An existential crisis: The CFP needs reformed now

Written by Liadh Ní Riada on 9 April 2018 in Opinion

The future of sustainable and successful fisheries and a healthy marine environment needs ordinary fishermen to be involved at every level, writes Liadh Ní Riada.

Liadh Ní Riada | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

It is no exaggeration to say that the Irish fishing industry, particularly in my constituency, is facing an existential crisis. Even before we begin talking about the as yet unclear effects of Brexit, ordinary Irish fishermen face a huge number of difficulties and challenges, particularly in areas such as the demersal sector, where they are being severely hampered by the lack of an even playing field.

Despite having around 20 per cent of Europe’s northern fishing waters, Ireland has one of the smallest quotas among member states for most of the white fish species in the demersal segment of the European fleets.

I wholeheartedly support sustainable fishing, which is why I am disappointed that the European Commission often misdirects its energies when it comes to offering practical support to achieving this goal. 


All too often, small and medium sized vessels are targeted while larger-scale industrial fisheries controlled by corporate interests - whose only interest is in profiteering - are not only granted passes on these rules, but are often actively assisted. This is why fishermen
in Ireland have concerns over the implementation of the discard plans and stress the need for an appropriate transitional period.

I stand with our local fishermen on this issue. In fact, when it comes to sustainable fishing, I find there is nobody more supportive of that goal than those in our inshore sector operating small-scale, family owned or traditional boats. 

They rely on a healthy marine environment to make their living. They have a vested interest in ensuring local stocks are abundant and our waters are clean and healthy; those churning up Irish waters in huge vessels and not bothering to land their catch here before moving on do not.

I regularly meet with fishermen from across my constituency and whether it’s Castletownbere, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay or Dingle, they are always keen to make one thing abundantly clear.

They are dedicated to preserving their way of life and long-held traditions, which are passed down from generation to generation. 

In order to do this, they need to preserve and protect their local marine environments and ensure healthy fish stocks. The same cannot be said for foreign multinationals, which suck up all manner of marine life in their giant nets while damaging local boats and equipment with their monstrous supertrawlers.

It is because of actions like these that the term ‘common fisheries policy’ (CFP) has become a byword for bankruptcy among Irish fishermen. It does not need to be this way. We can develop a

CFP that more fairly reflects the needs of local fishing industries one that ensures that larger industrial vessels respect the local environment, and when they step outside those parameters are held to account. 

This is not about punishing big business, it’s about protecting local economies and maintaining our seas. This will require political will and a Commission that is not so easily swayed by the influence of multinational corporations.

A future reformed common fisheries policy can protect our seas and the inclusion of protections such as real economic, environmental and social impact assessments or formal consultations with stakeholders can encourage indigenous fleets, the custodians of our seas, to buy into it. 

Of course, those opposed to such reform would argue that consultations were held before the Commission adopted the proposals of the current CFP, so no further consultations or impact assessments are necessary.  They would neglect to mention that these policies were adopted in 2011. 

A lot has changed in the last seven years. Fishing technology is evolving, new studies are revealing the impact we are having on our seas and of course, the very waters the policy covers may be about to change. Can anyone seriously claim that the current CFP isn’t already out of date?

Sustainable and successful fisheries and a healthy marine environment needs ordinary fishermen to be involved at every level. A one-size-fits-all approach, with no due regard to these elements, simply will not work. A more sustainable fishing industry will require fair access to quota. 

This also goes for inshore and island fleets. A designated, ring-fenced, non-transferable community quota for the proposed managed areas to be made available as per Article 17 of the CFP will facilitate the establishment of seasonal fishery management. Scientists, NGOs and law-makers need to work closely with ordinary fishermen and all sides need to listen to one another.

So far, this has been deeply unsatisfactory at national and European level, which is why these fishermen, who put their lives on the line every time they leave port, are so strongly opposed to EU fisheries policy and don’t feel that the Hague Preferences have worked for them. 

This is why so many of them, despite the myriad other disastrous consequences it will bring, voted for Brexit. The EU now has both an opportunity and a responsibility, to look at why this happened and enact the reforms needed to make sure it does not happen again.

To sustain local economies, to sustain our oceans and, as we have seen, to sustain the EU itself, the CFP needs to be reformed now.


About the author

Liadh Ní Riada (IE) was Parliament’s GUE/NGL group shadow rapporteur on common fisheries policy: temporary specific discard plans


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