With Brexit on the horizon and no clear agreement of what will happen when the UK leaves the common fisheries policy and Irish boats continued access to the fishing grounds of Rockall in question, this already marginalised section of the Irish economy could be pushed to the wall.
While the government has announced a fund (albeit severely flawed) for beef farmers affected by Brexit, no similar measures have been proposed for fishermen similarly threatened by brexit.
The Irish fishing industry will be impacted in a number of ways by brexit, the loss of access to UK territorial waters could see Irish boats forbidden from fishing off the coast of the north, Scotland and Rockall, while more large European trawlers will be fishing in Irish territorial waters. Another concern for the fishing industry is the increased transport time to the rest of the in the very likely scenario that Britain leave the customs union.
The communities most at risk are some of Ireland’s most marginal. Donegall fishermen are particularly reliant on the catch from the water around rockall which makes up at least a third of their entire catch. The loss of the Rockall catch would put the fishing cooperative in Greencastle out of business, which will have an economic impact on the entire community.
While the fishermen of greencastle and elsewhere have stood firm and continued to fish in the waters near Rockall, the Irish government has not shown similar support for Ireland’s right to fish off Rockall despite direct threats from the Scottish government.
The government’s unwillingness to take action to defend Irish fishermen’s right to fish at Rockall is a further reminder of the long standing state policy of not providing meaningful support for the Irish fishing industry. The fishing industry in Ireland provides 14,000 jobs with a GDP of 1.15 billion, meaning that Ireland’s fishing industry is relatively small, despite being an island nation with access to rich fishing grounds. Ireland’s fishing industry is no doubt hampered by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which favours larger member states, but the EU alone cannot be blamed for the neglect of Irish fisheries, as other member states also bound by EU rules have much larger fishing industries.
While sustainability of fish stocks and over fishing are serious concerns which require robust conservation policies, it is equally important to ensure that the economic sustainability of rural communities is protected. To do this small scale sustainable fisheries need to be defended to ensure that the jobs they provide in rural areas are maintained.
With the government’s declaration of a climate emergency it would be rational to expect policies which protect & promote local food production and short supply lines, instead the lack of support for the Irish fishing industry shows that the government is only paying lip service to environmental concerns, and is not prepared to take action to ensure sustainable food production in Ireland.