The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), along with representatives from the other Irish Fish Producers Organisations and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, were invited to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, reports Pauric Gallagher.

Above: Some of the RSW fleet tied up in Killybegs for the summer.

The meeting took place on 20 June, and aimed to address issues concerning the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 and domestic aspects of fish quota allocations within the Irish fishing industry, namely the divisive mackerel quota review.

During his presentation to the joint committee on the mackerel quota review, Sean O’Donoghue, CEO of the KFO, said: “In a nutshell, this flawed process could see the industry in the North West of Ireland deprived of more than €10million of a mackerel catch this year. If the RSW sector current share of the quota was to be cut, it would ultimately result in the loss of jobs at sea in Donegal, as well as employment ashore in the highly-developed pelagic industry in the wider northwest.

“While we accept that no decision has been reached, we, in the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation believe that the course of action being adopted is fundamentally flawed and that its activation endeavours to penalise the RSW sector in a disproportionate and unfair manner.

“What’s more, the review is in direct contravention of a Ministerial policy decision of 2009, which was revised and confirmed in 2010. Minister Creed’s predecessor, Simon Coveney also rejected numerous requests to take quota from the RSW sector and allocate it to the 27 polyvalent vessels with mackerel entitlements. I quote directly from a letter dated May 23, 2014, from Minister Coveney’s Private Secretary to the IS&WFPO which states, ‘The Minister considers that the percentage based allocation between the segments can properly deal with year on year fluctuations in national quota in a fair, transparent and balanced way’, as he formally rejected their lobbying to take quota from RSW sector. Ireland’s quota was approximately 18,500 tonnes higher in 2014 then than it is today, so, chairman, I would ask you what changed circumstances have occurred in the interim to prompt penalising the RSW sector?

“Last year, the RSW sector was hit with a 15% cut in mackerel quota. Then, when, all of a sudden, there was supposedly an increase in quota last autumn, the minister appeared open to the idea of making it available to 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector that have a mackerel entitlement for no valid reason other than purely parochial. This is something we cannot, and will not, stand idly by and accept. We cannot countenance a situation whereby, in a nutshell, the south is taking from the northwest, from families who have spent generations building up businesses, borrowing to invest in their vessels and taking huge pride in being the best at what they do.

“Let’s be clear here, we are looking for no more than the current arrangements to be maintained; we are not looking for an increase. We need assurances, and this cloud of uncertainty is doing nothing for the stability of our industry and the many businesses which are reliant on it.

“Moreover, since the public consultation exercise on the review began last February, it has come to light that the scientific advice used to calculate the 2017 TAC was erroneous, meaning that it actually represented a sizeable cut of 13% on the 2016 catches, rather than the 14% increase it had previously advised. Aside from the obvious embarrassment of such a mistake by ICES in estimating stock size, it has created huge uncertainty for our members who are trying to run businesses, thereby providing valuable employment. We could now, in fact, be staring at a drop of 20% in quota next year.

“Also, the review ignores the fact that those 27 polyvalent vessels who stand to benefit have already been boosted by a 750% increase in mackerel tonnage since the year 2000. The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation has gone on record numerous times stating it has no wish to be the cause of job cuts in Donegal. With respect, while the sentiment expressed is noble, if the IS&WFPO gets its way and deprives the RSW sector of 100% of the additional quota, there will be redundancies in the northwest. I should also point out that these 27 vessel owners don’t all agree with the IS&WFPO request to take 100% of the proposed additional quota. This was communicated in writing to the Department during the consultation process by a number of these polyvalent vessel owners. That, in itself, is a damning indictment of what is going on here. Producer organisations which previously stood shoulder-to-shoulder and built up valuable relationships are now divided, and the industry as a whole has lost focus at a very important time with Brexit looming on the horizon.”

He added, “The perception exists that the RSW vessels are hugely profitable and their earnings grossly exceed everybody else’s. Well let me tell you, chairman, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. When the earnings of KFO members are thrown around like snuff at a wake, there is no mention made of the corresponding outlay and huge investment which we have made in our fleet. We fish in the harshest conditions imaginable, and must have vessels that are able to withstand such unforgiving elements.

“On the other hand, the polyvalent fleet does not have the same level of investment. It enjoys a monopoly in the Celtic Sea herring fishery by way of dubious track record use by the then minister. While the horse mackerel quota has been slashed, the polyvalent sector retains a percentage thereof, while they also have whitefish. Unlike the polyvalent sector, the RSW sector rely on mackerel as their main income and do not have access to fish whitefish.

“It is ludicrous to suggest that the 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector that already have mackerel entitlements would forgo whitefish allowances in exchange for mackerel quota. This would have no effect on the monthly species allocations to the other approx 1,400 polyvalent general vessels. The Irish whitefish quota management system is not based on allocations to vessels but on monthly pressure stock (those stocks where the Irish quota is insufficient to have an open fishery and requires monthly restrictions) allocations to all polyvalent vessels under and over 55 feet in length. In essence, if every one of the approx 1,400 vessels fished their monthly whitefish allocations, these fisheries would be closed early in the year. The whitefish quota management system is dependent on a large number of the approx 1,400 vessels not fishing their monthly whitefish allocations, so removing 27 vessels from this system (a number of which do not support the IS&WFPO proposal, as can be seen on the DAFM web site) will not increase the quota allocations to the other approx 1,400. The IS&WFPO continually ignores this fact.

“The RSW sector has nothing else to fish for apart from pelagic species. The RSW vessels are tied to the pier for an inordinate amount of time when compared with our coastal neighbours. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no answer to Ireland’s fishery problems. Track record is the basis on which quota is shared out all over Europe. The polyvalent fleet already has much more than its fair share of mackerel quota when this logic is applied. Some of their vessels are actually larger than the RSW vessels they are targeting in this review. The RSW sector cannot afford to lose any more of the only stock which keeps their businesses viable, as well as shore side factories, their workers and the multitude of service industries which depend on the sector.”

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