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The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the European Union's instrument for the management of fisheries and aquaculture.

The first common measures in the fishing sector date from 1970, when it was agreed that, in principle, EU fishermen should have equal access to Member States' waters. However, in order to ensure that smaller vessels could continue to fish close to their home ports, a coastal band was reserved for local fishermen who have traditionally fished these areas.

Access to Ireland’s six-mile coastal zone is confined to Irish registered fishing vessels and vessels from Northern Ireland. In the six to twelve mile coastal zone, access is limited to Irish vessels and vessels of other Member States that traditionally fish in these waters going back to the period between 1953 and 1962.

Under the Common Fisheries Policy, all member States extended the limits of their fishing zones from 12 miles to 200 miles. Access to these waters largely depends on quota entitlements which were established in the mid 1980’s based on the track record of fishing vessels, when restrictions on outtake were first introduced.

There are other restrictions built in to this system such as the “new Irish box” zone. This is a large area (51,000 sq km) off the south and west coast of Ireland. The time spent in this area is capped for all fishing vessels to protect important juvenile fish. In addition, there is an overall cap on fishing effort in the Atlantic waters where Irish vessels operate. 

Every December, the EU Council negotiates arrangements for managing fish stocks under the Common Fisheries policy. These negotiations set the total allowable catches (TACs) and Quotas. In 2009, this process has delivered fishing opportunities to the Irish catching sector of €202m. This figure does not take into account the added value to the Irish economy, with total seafood sales on both domestic and export markets amounting to €715m in 2008.

The Common Fisheries Policy is up for Review. The Review has commenced and a new policy framework will be in place from 2012. A discussion paper on the Review has been published by the European Commission. Minister of State Tony Killeen has appointed Dr Noel Cawley to oversee an extensive and comprehensive consultation process with fishermen and other stakeholders over the coming months. The outcome of these consultations will inform Ireland’s priorities in the Review and the Minister’s position at the negotiations.