Killybegs fishermen have renewed their calls for sight of a controversial European Commission internal report that has led to the threat of quota penalties and fines being imposed on the pelagic industry.
The 2019 report, instigated after a 2018 audit, found that Irish control measures were ‘unsatisfactory’, and has not been shared with the Irish industry.
The long-running dispute centres on shore-based weighing of pelagic catches and recording of landings by Irish authorities. At stake are not only potential fines and imposition of quota penalties, but also a freezing of access to EU fisheries funding to the Irish industry.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) CEO Seán O’Donoghue said that the Commission is playing the role of judge and jury, with the fishing industry being refused the basic right to establish what it might stand accused of.
He said: “Since we’ve never seen the actual audit report nor the investigation’s findings, we’ve only learned anecdotally that it found Ireland lacked a weighing system fit for purpose, and permission for all fish to be weighed in factories was duly removed earlier this year.
“The only information fishermen have is coming from media reports and political utterances which hint at all sorts of horrific punishments coming down the track in the form of slashed quotas and massive fines.
“Our inability to be able to defend ourselves is already having a huge impact. The removal of the weighing permits in the factories last April was, according to the Commission, based on the findings of these reports.
“Fish must now be weighed at the point of landing, which is wholly unworkable and having a detrimental effect on product quality, markets and operational efficiency.”
The EU commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius visited in Killybegs in September, when he met both with fishermen and with minister for food, agriculture and the marine Charlie McConalogue.
However, Seán O’Donaghue said that discussions on the audit were far from satisfactory. “To the fore on our agenda was to formally establish what both the audit and the three-year inquiry have uncovered to date.
“Mr Sinkevicius claimed the inquiry was ongoing with the Irish authorities and, much to our amazement, he said he wasn’t aware that industry has been refused access to the information.
“The old adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is being applied in reverse here. It’s high time for the Commission to play fair with Irish fishermen and give our much- maligned industry a chance to defend itself.”
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.