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The ‘Next Step’ but will it work?

FISHING INDUSTRY PROTEST

There is a feeling in sectors of the fishing industry that more protests will have to be held to draw the attention of politicians and the public to the crisis challenging its future. The photograph above recalls the last series o protests, that one on the quayside in Cork Port.

The fishing industry and the coastal communities are suffering from the Government’s failure, despite its promises, to achieve a decent Brexit deal. Its failure resulted in the worst possible outcome and, though the Government, assured by the EU apparently, that there would be a ‘sharing of the Brexit burden’ by other Member States to help Ireland, that did not happen. Where fishing is concerned, they are not friends of Ireland and have no intention of giving up the quotas given to them by the European Fisheries Commission under the Common Fisheries Policy which is a disaster for Ireland.

Fishing industry statistics published by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Central Statistics Office show the increasing extent of non-Irish fishing boat catches in Irish waters. Two thousand and eighty non/Irish vessels landed €153 million worth of fish into Irish ports for export to their own countries last year – Spain, UK, Norway, France, Denmark and Belgium were the main countries involved, according to the annual report from the Authority. CSO figures released confirmed that 41% of all fish landed in Ireland last year was by non Irish vessels.

The amount of fish landed by Irish boats decreased.

In contrast to what is seen by representative organisations as a “crisis challenging the future of the fishing industry,” Bord Iascaigh Mhara – the State fisheries board – has launched what it says is “a strategy for the future, to promote careers in the industry and attract new entrants It’s called ‘The Next Wave..’ Well-intentioned, but it is not impressing the industry generally, even though the Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, has said his Department will back it financially. Fishing boats are being decommissioned, scrapped because of insufficient catching quotas, or are for sale around most ports.

Fishing organisations say the Government must get a better deal from the EU under the Common Fisheries Policy if the industry is to have any future. But that means other nations giving up some of their share to Ireland and ‘burden sharing’ is unlikely, given the statistics quoted above.

So, will ‘The Next Wave’ achieve anything?

The title is good, intending to bring in a ‘new wave’ of people, young in particular needed, to the industry. But there are fishermen leaving who say they would not encourage their offspring to go into fishing.

BIM’s new startegy has been described by the fisheries board as “a €5 million plan to deliver skills for a “sustainable seafood industry.” But the crunch issue, identified by industry representativre groups is that the EU, while trumpeting ‘sustainability’ operates a policy that has another focus ‘relative stability’ which discriminates against Ireland’s fishing fleet.

“An agile, professional, and skilled workforce is essential for the future sustainability of Ireland’s seafood industry,” Minister McConalogue has said, initiating the new BIM strategy. He is right, but if fish catch quotas cannot be increased for Ireland, where is the future in an industry blighted at present by decommisisoning which his Department has approved and which is reducing the number of Irish boats because the fleet is not allowed to catch enough fish in Irish waters to keep it a successful economic operation?

The statistics from the SFPA and the CSO underline that.

“The ambitious goals outlined in this strategy aim to support the industry in navigating future challenges and opportunities. By offering diverse and rewarding career paths, complemented by modern and professional training, I’m confident the industry will be better positioned to attract and retain the talent required for its long-term success,” he says.

The plan has been launched at a particular crisis point for the fishing industry, with skills in danger of being lost due to the Brexit decommissioning scheme in the whitefish sector.

“Although traditional skills remain extremely important and are at the core of the training BIM provides, new skills are required that reflect recent technology advancements, regulations and market demands,” according to the Chief Executive of BIM, Caroline Bocquel. “The development of skills to protect our natural environment, while operating a sustainable and profitable business model, are integral to the continued growth and success of the industry,” she says. ” We are also working to develop a range of sustainability programmes and modules across BIM’s training and client services that will enhance knowledge and insights and allow the industry to meet rapidly changing demands,” she says.

The Irish seafood sector was valued at €1.3 billion in 2022 and employed 16,000 living and working in Ireland’s coastal communities, BIM says.

One of the expressed hopes is that “the process of catching, growing and adding product value through seafood processing, retail and food service” can be increased, because the sector “plays a key role in the cultural, social and economic fabric of coastal communities,” BIM says.

All correct, but it all comes back to how much fish the Irish fishing fleet is allowed to catch and that is controlled by the European Fisheries Commission which is dominated by the strength of the other Member States whose own fishing industries profit more from catching fish in Irish waters than the Irish fishing industry does.

Tom MacSweeney

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