Irish Fisheries Has Benefitted EU More Than Ireland

The EU has made as much as €140 Billion from fish in Irish waters since our entry in 1973

Irish people seem reluctant to look to the seas for economic benefit. The fisheries are rarely mentioned in the political discourse in the media. In a democratic society information should be easily sought and found. That is not always the case in the EU today. This blanket of secrecy stretches across a wide range of topics including the Irish fisheries.

Much has been written about the bank bailouts and austerity measures. There wasn’t much in the way of debate though, especially in the Irish mainstream media. In Europe and the UK there has been a rise in what are described as Eurosceptical parties in the form of UKIP, Podemos and more significantly Syriza, who won the last Greek election. A lot has been made of their efforts, read folly, of going against the EU on a range of issues, but we don’t hear or see why they are taking this line or what they stand for.

For a democracy to thrive we need to question everything and seek transparency in all walks of life, especially when it comes to governance in an age when austerity is crippling any prospect of human advancement.

There have been many benefits, the development funding being the most obvious example. More on that later. The other economic benefit has been a huge open market just a short plane journey away. Putting a price on this is impossible. The figure is massive no matter what way it is calculated

There are also other elements that are more important than economics. A closer relationship with our European neighbours, and since our entry to the EU there has been the Good Friday Agreement. The EU had a role in this too even if it was not widely publicised. Surely the EU must have gained something in return. After all, most of the big European nations have a colonial history they still pride. Colonisation by its nature involves going to a land that is not native, taking the resources and convincing the native inhabitants that they’re better off being subjugated. The Aboriginals in Australia. The Native Americans. Most of the African continent. The Irish.

Trying to research the relevant information for this article was frustrating. Especially academic research. One such academic article was from 1848, which may give an indication of the difficulty of the

 task. This piece did bring up some interesting topics though. Richard Valpy wrote in The Resources of the Irish Fisheries; “We find that the value of the Irish fisheries was known both at home and abroad at early periods. In 1673, Sir W. Temple, in a letter to Lord Essex, says that, “the fishing of Ireland might prove a mine under water as rich as any

underground.” And, as far back as the 9th and 10th centuries, the Danes are said to have established a fishery on the banks off western coasts, which enabled them to carry on a lucrative trade with the south of Europe”. He also goes on to add that Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain all had deals with the British at different times to exclusive fishing rights in Irish waters. And the EU is keen to out point

billion for Ireland. This looks like a great deal for Ireland until we look at the worth of the fisheries. Between the period of 1975 to 2010 the commercial value of the Irish fisheries was worth €201 billion to the EU nations. Ireland only had €17 billion of that with the other €184 billion going to other EU nations. The EU net benefit has been in excess of €140 billion according to Dr Karen Devine.

It’s important to know where these figures come from. How Dr Devine worked it out was through data taken from The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) website and she said; “I basically wanted to find out the figures myself, so when I finally got the database of fish landed, I used a period of 35 years, 1975 to 2010, and the different EU member states’ landings of fish from the Irish EEZ, covering all types of fish. I calculated the amount of tonnage of fish extracted from Ireland’s EEZ, which was 43.8 million tonnes for that period. I then went to the EU’s website of data sources and I got the value of a tonne of fish in 2008 which was roughly €1.5 billion, which I multiplied by the 43.8 million to get my sum. So I got the figure of €67 billion. I also did research, using both primary and secondary sources, to confirm that the commercial value, which includes the processing, marketing, distribution and sale of the fish, is worth twice the value of the landed catch. €67 billion (landed value) billion in funds from 1973 to 2013 and contributed €31that a key reason Ireland joined was because it did not have a strong enough fleet to fend off the Russian fishing vessels that were taking an estimated 20% of fish in Irish fisheries. Not much has changed in that regard.

I wasn’t the only person that had difficulty doing research in this area. Dr Karen Devine also had the same issues. Dr Devine presented a report to the Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs titled Draft Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union in 2012. Some of the figures make for interesting reading, particularly in relation to the Irish fisheries. Ireland received €72 and €134 billion (commercial value) is €201 billion, thirty-five year period. This figure only covers officially recorded landings, and excludes the tonnage and respective commercial value of illegal fishing. ”

These figures were not the only that I came across that suggest Irish fishermen are getting a raw deal from Europe. I also had correspondence with Norah Parke, a projectco-ordinator with the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO). When I asked her if Irishfishermen in general felt that the EU regulations were hurting the industry she quoted me a report the organisation carried out. One of the points made was; “In 2009 the total catch of fish in Ireland’s EEZ(Exclusive Economic Zone) was 994,160 tonnes with a value of €1.18 billion at first point of sale – Ireland’s share of this catch was 18% or 178,950 tonnes. The fishing effort by other EU countries in the Irish EEZ … clearly shows the importance of Irish fishing grounds to neighbouring EU countries.” Norah Parke added further that regulation was a problem because a combination of factors “means there is not a viable income for the total number of vessels in the Irish fleet. It needs to be reduced to match capacity with available quota but this is not an option withoutde-commissioning and improved management of the available quota.”

So it would appear the Europeans are getting the better part of the deal in the fisheries. Even my own research showed this. Two nations outside of the EU, Iceland and Norway, return on fish is far greater than ours. Norway has twice the amount of fisheries area but has nearly eight times the yield. Ireland has nearly half a million square kilometres of fisheries compared to Germany’s 8,000. Yet, in terms of yields, in 2013 Irish fishermen caught 246,000 tonnes compared to Germany’s 219,000. There seems to be a huge mismatch here. If you believe the Fishing for Justice (an organisation “fighting for Irish fishing rights”) website you would say that 100% of those German fish came out of Irish waters. They were definitely not all caught in that 8,000 square kilometres.

This information should be widely available, yet is buried. For my own efforts it took hours of going through the Eurostat and FAO’s(Food and Agriculture Organisation) website to get these figures. When I asked Karen Devine was the research she carried out easily accessible she responded; “Not at all. It was extremely difficult to compile. I had to search for a

week, maybe more, for the ICES database of fish, now it is available on their website.” Dr Devine also had issues getting information from the EU itself, even though the ICES offers up all its research findings to Eurostat. For my own part, I had difficulty getting answers from the relevant minister’s, Simon Coveney, office and the EU as well even though their initial reactions seemed positive. When the actual questions were brought up there was no response.

And it’s this vacuum that UKIP, Podemos and Syriza are filling. I’m not saying

I agree with their politics or policies, this is not an endorsement, but at least they are willing to challenge the European Union and what it represents. A democracy depends on people making decisions based on accurate information. If the newspapers and politicians aren’t telling the truth we no longer live in a democracy.

That’s the bigger picture. What’s the personal angle? Well if you’re like me you would have wondered why the day after the Met Office warns of gale force weather there is a search on for missing fishermen. Did they not listen to the weather reports? They did, but given the circumstances they have no choice but to go out because storms don’t stop just because there are hungry mouths to feed.

About the Author:

Patrick has just completed a degree in journalism this year. He has just left employment to concentrate on this magazine, a bit foolish really. He is editing and designing this edition. He is tired of referring to himself in the third and second persons so he/I will stop writing now.


  1. […] Given that Ireland was all over the papers after the Apple tax scandal, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the only European country involved in such controversies. It certainly is not. The UK has also become a tax haven, but the difference is the EU has not challenged them on this. The EU can hide behind the fact that Britain is leaving the organisation, which is undoubtedly going it make it more a haven if the banker May has her way, but this has been going on for years. For example, Amazon made £5.3 billion and was taxed £11.9 million. Google made £3.8 billion and got a tax bill of just £20 million.  Are these not double standards? If the EU is worried about fairness, why not give us back some of the fisheries? […]

  2. […] We received €72 billion in EU funding over roughly the same period, but gave €31 billion back, leaving a net of €41 billion. Take this away from the fishery money and the Irish are left with a €140 billion deficit blackhole. Think of what that money could have done for this country. This is just the value of raw catches. This doesn’t include the economic knock-ons if the fish were processed and packaged here. As a way of saying thanks, we were stiffed with a ridiculous bailout. Norway and Iceland have similar fishery conditions to Ireland, even if they vary in size, and they manage, generally, their stocks in a way that it has benefitted them economically. More details on the Irish fisheries can be found here. […]

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