceland Alamy Stock Photo

Government urged to prevent ‘crazy’ deal that could grant Iceland access to Irish fishing waters

An Irish fishing body warned of a ‘legacy situation where Ireland hasn’t negotiated on behalf of Irish fishermen’.

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has been urged to “up its game” amid “secretive” EU talks which could open up Irish fishing waters to Iceland.

Aodh O Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), told The Journal that there “appears to be ongoing negotiations between Europe and Iceland as an EEA (European Economic Area) country on a package of measures”.

While O Donnell said the “talks tend to be very broad ranging”, he warned that “access to our fishing waters is a key element of it” and that Iceland could get access to Irish waters for blue whiting, which is a white fish from the cod family.

O Donnell said Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has “failed to confirm if agreement has already been reached”.

“Why would the Minister agree to give Iceland access to our waters when there is almost nothing in the deal for Ireland’s fishing industry,” O Donnell added.

IFPO-Aodh-O-Donnell-Irish-fishing-industry-56-MEDIUM Aodh O Donnell, CEO of the IFPO IFPO IFPO

Speaking in the Dáil last month, McConalogue said there was “engagement by the European Commission with us as regards Iceland” towards the end of last year.

McConalogue said there has been “no deal with Iceland” and that over the past four years, he had “reduced the extent of Icelandic access to our waters and increased our quota”.

McConalgue added: “I have set a very high threshold with regard to respecting our waters in terms of fish and the fish coming to Ireland, should there be any deal.”

When asked by Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn if he would “stand by the Irish fishing industry and not agree to any deal unless the industry is in agreement with it”, McConalogue said there are “different views” in the Irish industry.

However, the IFPO CEO Aodh O Donnell told The Journal that he has a “very simple message” for the Agriculture Minister.

“We have the ambition, the vision, the vessels, the processing onshore and the international markets.

“But if we’re going to achieve our true potential, there needs to be a significant shift in the way we approach this at European level to turn back the tide.”

The Department of Agriculture has been approached for comment by The Journal.

Potential blue whiting deal

O’ Donnell told The Journal that the new deal would see Iceland be allowed to catch almost the same amount of blue whiting in Irish waters as Irish fishers do.

“They have a population of less than 380,000 compared to our population of over 5.2million,” said O Donnell. “They are not an EU member. How is this a fair deal?”

irish-trawlers-berthed-at-kilmore-quay Fishing boats at Castletownbere, County Cork, Ireland's largest white fishing port Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

O Donnell said the talks “happen behind closed doors” and added that “we are reliant on our own government to defend our position and extract the best possible deal for our fishermen and coastal communities”.

O Donnell cautioned that the talks could potentially lead to other nations being allowed to catch up to four times the Irish fishing quotas within Irish waters and said the government has to “learn lessons from the past”.

“You’d have an armada of vessels from Nordic states, fishing in our waters whilst our boats are tied to the pier. It’s outrageous and hard to understand.”

O Donnell said the fishing industry here wants to “avoid a situation like we’ve had before with Norway, where the Norwegians are fishing up to €60 million worth of fish in our waters, or 60% of their quota, while we only have a fraction of a quota on the same species”.

In March 2023, the EU and Norway signed a quota setting agreement which saw Norway obtain access to EU waters to fish 150,000 tonnes of blue whiting, while EU vessels are allowed to fish 10,000 tonnes of blue whiting in Norwegian waters.

O Donnell told The Journal that deals such as these mean the Irish seafood sector can catch only 15% of the fish in Irish waters, while other EU countries and non-EU states like Norway catch the remaining 85%.

‘Brink of decimation’

O’Donnell also warned of a “legacy situation where Ireland and Europe hasn’t negotiated on behalf of Irish fishermen”.

He added that the fishing industry in Ireland is “at the brink of decimation”.

“While our sector is in decline, the EU is still negotiating with other third countries such as Iceland to get access to catch fish in our very rich waters, fish that they cannot catch in their own fishing areas.

“It’s a crazy and outrageous situation.”

ships-in-harbour-iceland-husavik Ships in harbour in Husavik, Iceland Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

O Donnell also claimed the Irish government “has a history of appeasing and benefiting other third countries and other member states” while the Irish industry faces decline.

“The issue of Iceland getting access to Irish waters at this time is really adding insult to injury,” said O Donnell, who remarked that the Irish industry is still suffering the impacts of Brexit.

“We gave away 26% of our mackerel a few years ago as part of Brexit, which was transferred to Britain and was a major blow to our fishery.

“Now you’ve got a situation where third countries are looking at getting access to fish in our waters.

“It just doesn’t make sense and we need to rectify this terrible decline of an industry.”

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