December 21st, 2018
The decision from the Minister for the Marine to exclude trawling by large vessels close to the Irish coast has been welcomed as the “biggest step” ever seen in Ireland towards marine conservation.
Earlier today, Michael Creed TD announced that from 1 January 2020 fishing vessels over 18 metres will no longer be allowed to trawl inshore waters within the six nautical mile coastal zone.
The decision follows an extensive public consultation between April and June that attracted over 900 submissions from industry, environmental groups, conservative charities and the general public.
Mr Creed said that the feedback from the consultation process indicated that there was a “compelling case” for excluding trawling by large vessels in coastal waters.
Over 80 per cent of Ireland’s registered fishing vessels are less than 12 metres in length and are completely dependent on this zone for their income.
Despite receiving only 2.6 per cent of their income from our inshore waters, vessels larger than 18 metres account for roughly 66 per cent of all fish caught there.
Mr Creed said that he was “satisfied” that there are sufficient fishing opportunities for large vessels outside of this zone. The decision will provide “ecosystem benefits, including for nursery areas and juvenile fish stocks”, he said.
“I am very conscious of the exclusive reliance of small-scale and island fishermen on inshore waters and the benefits this change will bring for those fishermen. I firmly believe that this will, in the medium term, provide ecosystem and nursery stock benefits for all fishermen.”
Biggest step ever seen
Padraig Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) said that the Minister’s decision is the “biggest step we have ever seen” towards marine conservation in Ireland.
While there is more work to be done, such as tackling dredging for scallops or seed mussels, Mr Fogarty said that “all in all [it’s] a good decision”.
An IWT submission to the public consultation said that most of the seas around Ireland are trawled at least once a year and up to 10 times a year in some parts.
This “indiscriminate” trawling is directly responsible for the collapse of many common fish populations in Irish waters, such as cod and whiting, the conservation charity said.
Mr Fogarty said that today’s decision should be the first step toward the “ultimate goal” of good management of our waters that, he says, will require a large-scale expansion of our Marine Protected areas (MPAs).
MPAs are any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its associated flora, fauna and cultural features, which is protected by law. They include marine reserves, fully protected marine areas, and marine parks.
Studies have shown MPAs can increase the yield of fisheries, increasing the number and size of fish caught over time.
Ireland has an international target to have 10 per cent of its marine area protected by 2020. However, only 2.3 per cent of our seas is currently designated as protected, one of the lowest rates in Europe.
Fintan Kelly of Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) said that the decision from Mr Creed is a “historic step forward for life in our seas and for the future of coastal communities.”
“This decision is based on sound scientific & economic analysis & public consultation,” Mr Kelly added.
The Minister also announced that vessels over 18 metres will receive special permission to trawl for sprat only within inside 6 nautical miles until the beginning of 2022.
This will ensure that the vessels that target sprat have adequate time to transition to other fishing activities as the species is concentrated inside the 6 nautical mile zone.
A consultation submission from BWI had called for management plans to be made to protect important species vulnerable to overfishing, such as herring and sprat.
Fisheries targeting of these small “forage fish” can have a large impact on the marine ecosystem, the group said, affecting seabirds and large predatory fish that depend on them for food.
BWI said that excluding large trawlers from our inshore waters would improve the viability of most fishers in Ireland adding that more measures are needed to create a sustainable fishing sector.