The State of Ireland's Fisheries.

We have been told about the health benefits of eating fish for many years. Recent statistics show that eating fish is becoming increasingly popular in Ireland.  Yet at the same time global fish stocks have never been so low. Some fisheries have crashed completely and never recovered - despite fishing restrictions.

We have fished down the food web. The biomass of predatory fishes declined by two-thirds through the second half of the twentieth century.

So what is the local situation?  The waters around Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds and fishing is a major coastal industry.  But we don't even know how many boats we have.

As an estimate Ireland listed 2,500 vessels on the E.U. register - the majority under 15 metres and operating in Ireland's inshore waters. 


Offshore Fisheries [11 kilometres from the coastline and beyond]

Ireland's fisheries are monitored by the Fisheries Science Services of Foras na Mara - the Marine Institute. Each year they undertake a review of fish stocks and give management advice for the following year. The latest publication ‘Leabhar na Stock - The Stock Book' was published in November 2007 and makes for a worrying read.  

[The 2008 Stock Book is now available and our current Press Releases are based on this but this page has not been updated.] 

The FSS advise that "the closure of the fisheries for the species at risk provide the highest probability of recovery for these species and is the ONLY advice possible in the context of the precautionary approach. Fisheries should only be permitted that take zero catch of the critical species and the fleet must stop fishing when the total allowable catch (TAC) is reached for other species".

Sadly, no one is listening. The widely distributed and migratory species mackerel and blue whiting are currently overexploited. In the Irish Sea and to the north off the West of Scotland stocks of cod, whiting and spurdog, and in the Irish sea sole, are severely depleted.  In the Celtic sea cod, plaice & herring are depleted.

Other species are vanishing from our oceans. As large piscivorous fish (fish eating fish) have been reduced other species from a lower trophic level such as Nephrops have increased and altered the ecosystem. 

Nephrops are not actually a fish but an invertebrate - the Norway Lobster. This species is otherwise known as scampi, Dublin Bay Prawn, or Langoustine.  As the fishing effort focus on these species their numbers are in turn declining.


The move towards deep water fishing for slow growing species such as the orange roughy is totally unsustainable and in just a few years several deep water fisheries have collapsed. The damage to the sea bed, including coral beds, through bottom trawling is criminal.


When we heard that the government was launching a scheme to permanently remove fishing vessels from Ireland's fishing fleet we hoped it was finally some good news, a positive measure that may help recovery of fish stocks. However we find that "the removal of these vessels will increase the quotas available to the more modern competitive fishing vessels". This measure will permanently remove some 75 older boats from the Irish fleet at a cost of €280 000 per boat - with no reduction in actual fish take whatsoever.


Yet despite growing scientific and public concern, it seems that the Irish Government and the  EU commission is swayed more by self-interested fishing lobbies than the arguments of conservationists and scientists.


The Irish fishing industry continue to lobby for increases in quota stating that "such increases, are essential for the continued viability of the shore processing sector which has suffered a serious lack of continuity of supply, particularly of pelagic species, in recent years. Processors just cannot afford reductions in their intake of key pelagic species at this critical juncture in the their operations."

The fishing industry just does not want to get the message.


Isn't it about time some meaningful protective measures were put in place? Governments must take the painful measures to cut fleets and more importantly total allowable catch and to enforce cuts long enough to give stocks time to recover.  If industrial scale trawling was stopped and fishing efforts were carried out by traditional methods maybe stocks would recover.


As individuals all we can do is to be aware and raise the issues.


At the moment we have not idea where the fish we buy is coming from or if it is harvested sustainably . Take the precautionary principle and don't buy the products - or there will be no products to buy.


‘Leabhar na Stock - The Stock Book' is available from the Marine Institute website







North Sea Horse Mackerel


Catches increased in 1990 and remain at increased level. TAC set is not precautionary or prescriptive and in some areas juvenile fisheries are increasing

NE Atlantic mackerel


Misreporting of catch a problem. Harvested unsustainably

Western Horse mackerel


Current plan precautionary in short term but not in the long term Irish quota up by 25%.

North Sea Horse Mackerel


Inadequate information available. No management plan for the fishery. TAC in last three years has been set above advised level.

Blue Whiting


Harvested with increased risk. TAC not considered to accord with precautionary principle

Tuna - Albacore


Projections show that stocks will not recover at current TAC levels.

Tuna - Bluefin


at risk of stock collapse.

Shark - Basking


A zero TAC is advised and by-catch must be reduced to the lowest possible level

Shark - Porbeagle


No directed fishing should be permitted and by-catch must be reduced to the lowest possible level

Shark - Blue


Precise catch records of blue shark are required for accurate assessments



Stock is depleted and in danger of collapse. Target fisheries should be stopped and by-catch must be reduced to the lowest possible level

Cod - Irish Sea;

West of Scotland; Rockall celtic sea western channel


Considered collapsed. Continued underreporting of catch. Zero catch recommended but not included in existing management plan. Not consistent with precautionary principle

Whiting - Irish Sea: West of Scotland


No management plan in place. Significant non-reported landings. Catches of whiting should be of the lowest possible level. Poor data available.

Whiting - West of Ireland, Celtic Sea & Western Channel


Discards very high. State of stock uncertain thought to have declined in recent years.

Haddock - all seas


Fishing effort should not be allowed to increase until a reliable assessment is available. At risk of being harvested unsustainably. Management plan recommended

Nephrops - western Irish Sea

Good condition

Management plan recommended. This fishery should not be allowed to increase. Has a negative impact on whiting fishery

Nephrops - NW Ireland West of Scotoland


Under reporting of catch is substantial.

Nephrops - Porcupine Bank


Current increase of fishing effort in this area is undesirable and unsustainable. No management plan in place

Nephrops - Aran Grounds, Celtic Sea


No indication that stock has declined

Nephrops - SW & SE coasts


Landings have fluctuated considerably in recent times. Assessment hampered by poor sampling data

Plaice - Irish Sea


Conflicting data - the surveys that indicate an increase in plaice are not borne out be commercial landings. Harvested sustainably.

Plaice - Rockall & West of Scotland, Southwest of Ireland


Landings have decreased since 1990 possibly reflecting a decline in stock abundance

Plaice - Celtic Sea


Discard rates high. Reduced reproductive capacity

Sole - Irish Sea


Stock is harvested unsustainably. Directed fisheries for sole should not be permitted until stocks recover. Caught together with plaice.

Sole -Southwest of Ireland, Rockall & West of Scotland


Landings rapidly declined since 1990s

Sole - Celtic Sea

Good condition/ uncertain

Considered to be harvested sustainably however misreporting is a problem

Herring - Irish Sea


Showed a marked decline in the 1970s and has remained low



Degree of misreporting between Herring & Sprat need to be evaluated before advice can be given.

Megrim - West of Scotland ; Rockall, Celtic Sea , Bay of Biscay


Substantial decline in landings. Misreported. Management plan recommended. Stock more stable in Celtic Sea & Bay of Biscay

Saithe - West of Ireland & Celtic Sea


Substantial decline in landings

Saithe - North Sea and West of Scotand

Good condition

Harvested sustainably but cod can be caught as by-catch hindering the recovery of severely depleted cod stocks.

Pollack - West of Ireland & Celtic Sea West of Scotland and Rockall


Current TAC may not be appropriate and localised stock depletion may occur

Herring - Celtic sea. NW Ireland West of Scotland


Current stock considered to be as low as when the stock crashed in 1970s.  Current management plan not in accordance with precautionary principle

Sprat - West of Irealnd, Celtic Sea


No management plan and no TAC in Irish waters. Species often misreported with herring. Concerns about an increase in fishing effort.

Norwegian Spring Spawning Herring

Good condition

Harvested sustainably

Anglerfish (Monkfish) - West of Scotland & Rockall, Celtic Sea & Bay of Biscay


FSS have serious concerns about the inability to assess the state of stock. In Rockall & West of Scotland landings increased up to 1996 and have steadily decreased since.

Northern Hake

Good condition/ uncertain

Harvested sustainably. Some serious concerns about accuracy of data. Caught with other stocks that  are outside safe biological limits



No management plan, no TAC. Insufficient information.

Cod & Haddock -Arctic Stocks


Unsustainable, misreported & over fished.

Saithe -Arctic Stocks

Good condition

Harvested sustainably

Snow Crab - West Greenland


The recent decline has stopped but no indication of stock recovery. Fishing pressure is high. 25% of discards die.



  • Europe's fishermen are plundering its seas almost uncontrolled, endangering stocks and their own livelihoods
  • The European Union has no clear idea of how much its fishermen catch
  • The ability to catch fish is outstripping their ability to reproduce
  • About four-fifths of species in EU waters are being over fished
  • Millions of immature fish are thrown back dead into the sea because they cannot be sold commercially
  • Scarce species are being blatantly harvested in unsustainable numbers with little monitoring or enforcement
  • The European Court of Auditors have found that quotas were not properly monitored and illegal fishing only lightly punished
  • Several governments are failing to collect statistics and different Commission departments using different figures
  • It remains too easy for skippers to falsify log books