Morale in the Irish fishing industry is at an all-time low due to rocketing fuel costs, shrinking quotas and the lingering legacy of Brexit, an Irish parliamentary committee was told last week.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Seán O’Donoghue (pictured above) said the challenges facing the sector are manifold – but that although the issues are complex, his members have proposed realistic solutions.
He highlighted fears that the ongoing TAC talks would fail to provide clarity for Irish fishermen about their catching opportunities for 2023.
Mr O’Donoghue said: “As happened last year, the Commission is likely to propose provisional TACs and quota figures for next year. This is as a result of the fact that we are awaiting the outcome of EU-UK bilateral negotiations which affect the vast majority of 75 shared fish stocks, most of which are crucial to the Irish fleet.
“This is totally unsatisfactory and caused a major problem for our fishing sector last year, with the final figures published three months into the year.
“Elsewhere, the minister simply must get his act together and urgently distribute monies which his government committed to providing for pelagic fishermen more than 14 months ago.
“Just over €423m was recommended in October 2021, with the taskforce rightly recognising that the end of the Brexit withdrawal period brought about the biggest change and disruption in EU-UK relations in 50 years, across all aspects of trade and society, but most notably in the Irish seafood sector. Our pelagic fishermen have still to see a single cent of this money.
“In 2021 and 2022, the sector has lost approximately 24,000t of mackerel quota valued at €35m. This fishery is the cornerstone of our business. We’ve been feeling the hit from Brexit for two years now, with further hits to come over the next three years.
“We’re not going anywhere, and to be overlooked in this manner is an appalling affront. Government has waxed lyrical and lauded the positives of this taskforce report but all the while, has produced diddly- squat for our pelagic members, who are getting angrier by the day.
“Last but by no means least, the Irish government has been given approval by the Commission for a fuel support scheme for the sector which is already in place in many other EU member states. Governments in those countries have acted swiftly to provide a beleaguered industry with financial support to offset the huge spike in fuel costs.
“Approximately half of our members’ gross earnings are expended on putting fuel in their boats. It’s placing Irish vessels at a major disadvantage compared to our EU counterparts, which have had the scheme implemented in their respective countries.”
The KFO also highlighted the issue of the Danish mackerel quota in Norwegian waters which comes from western waters mackerel stock, as well as underlining the significant increase of 81% in the blue whiting TAC for next year. Given the proximity of Ireland to the main fishing grounds of this stock, landings into Ireland are attractive for foreign vessels.
“It is therefore of critical importance that any transfer to Norway in the ongoing EU-Norway negotiations is kept at a very low level, and that access to the Irish Box is paid for by the transfer of blue whiting quota,” said the KFO.
Blue whiting row ‘requires political solution’
Irish industry representatives last week asked the EU to suspend talks on Norway’s bid for ‘unfettered’ access to Ireland’s blue whiting grounds. “It’s alarming that the EU could unilaterally negotiate away rights to our blue whiting,” said Aodh O Donnell, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO).
“Meanwhile Norway, a non-EU member, is offering no meaningful reciprocal arrangement to Ireland.”
The EU and Norway were due to enter a third round of technical negotiations on the issue late last week. “However, in our view, the issues surrounding access to Irish waters to catch blue whiting are complex ones, and are political in nature rather than technical,” said Aodh O Donnell.
The IFPO, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) and the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation issued a joint call for the talks to be suspended in a letter to EU fisheries commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius.
“The negotiations on the additional access to Irish waters should be deferred until the New Year and particularly until after the annual December Council meeting of the Fisheries Commission,” said Brendan Byrne of the IFPEA.
“An in-depth consideration on blue whiting is required, and that is where it should take place. Ireland already bore the brunt of EU fishing quota cuts after Brexit. Why should we take the hit again, with nothing in return and the burden share from TCA/ Brexit still unresolved? This is surely a political decision, and requires an equitable political solution.”
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.