A light has been shone on Ireland’s fishing industry over the past few months following the release of Risteard O Domhnaill’s documentary The Atlantic, and the controversy surrounding Super trawlers in Irish waters.
While inland fisheries throughout Ireland have been recognised as valuable natural assets by both local communities and tourists, Ireland’s sea fisheries have never been regarded as more than an economic periphery. With a relatively small domestic demand, and an underdeveloped industry Ireland never exploited our maritime resources to their full potential. Despite this Irish seafood is exported to 80 countries throughout the world, with 63% of Irish fish sold in other European nations.
The Irish fishing fleet consists of over 2,000 boats, few of which would be considered large by international standards, however since Ireland’s entry to the European community and the Common Fisheries Policy Irish sea fisheries have been open to vessels from all other member states. In practice this meant that the rich Irish fisheries which were previously fished by the Irish fishing fleet of small boats was opened to the larger fleets of other European nations.
The Common Fisheries Policy was designed to allow the existing EU member states, who had large fleets capable of expanding into new fishing grounds, access to the fishing grounds of the new member states (Ireland, the UK, and Denmark).
The underdevelopment in many sectors of the Irish economy prior to EU membership meant that many industries were in no position to compete with the more developed European economies. For fishing this has meant that the previously unexploited Irish fish stocks were exploited by larger European boats while the Irish fleet remained one of smaller boats, unable to expand into other European waters.
Forty years after Ireland joining the EU the impact of the Common Fisheries Policy is clear.Over fishing has increased despite the Irish fishing fleet and onshore processing industries remaining relatively small. Instead of developing a sustainable national fisheries policy Ireland has under the Common Fisheries Policy seen many fish stock in Irish territorial waters collapse as a result of ongoing over fishing.
This over fishing has coincided with the general stagnation in the Irish fishing industry. In short Ireland’s national resources have been exploited to the point of collapse with minimal benefit to the Irish economy or to Ireland’s coastal communities.