Simon Coveney met with a number of fishing representatives in Castletownbere, Co. Cork last week as part of his trip around the coast of Ireland to discuss the introduction of the landing obligation for the demersal fleet, reports Pauric Gallagher.

Minister Coveney heard first-hand the concerns fishermen have with the Landing Obligation.

Fishermen raised a number of issues including the obligation’s time scale, how fisheries are defined and quota uptake.

Initially when the landing obligation was first brought forward, additional quota was mooted by officials to the industry as the means to offset the discards being landed.

But the promise of quota uplift now seems to be diminishing and the European Commission does not now know what fisheries will avail of additional quota and to what level.

Also highlighted was the lack of up to date scientific analysis of certain stocks and what species have high survivability.

For example, a survival rate of between 20% and 30% has been used for Nephrops, and it was pointed out that by forcing vessels to land all catches of this species there will be an increase in mortality.

Nephrops along with several other species should have had partial or full survivability exemptions included as part of the landing obligation.

The difficulties in dealing with the implementation of the landing obligation are immense and while its integration into some fisheries may require a relatively minimal level of adjustment, the same cannot be said for mixed fisheries.

Furthermore, how all the discards will be dealt with once onshore is another massive issue. The potential for having tonnes of unwanted and juvenile fish at dozens of piers around the country is imminent and as yet, no actual definitive plan in how to deal with it has been established.

It is also unclear what will happen to discards landed by foreign vessels into Ireland.

It was stressed at the meeting that the industry as a whole has never at any time agreed with a discard ban as a means of conservation or sustainability for fisheries; this was agreed in Brussels without a mandate from the Irish fishing industry.

The industry has said all along that greater work could have been done in avoiding species, gear technology and expanding scientific studies to protect stocks rather than introducing a landing obligation.

As one of the fishermen commented at the meeting: “The level playing field that we hear so much about in fisheries is not so level for Irish fishermen; we have a lot less quota to play around with than that of our European counterparts in trying to adhere to the impossible  Landing Obligation.”

Eibhlin O’ Sullivan, CEO of the IS&WFPO (Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation) told Fishing News, “The IS&WFPO together with our industry colleagues have since the discard ban was first mooted, pointed out that a target of 0 in relation to discards is not achievable, however the Landing Obligation was still introduced despite our objections.

“Again when the Member States were drafting the discard plans this year, we made numerous suggestions as to how the Landing Obligation could be implemented in a way that would make it in some way workable for fishermen.

“The majority of these suggestions have been ignored and we are therefore extremely concerned as to how the ban will be implemented, concerns which were echoed by those fishermen present at the meeting with Minister Coveney.”

She added, “Telling fishermen that that’s a problem for down the line when they are trying to run a business is simply not good enough and it is vital that fishermen’s concerns are both addressed and dealt with by the Minister and his officials.”

Minister Coveney will also have similar meetings with the fishing industry in the South East and the North West in the coming months.