Today on World Oceans Day, June 8th 2011, Minister Simon Coveney will address an Oceans 2012 event whose primary message, aimed at those who are reforming the EU Common Fisheries Policy, is “We want our marine biodiversity back“. It will be interesting to hear his contribution.
The historical and present tradition is that the marine commercial fishing industry, politicians, and eurocrats decide how Ireland’s inshore and oceanic waters are managed. Their record is appalling, and banner headlines on page two of last Saturday’s Irish Times dated June 4th 2011 do not inspire confidence that Minister Coveney is going to tread anything but the same well worn and disastrous path. How can the Minister forecast the creation of 158 seafood sector jobs when upwards of 50% of the 56 already commercially targeted fish in Irish waters are dangerously overexploited with the status of many others uncertain.
Until such time as the brief is widened to include all interested parties around the table and the marine is looked at from a position whose terms are based on restoration, strict management which may have to include entry restrictions to the industry, and a wider socio economic input to include recreational angling and other tourism interests, then unfortunately Ireland is going to further squander and destroy the one resource that really can turn around our ailing economy.
It is possible for recreational sea angling and commercial sea fishing to co-exist, they did in the recent past before we sold our territorial waters to the then Common Market. When one considers just one statistic it puts a lot in perspective. The pelagic fleet is the flagship of Ireland’s commercial sea fishing sector probably responsible for most onshore processing jobs. In 2009 the Irish pelagic catch (predominantly herring, mackerel, blue whiting) was 155,000 tonnes worth approximately €112million. In 2010 the volume landed was marginally up but the value stayed the same. It is reasonable to assume that the margins were down and the costs were up in 2010.
155,000 tonnes is an extraordinary figure for one nation to remove from the sea. Contrary to what the industry says mackerel as a resource are being hammered, the dramatically reduced shoals off north Co. Wicklow compared to 20 years ago and the preponderance of joeys within the catch prove this. Also when one considers that blue whiting end up as fish food for the aquaculture industry at a weight conversion ratio of 4:1( four kilos of blue whiting makes one kilo of farmed salmon) the whole excercise just does not make economic or environmental sense.
Contrast those figures with recreational sea angling whose understated contribution to the economy is €33million. This is a totally underdeveloped industry reliant on a decimated resource which hinders its growth just as it does for the commercial sector. If restoration policies were implemented Ireland could develop a destination sea angling market the envy of Europe and the web of benefits filtering out into the accommodation, restaurant, pub, general leisure industry, and artisan fishmongers from what is accepted as a sustainable industry has to date not even been quantified.
This evening the Minister has a real opportunity to show that he has guts and vision, time will tell….
Postscript: The Ministers address was passionate, his family does hold a strong connection with the sea, and he did show an awareness and understanding of the current situation regarding overfishing and its future implications with respect to biodiversity and the seas as a primary food source for humanity world wide.
That said, even though his spoken wish that his grand children would be able to experience a vibrant and bountiful ocean (not his exact words) was sincere, his line followed the usual industry/EU/political form referencing aquaculture, job creation in rural coastal areas, value added seafood products, exports, etc. He discussed conservation measures as being important to underpin the industry on going but stopped short of laying down the law.
Overshadowing and influencing his whole speech was the EU and Ireland’s commercial industry line. Unfortunately there was no door opened to representation from wider interest groups on the future of how Ireland manages its territorial waters. The status quo continues with still a minority maintaining full controling influence on Ireland’s primary natural resource, a pity given the day that was in it….