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Will Ireland be importing fish caught in Irish waters by non-Irish vessels?

Figures released by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Central Statistics Office show the extent of catches by non-Irish fishing boat in Ireland’s 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 SFPA.

Statistics from the CSO confirm that 41% of all fish landed in Ireland last year was by non-Irish vessels. That is a big figure and contrasts with the amount of fish landed by Irish boats decreasing and the forced reduction in the size of the Irish fishing fleet.

“If any other industry was being treated like this, politicians would be shouting, rushing to the media which would be headlining what is happening, but the sound of silence is what the industry gets from Government and politicians.” That view has been expressed in fishing ports around the country where there is frustration this week that the industry was not mentioned in the Budget speeches of either the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure at a time when the Irish fleet is being reduced. The industry has claimed that this is because of Government failure accepting, it is alleged, a Brexit deal “brutal for Ireland,” according to industry representative organisations.

Social media response to the Budgetary exclusion has been extensive and critical. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, issued a press release after the Budget which had the heading: “Minister McConalogue prioritises farm incomes in Budget 2024.” Down at items numbers 14 and 15 in that press release were: Research & Development funding of more than €22m, in addition to support for Teagasc and the Marine Institute; Continued support for coastal communities through investment in fisheries harbours and community piers.

About Seafood and Coastal Communities it stated: “ The Department’s 2024 estimate also provides continued funding for the continued promotion of the environmentally sustainable development of fisheries, aquaculture and wider seafood industry.

Minister McConalogue said: “Over the lifetime of this Government €500 million has been spent on the Seafood Sector. Over the past two years I have announced a range of schemes, worth €271 million, designed to support the seafood sector and coastal communities in overcoming the impact of Brexit.  In December 2022 the Commission adopted the Seafood Development Programme 2021-2027.  The funding provision made by the Government in Budget 2024 will enable this Programme to provide for further support to the sector over the coming years up to 2027 to ensure that it will not only survive, but transform to generate economic growth and sustain jobs. The Programme will also provide funding to state bodies which carry out important work in the marine environment to protect our coastal natural resources.”

However, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD, claimed that th budget allocation to fisheries and seafood for 2024 is almost half of the allocation for 2023, down from €337.45 million to €176.9 million.

When the Brexit deal was announced, then Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said that Member States would share the burden of the deal with Ireland. They did not, most likely because Irish waters are a major sustenance of their own industries. “Sharing,” supposedly a basis of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, would mean reducing their catching quotas to give more to Ireland.

The response of a West Cork fisherman: “Two chances of that – none – and none at all.

So 39 Irish boats are being ‘decommissioned’ – a polite description for ‘broken up’ – to get them out of the industry because there is not enough fish to catch for all the existing fleet. Some Member States, with double and more catching entitlements in Irish waters, bigger than Irish boats have, don’t even catch of all those quotas. But the EU ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ continues to allocate such rights to them. 

Why there is not more concern expressed by Government, politicians in general and the national media? Around the coastal communities, which depend economically on the fishing industry, there is increasing anger and resentment.

“Successive Governments have allowed an ethnic cleansing of the Irish fishing community,” the Editor of the Marine Times fishing industry newspaper, Mark McCarthy, said this week. “There will be a shortage of fish caught by Irish fishermen. We could end up importing fish, caught from Irish waters back into Ireland from the European mainland to supply our needs,” he wrote in the paper’s editorial.

“Ask any fisherman in any part of Ireland and they’ll tell you that there is nothing genuinely constructive happening in the fishing industry,” says Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance. “Destructive would be a more suitable term. The Government is flushing Ireland’s fishing industry down the pan while the rest of Europe is developing and strengthening theirs.”

The State fisheries board, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, has put the value of the seafood economy at €1.3 billion, but acknowledged that the industry is in a “volatile” situation. Employment figures are about 16,000 according to BIM. Coastal communities depend on it. Somewhat ironically, at this time perhaps, BIM has announced a plan to increase skills in the industry and wants to encourage young people to enter it. But the response in many coastal communities is that there is not a great future in fishing.

Tom MacSweeney

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