Sustainability is a major issue but we must consider who benefits from it. The discussion is somewhat lopsided by the fact that we are straitjacketed within the Common Fisheries Policy. I agree with the Deputies who said this has been an absolute disaster for Ireland and that we must examine our fisheries completely rather than tinkering with quotas within the confines of that policy. Comparisons with Norway are appropriate as it is an example of how a country maintained control to the benefit of society as a whole.
The discussion must be seen in the context of the depletion of the fishing resources and the destruction of fishing communities. There are serious issues which are clearly problems for society but not confined to Ireland. On the global scale there is a rapid depletion of marine fish, with 75% of major fisheries either fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted. On the other hand there has been a massive assault on the livelihoods of ordinary fisherman, and there are now over 1 million vessels fishing on the world’s oceans. Many family trawlers and smaller fishing enterprises have been driven out. We know the dangerous nature of a fishing lifestyle and two men in my constituency lost their lives earlier this year. For smaller and medium fishing enterprises and those with family trawlers, it is becoming harder every day.
There has been erosion of the smaller harbours and a consequent impact on local communities. That is particularly true in my area with the harbours in Balbriggan, Rush, Loughshinny and Skerries, all of which are in tatters or a bad state of disrepair. They are under the administration of the local authority, which has given no money for improvements or remedial works. Generations have fished in these areas and now Balbriggan operates with 16 boats. At one time Skerries was one of the leading harbours in Ireland but now it only has four boats. These issues are putting our fishing communities under threat, and that is made worse by prices paid by supermarkets etc.
Quota size is important but the issue of transference of fishing concessions is still live; that must be introduced to the debate. That is nothing more than extending neoliberalism into every aspect of life. The Minister previously indicated that this is the privatisation of fishing quotas in Ireland even further, which will reduce the fleet as there is no doubt that the big boys will move in to buy the quota, putting smaller fishing enterprises out of business. It would mark the death knell of many of the small harbours dotted around our coast. There will not be a single harbour operating in north County Dublin if that transference goes ahead.
Other Deputies have pointed out that there have been few economic benefits from the way fisheries are managed relative to what we should have. Nearly all those benefits would be lost to large European conglomerates which would buy up the quotas at a cost of thousands of jobs and a major impact on the economy. That is a serious threat but it is not idle; it happened in Africa when countries were forced to sell their fishing rights. The result has been a decrease of approximately 50% in Africa’s fish population. Many fishermen have lost their jobs. That is the backdrop to this discussion which must be factored in, namely, the acceleration of the process where the small fisherman is thrown to the side and the big factory trawlers are still ruling the roost. In that context the overall Common Fisheries Policy needs to be examined rather than just the area of quotas.