Over the last few years, there has been a growing notion that “the EU stole billions from Irish fisheries”. The latest figure is 200b, apparently articulated at the Irexit conference/ self-help group last weekend. This is a fishy figure indeed. Read on
This seems to originate from a single source, and in that regard, the thread on twitter from Ciaran O’Driscoll is hugely informative.
A purportedly detailed analysis of this figure is given by Dr Karen Devine, a lecturer in politics in DCU. The link to her figures is here. This figure of 200b is wrong. Academics, when they speak on any area, should endeavour to ensure that their data are as accurate as possible. There is always room for interpretation but especially when talking outside one’s area of primary expertise careful analysis of proper sources is a sine qua non.
Dr Devine uses the ICES data. From the ICES catch database, I am able to broadly reproduce the total of 43m tonnes. There is a slight difference, the original data being 43.813m my data giving 43.634. The spreadsheet is available here. So, we are, it seems using the same dataset.
Several issues emerge however on closer inspection
- First, the geographical areas used are wrong. The figure of 43m tonnes is achieved by attributing as per the original document all of the relevant areas to the irish Exclusive Economic Zone. These are ICES areas VIa, VIb, VIIa, VIIb, VIIc, VIIg, VIIk, VIIj . But this is clearly a significant OVER estimation of catches. A glance at the map below will show that there is only a partial overlap of the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone with some of these areas. Source: https://oar.marine.ie/bitstream/handle/10793/30/Atlas%20of%20the%20Commercial%20Fisheries%20Around%20Ireland%2009.pdf?sequence=1, figure 3 therein. Are we now claiming all these grounds as part of our EEZ?
- Second, it is a gross figure. The analysis seems to ignores that Ireland registered boats catch fish in other areas. Although small, at just under 800 tons, this suggests a further downward revision is required in the estimates. Further downward estimation is required when one notes that to get the 43m tonnes we have to include also catches by Irish boats. If the analysis is to see the extent to which the EU has extracted value then presumably Ireland should be netted off?
- Third, the value is off. The 43m tonnes is given a value of €63b by applying a figure of 1.53b per tonne. This is wrong in numerous ways. First, it equates the value of fish in 1975 as that in 2008. This is not at all the case. A proper deflator would be needed to equate values of a good over different times. Second, this takes no account whatsoever of the mix of catch. Fleets land different mixes of catch over time in response to fish stocks. Some are more valuable than others at different times. Simple equating is not possible. Third, it is for fresh fish only and much catch is landed frozen.
- Fourth, it is grossed up incorrectly. To go from Devine’s 63b (over remember 25y) to “hundreds of billions” we are told “as a rule of thumb….value MAY (my emphasis) be up to twice”. However, this is a single point of reference. Solid academic analysis usually requires a variety of analyses, and ideally if one is making policy recommendations these should be based on a more robust methodology than “a rule of thumb”. As an example, Morrisey and O’Donaghue 2013 provide very much lower linkage levels for processing ( Karyn Morrissey, Cathal O’Donoghue, The role of the marine sector in the Irish national economy: An input–output analysis, Marine Policy, 37, 2013 230-238)
- Fifth, it is at gross variance with the estimates from actual marine economists. Referenced here is an analysis of the actual total catch value from Ireland’s EEZ, of some €15b in the post EU period. A large part of that was of course from Irish boats.
In summary then : the notion, and a fanciful one it is, that Ireland has given away or had stolen from it some €200b worth of fish is plain wrong. Those peddling it may not know it is wrong, but they should. To go on claiming same when there is clear evidence to the contrary is not sustainable.