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Quota management has been in place since the early 1980s; it is a fundamental mechanism of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), allocating shared species among member states of the European Union. It is much criticised for the manner in which expensive scientific stock assessments are subordinated to political demands.

Stock assessments are now the routine bread-and-butter work of many laboratories but, in the case of Ireland at least, there appears to be little curiosity about the consequences of some forty years of the practice. Here, the destinies of the main species over some nineteen years – from 1998 to 2016 inclusive – are examined. To this end, time series of landed weight and the annual percentage completed-quota are compared. An account of the work is presented in the TERRITORIAL SEA section of the site.

Many of the findings are as might be expected: single species “clean” fisheries (approximately 50% of the volume of pelagic landings) are more successfully managed by quota.

For demersal species – whitefish – a mixture of species exploited by unselective gears, the outcome has been poor and is deteriorating. In this case, some 50% of quotas for demersal landings have been set too high. Over the period of the review these landings volumes have declined and some species are gradually being eliminated.

When species quotas are set too high, vessels may attempt to fill their quota allocations with fish which are simply not available, with consequent removals of other over-quota and immature food fish and environmental damage. Thus, the CFP has been accompanied by the proliferation of monoculture – notably Nephrops – while biological diversity has been challenged.

Government policy in Ireland has been to manage monthly allocations to the industry to “fill all quotas”. In the case of whitefish that has been manifestly unsuccessful. A study in 2014 demonstrated that more than half demersal quotas were not completed in that year and this longer term review confirms this pattern has been in existence for several species over many of the nineteen years.

Analysis of the data proposes another interpretation of “filling all quotas”: the total quota allocation for all demersal species and for all species, demersal and pelagic combined, closely approximates the total landings of all the species concerned – some are over-quota and others do not reach their limits – but this solution appears to be acceptable.

If this interpretation is correct, it provides an explanation for the political fervour with which TAC/quota negotiations are pursued in Brussels in December each year. It matters little which species are awarded higher TACs, the acceptable end-result does not discriminate and any of those species managed by this method may contribute to the total allocation.