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A disputed Irish-UK territory is one of many fishing problems caused by Brexit

Both Ireland and the UK claim Lough Foyle as their own – so what fishing rules will be implemented after Brexit?

Image: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

LOUGH FOYLE IS an estuary located between counties Donegal and Derry.

Its waters are home to a variety of marine life, including mussels, which attracts the attention of fishermen from the North and the Republic. But since Brexit, it’s had attention turned onto it for different reasons as politicians debate what should be done about fishing quotas, and who should have the right to use Lough Foyle.

This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Lough Foyle, but it’s one that’s most clearly illustrated by it. That’s because the water mass has been the subject of a territory dispute between the United Kingdom and Ireland since the border was first drawn – that’s a dispute that quietly continues to this day.

Although that’s a problem unto itself, it creates a new one when coupled with Brexit – when the UK eventually does leave the European Union, what fishing regulations will be put in place at Lough Foyle, and which vessels will be allowed to use its waters?

About the territory dispute

Lough Foyle Lough Foyle. Source: Google Maps

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who’s on the Oireachtas committee on Agriculture Food and Marine, and who represents constituents on the Donegal border, explains part of the reason why the dispute has continued for so long.

“The normal way of resolving this would be to split the lake or sea in question straight down the middle - Carlingford Lough is divided down the middle for practical purposes,” he told TheJournal.ie.

But the difficulty [with Lough Foyle] is that if you have vessels going into port of Derry, you have to go through Lough Foyle, and if you split it down the middle ships and boats would have to go on the Irish government’s side of that line in order to take the safest navigation channel.

“This wouldn’t be an issue for commercial vessels, but it might be an issue for navy vessels, for example.”

He believes that is the unofficial reason why there is still a territorial dispute at Lough Foyle, but that a workaround is still possible.

Enter Brexit 

Earlier this year the British government announced that UK waters would only be available to British vessels and trawlers when they pull out of the European Union.

Although a trade deal has yet to be struck between the UK and EU, it’s likely that the two negotiating teams won’t find much to compromise on the subject of fishing, as “taking back control” of UK waters was one of the main reasons why the UK voted to leave (though it was somewhat overshadowed by the debate around immigration).

In July, the UK environment secretary Michael Gove announced that the UK would be withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention 1964, an arrangement that was incorporated into the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

The deal allows neighbouring countries to fish right up to each other’s shores in line with historic fishing practices. Unless the UK agrees a new deal with the EU, the UK’s withdrawal from the Convention means that Irish vessels won’t be allowed to fish in UK shores and vice versa.

This will be particularly problematic for Lough Foyle, where, up until now, there was no need to decide where UK and Irish vessels could fish, as they both abided by EU rules.

Mac Loughlin says that many fishermen he’s spoken to are “deeply concerned about Brexit”.

Only 5% of all fish caught in Irish waters is produced or processed in Ireland, he says, citing a European Parliament figure.

“Around 40% of the catch from the Irish fleet is caught in UK waters. If you lost that type of catch it would be devastating.

Irish waters are badly squeezed as it is in terms of fish going to foreign quota. A lot of fishermen going to UK waters and have their own fish squeezed too.

He says that the policy of voisinage should be kept – on the provision that the Irish government legislate to exclude multinationals from the arrangement.
“Irish mussel businesses, mostly multinationals, are coming in through this loophole to hover up the mussel beds, which is a national resource.

“The Irish government has failed to legislate to close this loophole against multinationals and still allow small boats from Northern Ireland to fish.”

In relation to Lough Foyle and Northern Ireland’s fishing boats, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said that up until now, ”the fishery has operated on an all-island management basis” between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Following a Supreme Court judgment, the Department has been looking at how the judgement can be applied to the fishing industry.

The judgement recommended that permits should only be issued to Irish sea-fishing boats doe sites subject to domestic legislation.

It also added:

An in-depth review has been undertaken of the particular situation in Lough Foyle in view of the fact that domestic legislation does not currently afford the mussel producers there an opportunity to secure an appropriate consent for their aquaculture sites.

Open waters

The worries for Ireland’s fishing industry don’t quite end there.

If the UK does close off its waters to foreign vessels, which it is likely to do, it means that other foreign vessels that previously fished there will most likely turn to Ireland as their next fishing spot.

That’s already something European fleets are aware of – nine EU countries including France, Germany and Spain have already banded together in a newly-created European Fisheries Alliance and have warned of steep losses to fishing hauls if divorce proceedings turn bitter.

European fleets obtain one-third of their catch in the exclusive economic zone around the British Isles, and loss of access to those waters could cut their profits in half in the short term, the fishing alliance says.

In the long term, EU fleets could lose a combined 500 to 600 vessels if they were excluded from British waters, representing up to 3,000 fleet jobs.

From 2011 to 2015, European fleets caught 700,000 tonnes of fish and seafood in British waters, valued at about €612 million, the NAFC said in a report published in January.

British vessels, by contrast, caught just 92,000 tonnes, valued at £110 million, in other EU waters.

MacLoughlin reckons that this will be used as a negotiating chip in Brexit talks – if the UK allows a certain amount of EU ships into its waters, it will get something in return (a better trade deal, for example).

But at the moment, there’s a real battle ahead for Ireland’s fishermen.

Ireland’s fishing industry would be destroyed if the UK government do what they say they’ll do.

Read: Ireland calls UK withdrawal from fisheries agreement ‘unhelpful and unwelcome’

Read: The government wants to open up Ireland’s exclusive fishing boundaries – and Senators aren’t happy

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