Taking Stock of a Missed Opportunity.

If I had invested my life’s work and hard earned money in the Irish commercial fishing sector as it exists today, I would at the least be worried and possibly leaning towards anger. Correspondingly, if I were leaving school or college in 2012 with aspirations of building a sea fishing based career or business I would feel sorely let down.

Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD returned home from Brussels mid December after the annual EU fisheries negotiations declaring that he was “delighted with the outcome of these negotiations which delivered my key priorities and will allow the Irish fishing fleet look forward to 2012 with optimism”.

The Stock Book.

The stock book is the annual review of sea fish stocks and management advice delivered to the Minister by the Fisheries Science Services section of the Marine Institute. This important document forms the basis of commercial fisheries negotiations, and once you break through the jargon makes for interesting reading, especially when backed up by practical knowledge and experience on the ground.

As highlighted in recent columns the south coast has experienced an influx of large codling this winter. These fish first became apparent offshore in early 2010 as one year old juveniles 30 – 35 centimetres long. Today going into 2012 after feeding hard these codling are in the three – four pound bracket, becoming sexually mature, and spawning most likely for the first time. They represent visual evidence that 2009 delivered a good year class for Celtic Sea cod, a fact which the scientists agree with.

ICES commercial fishing divisions around the Irish coast.

The last strong Celtic Sea cod year class was in 2000, an injection which helped sustain an already depleted and hard hit stock through the last decade. Science has gauged the present day spawning stock of Celtic Sea cod to be in the region of 10,000 tonnes with a mean average age between 2 – 5 years. These fish are not big by cod standards probably averaging 10.lbs weight or less, the species is capable of growing to well over 100 lbs left to its own devices, and are young cod only maturing around their forth year.

Minister Coveney accompanied by industry lobbyists secured a 77% increase on Celtic Sea cod landings for Irish vessels in 2012, raising Ireland’s quota share to approximately 1500 tonnes, it’s not a lot but for hard pressed owner/skippers it certainly helps relieve the pressure. For the youthful aspirant dreaming of a marine based career however things do not look so hot, short term expedience again trumping long term gain.

Stock book figures highlighting 2012 cod quotas for the Celtic Sea.

Increasing the catch quota on a depleted fishery based on the first decent spawning year in a decade just does not make sense when we are looking to maximise our resources into the future. The Minister for all the fanfare has secured only a pyrrhic victory, helping neither skipper or student plan their future with any degree of certainty. Sadly another missed opportunity for the Government who promised real change less than 12 months ago….

First published People Newspapers, Tuesday 3rd January, 2012.

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