NGOs Call on Irish Ministers to Make Fisheries Management Central to Climate Action


Dublin, 11 May 2023:- NGOs today called for cross-departmental action from Ireland’s government to enable a transition to low impact, low emissions fisheries to deliver on commitments to halt biodiversity loss, take action on the climate crisis and secure the future viability of the Irish fishing industry.

Ahead of an event taking place today at Dáil Éireann (see below), Birdwatch Ireland and the Our Fish campaign are calling on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, and Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, to recognise the critical role that fish play in capturing carbon from the atmosphere as part of the ocean carbon pump, and thus approach fisheries management as carbon management by incorporating it into Ireland’s climate action plans.

“If Ireland is to meaningfully deliver on its climate and biodiversity obligations, and secure the long term viability of the fishing industry, the government must grasp that good fisheries management is good carbon management, and take commensurate, widespread action to minimise destructive bottom trawling, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and prioritise low impact fishing practices”, said Sinéad Loughran, Marine Policy & Advocacy Officer at Birdwatch Ireland. “Ireland’s fishing communities would reap socio-economic benefits if the government takes the leap from the current mis-management regime to one where the role of fisheries management becomes part of climate action.”

“Fish are keystones of the ocean’s biological pump, the system constantly at work capturing and storing excess carbon from the atmosphere, where they play a critical role in the ocean’s capacity to sequester carbon”, said Angela Martin of Agder University, Norway [1]. “When more fish are left in the ocean, they not only enable whole ecosystems to thrive, they also help more carbon sink to the ocean floor. The removal of too many fish using methods like bottom trawling can add excessive emissions and damage this carbon-storing habitat – and this has potentially huge implications for climate and biodiversity obligations”.

The carbon stored by the ocean’s top layer of sediments is nearly double the amount contained in all terrestrial surface soils [2]. However, every year indiscriminate trawling of the seabed disturbs carbon from the seafloor, resuspending it in the water column. In addition, because they burn the most fuel, the most ecologically destructive fishing vessels also contribute the most emissions; the EU fishing fleet alone accounts for nearly 7.3 million tons of CO2 emissions per year – the fuel for which is exempt from tax, while other EU Member States also provide additional fossil fuel subsidies [3].

The EU has the legislative power to facilitate a transition to low impact and low emission fishing in Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy, which outlines the requirement to allocate quotas based on transparent, objective environmental, social and economic criteria, which, as studies have found, would also deliver more jobs [4].

“Put simply, the current EU system of subsidising high impact, fossil fuel intensive fishing activities is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face – it puts short-term operational costs ahead of environmental sustainability, climate resilience, jobs and economic profitability”, said Rebecca Hubbard, Program Director of our Fish. “As an influential player in EU fisheries, Ireland should instead be prioritising access to fishing opportunities for low-impact and low-emissions fishing fleets in order to accelerate the transition to fisheries management that delivers climate, biodiversity and social benefits.”

“This transition to a low impact and low emissions fishing industry requires a concerted effort from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, to the Department of Housing, the Department of Finance, and of course, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine”, said Loughran. “While the government’s Climate Action Plan recognises the role of blue carbon, by failing to embrace the role of marine biodiversity, including fish, in the ocean’s carbon pump, it risks missing out on the ocean’s potential for tempering the impact of climate change.”

“By excluding fishing industry emissions, both directly through fuel consumption and indirectly through the disruption or removal of oceanic carbon stores, the government has created a huge gap in Ireland’s total emissions inventory”, she said. “However, by taking into account the true extent of national emissions, the Irish government has the opportunity to implement a whole-of-economy approach to climate action as obligated under the Paris Agreement, and outlined in the Climate Action Plan. Recognising the role of the fishing sector in climate action and Ireland’s obligations under EU fisheries law would help to ensure that support and funding is provided for the transition to climate and nature-compatible fisheries management that we urgently need.”

“I am pleased to host Birdwatch Ireland and Our Fish in Leinster House to present their views”, said Jennifer Whitmore TD, Social Democrat spokesperson for Climate Action & Biodiversity. “This is a very important and timely discussion. Having worked in this area for many years as a fisheries scientist and ecologist, I have a particular interest in this important  issue. Our waters cannot simply be seen as a commercial space”.

“They represent a key element in the fight against climate change and require robust protection”, added Deputy Whitmore. The work of Our Fish, Birdwatch Ireland, along with others, is essential to informing our work in this field but it is up to the government to act.” 


For more information:

Download the Ireland fish-carbon briefing 



Details of today’s event: Fish as Carbon Engineers – the role of fish and fisheries management in climate action

Date: 11 May 2023

Time: 1pm (duration 45-60 minutes)

Location: AV Room, Leinster House. For access to venue, contact, +353 86 0810443

Host: Jennifer Whitmore, TD


  • Angela Helen Martin, Agder University, Norway
  • Professor Dave Reid, Marine Institute, Ireland 
  • Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director, Our Fish
  • Sinéad Loughran, Marine Policy & Advocacy Officer, BirdWatch Ireland


Contact: Sinéad Loughran, Marine Policy & Advocacy Officer at Birdwatch Ireland, +353 86 0810443

Dave Walsh, Our Fish Communications, +34 691 826 764,


Contact: Sinéad Loughran, Marine Policy & Advocacy Officer at Birdwatch Ireland, +353 86 0810443,

Dave Walsh, Our Fish Communications, +34 691 826 764,


[1] SA Saba, G.K., Burd, A.B., Dunne, J.P. et al. (2021). Toward a better understanding of fish‐based contribution to ocean carbon flux. Limnology and Oceanography, 66.

[2] Atwood, T.B., Witt, A., Mayorga, J. et al. (2020). Global Patterns in Marine Sediment Carbon Stocks. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7.

[3] Our Fish (2021). The Fishing Industry’s Financial Gains Due To Fuel Tax Reductions For The Past 10 Years. A selection of cases within European fishing fleets..

[4] Empowering EU Fisheries Policy to Restore Marine Health, Tackle Climate Change and Create Jobs.



About Our Fish

Our Fish is working to end overfishing and restore a healthy ocean ecosystem.

By collaborating with others, and deploying robust evidence, we are calling for an end to overfishing as a critical and significant action to address the biodiversity and climate crisis.