Quotas and Total Allowable Catch

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Quotas and total allowable catch have been instrumental in fishery recovery since their inception by the EU in 1976 and are a significant point within the Common Fisheries Policy.


The purpose of these quotas is to limit the weight of catch of particular species that are permitted to be taken from designated waters. For example, in Ireland, in 2016, the national total allowable catch for cod was 880 tonnes (Sea Fisheries Protection Authority). This procedure is considered to be the cornerstone of fisheries conservation, and encompasses equipment usage, time spent fishing, and fishing area restrictions (Karagiannakos, 1996), and are updated annually based on the findings of Scientific and Technical Committee for Fisheries, as part of Article 12 of EU regulation 170/83 (CECR, 1986).

Factors on which Quotas are Based

The quotas themselves are based on 3 factors that must be taken into account for each member state, including Ireland.

These factors include:

  • Traditional fishing practices of the community fleet.
  • Certain preferences (referred to as “The Hague Preferences”) are to be applied to fishermen in areas where there are limited alternative forms of employment.
  • The financial losses of Member State fishing vessels after the introduction of Economic Exclusive Zones. This zone comprises of a 200 nautical mile area surrounding a country’s coastline, to which said country has exclusive rights to all marine resources within.
Demersal Quotas and Decommissioning Schemes
Gradual Annual Reduction in Quotas Reflective of Decline in Biological Status of Many Stock (Image Credit: White, 2005, p.8)

If a quota for a  species is reached in a particular area before the year has ended, this area is “closed” to fishing, until the new quota for that area has been established for the following year. From a biological standpoint these quotas and closures can allow fish stocks the time to replenish their numbers to higher levels, but economically they can cost thousands of euro annually to the income of those who rely upon these species.

Recent Quota Negotiations for Ireland

In a press release dated 19 October 2016, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Environment, Michael Creed, announced that following two days of intensive negotiations at the annual Fisheries Council in Brussels, he had secured 233,500 tonnes of quotas worth an estimated €280 million for Irish fishermen. This sees a general increase of 6% on 2016 quotas, however, it will also include a reduction in the fishing of cod, pollock and megrim populations.

The specific quota details negotiated by Minister Creed include (DAFM, 2016, p.2):

  • A 9% increase in the prawn fishery which benefits the ports of Clogherhead, Howth, Union Hall, Castletownbere, Dingle and Ros a Mhil.
  • A 9% increase in hake with a reversal of cuts proposed for monkfish which benefits the southwest ports of Castletownbere and Dingle.
  • A 21% increase in whiting (from a potential 27% cut); 7 % increase in haddock, 15% cut in cod (reduced from the 68% proposed cut) which will effect Celtic Sea fisheries.
  • A 25% increase in haddock with a  retention of cod and sole quotas for the Irish Sea.
  • A 20% increase in monkfish quota; a 9% increase for the megrim quota, a near doubling of the Rockall haddock quota and a retention of whiting quotas benefiting the north west ports of Greencastle and Killybegs.
  • Cuts applied to haddock in the North West and megrim in the Celtic Sea which were in line with scientific advice.

Negotiations also see a considerable reversal of previous recommendations to cut fishing quotas on certain species (a -68% cut in cod, a -27% cut in whiting and 9% cut in the prawn quota). These estimates were reconsidered based on the application of the core principles of the Hague Preferences (DAFM, 2016, p.2).


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