Shifting the Burden

This article by Frank Keoghan was first published in the print edition of Unity dated 26 August 2023.

THE Trade and Co-operation Agreement between the UK and the EU following Brexit included provision for the transfer of EU fishing quotas to the UK.

Forty per cent of the EU quota transferred to the UK came from Ireland, far more than was taken from any other EU Member.

The main impact of this arrangement fell on the pelagic sector with mackerel being the main species transferred.  

It has been estimated that the annual loss of Irish quota would reach €43 million by 2026 and around €28 million of this is accounted for by pelagic species. Mackerel has been reduced by a staggering 26%.

An EU fund, the “Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR)” that was supposed to compensate Irish fishermen impacted by this loss has yet to be fully distributed nearly two years after a Task Force recommended its establishment.

And the matter is urgent. If the resources are not distributed by the end of the year they revert to the EU and are thereby lost permanently to the Irish industry.

In the absence of financial support, Ireland’s pelagic sector will shed more than 1,200 jobs by 2030.

From 2021 to the end of this year, pelagic fishermen will have had more than 37,000 tonnes of mackerel lost, resulting in a loss of more than €52 million. And all this thanks to the EU.

Meanwhile across the world in the Indian Ocean EU “sustainable fishing funds” supposedly intended to save the environment are being used  as leverage to allow EU fishing vessels – most of them French or Spanish – to keep fishing vast amounts of tuna.

These EU vessels catch more than a third of tuna in these waters.

To do so, they deploy so-called fish aggregating devices (FADs) – floating objects made of plastic or wood used to attract fish – that scientists say lead to overfishing, disproportionate harvesting of juvenile tuna and plastic pollution. Stocks of yellowfin tuna are overfished in the Indian Ocean.

FADs are large floating rafts that attract fish by casting a shadow, making it easy for vessels to catch massive numbers of tuna.

They contribute to overfishing of yellowfin because they attract juveniles as well as endangered turtles, sharks and mammals that get caught up when the devices are encircled in purse seine nets.

Concerned by the EU’s practices a group of 11 State Members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) are calling to limit the use of floating devices to allow fish to recover and ensure the species’ survival.

Their proposal calls for a 72-day moratorium on the practice every year, and a limit on how many devices can be used.

The EU has launched a campaign to ensure that this does not happen.

Through so-called “sustainable fisheries partnership agreements” with countries in the region the EU is funnelling millions of euros in developmental aid to countries that are also members of the IOTC and can help the EU block the proposal.

The EU delegation at the IOTC is by far the largest, with 40 delegates; the second largest is Indonesia with 20.

Of its 40 representatives, at least 24 are industry lobbyists!

Together with representatives from the European Commission, the delegates have been lobbying hard against a ban on floating devices.

The EU currently has two active fisheries agreements with IOTC member countries: a €5 million deal with the Seychelles, which docks most of the EU’s tuna-fishing fleet and a €7 million agreement with Madagascar.

It also has a separate “blue economy” partnership with the Government of Kenya worth €24 million and one with Tanzania for €166 million.

These fisheries “partnerships” allow the EU to buy access to countries’ waters so that its vessels can fish surplus stocks.

The EU insists that it “respects” the position of other countries and does not use agreements it has to influence their position or force them to support it in multilateral fora.

Perhaps one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of the process at work came in February when Kenya – until then the proposal’s key backer suddenly dropped its support.

During a meeting in Mombasa, Kenya’s blue economy minister, Salim Mvurya, stood up in front of the delegates and announced that his country was withdrawing its proposal for a ban, which national delegations had been debating for a year.

There was an audible gasp in the room. The Kenyan delegation looked as surprised as everyone else according to people who were present.

Although supporters of the proposal re-grouped and subsequently secured a two-thirds majority meaning it should be adopted by IOTC members its effectiveness is severely weakened by the fact that according to the organization’s rules, any country which objects within 120 days does not have to apply the measure.

Since the EU is the greater user of floating devices, and objected, environmentalists say it would do little in helping the fish stock replenish.

Since the start of May the EU has been pushing for a jettisoning of the 72-day ban and an increase in the number of floating devices at sea.

The majority of IOTC States see the 72-day ban as a last-ditch attempt to prevent the extinction of tuna.

Other tropical waters around the world have already instituted bans on fish aggregating devices.

But what about the EU’s commitments to protect biodiversity? An activist summed up the situation.

“The EU has entirely abandoned this sentiment in favour of plundering the Indian Ocean’s already overfished stocks safe in the knowledge that, once all the fish are gone, its highly developed fleet can simply move to another ocean, unlike the many coastal states left behind with nothing”

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