Irish leader warns of no-deal Brexit mayhem

‘Conflict and port blockades across Europe’

An Irish industry leader has issued a stark warning that there will be ‘chaos and conflict at sea’ and port blockades across Europe if there is a no-deal Brexit on 31 October

Seán O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), said that if Irish and other EU fleets are denied access to UK waters after midnight on 31 October, there will be flashpoints all across Europe, in the Irish Sea, northwest of Donegal, off the SE coast of Ireland, in the English Channel and in the North Sea, in scenes potentially reminiscent of the cod wars of the 1940s, ’50s and ’70s.

He told Fishing News: “Some years ago, trucks were indiscriminately burnt out in France during an agricultural dispute which had nothing to do with us. Mark my words, French fishermen won’t stand on ceremony.

“Port blockades, which would deny access to all fish and fishery products as well as other products, irrespective of origin, and the resultant disorder, chaos and most likely violence, will not be pretty. We got a taste of what can happen at sea last year with a scallop dispute between UK and France in the Channel. This really cannot be what people want,” commented the KFO chief.

He said the situation would be ‘uncontrollable’, with almost 3,000km of a marine border to be policed and the potentially devastating consequences for fleets which would have to be tied up.

“The reaction of the French will be the acid test – they won’t respond favourably to being denied access to UK waters, but neither will the Irish and the other EU fleets which have traditionally fished in UK waters.

“Ultimately, it would be the death knell for many coastal fishing communities, with the demise of the Irish seafood sector to the tune of between 30% and 50%, and projected job losses of between 30% and 40% in the fishing industry here.”

He stressed that it was not too late to avoid a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, and emphasised the importance of maintaining the link between fisheries negotiations and the future trade agreement, as well as sound science-based fisheries management.

“Even in a no-deal, we have to avoid this mayhem at sea and ashore. The EU offer to apply the status quo in the short term – provided it was reciprocated by the UK – would go a long way to avoiding this immediate chaos,” he said.

He reiterated that the one industry which is completely and uniquely exposed to anything other than an orderly transition is the Irish fisheries sector. Last year, Ireland’s seafood industry was valued at €1.25bn, employing more than 14,300 people, predominantly in rural, coastal locations.

“The Brexit process has been a harrowing and grim journey for fishermen. Like a teacher without a classroom or a taxi-driver without a vehicle, our fishermen are staring into the abyss of being unable to access the waters which provide, on average, more than 30% of their catch,” said Seán O’Donoghue.

“This average masks the reliance we have on UK waters for mackerel (60%) and Nephrops (40%), which are two main money ‘spenders’ for the industry. It’s very hard to get one’s head around the fact that waters to which we have enjoyed access could soon be out of bounds, with no physical wall or barrier in place.

“In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, we have been working diligently to keep fisheries high on the agenda of the negotiators, which has been a seismic job of work. I must acknowledge the key role played by the Irish government, particularly the taoiseach Leo Varadkar, tánaiste Simon Coveney and minister Michael Creed, in tandem with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and their respective officials, in listening and acting on the concerns of the fishing industry.

“The complexities of the massive challenge facing our industry was also raised with British prime minister Boris Johnson in Dublin last week,” Seán O’Donoghue said.

“Whereas fish are mobile and know no borders nor bear any nationality, our trawlers don’t have this luxury and must obey boundaries and exclusion zones. We must move might and main to avoid a no-deal Brexit and the ramifications which this would have for our sector.”

Brexit negotiations continuing

Negotiations to try to get a Brexit deal are continuing, but prime minister Boris Johnson also continued to insist that Brexit will go ahead on 31 October with or without a deal.

Finland currently holds the EU presidency, and told the UK last week that it must put its proposals for a new withdrawal deal in writing to the EU by the end of September, or ‘it’s over’.

Mr Johnson has said a deal is possible at a crucial summit of EU leaders on 17 October. Talks centre on making changes to the controversial Irish backstop, which aims to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland.

A Downing Street source told the BBC: “We will continue negotiating and put forward proposals at the appropriate time.”

N Ireland leaders in ‘positive meeting’ with Irish minister

Northern Ireland industry representatives held ‘a positive meeting in a friendly atmosphere’ with Irish marine minister Michael Creed in Dublin on Tuesday last week, said Alan McCulla OBE, chief executive of ANIFPO/Sea Source.

The meeting, arranged by NI politician Margaret Ritchie, had been requested some time ago to discuss issues around the voisinage agreement between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on mutual access to each other’s inshore waters.

Ireland’s decision to block access to Northern Ireland fishing vessels to Irish inshore waters was top of the agenda, but discussions covered a full range of current issues affecting fishermen and the wider industry.

Alan McCulla told Mr Creed that while there was widespread recognition of his efforts to resolve the voisinage issue, recent Irish legislation had not fully restored access to pre-2016 levels as had been promised. Minister Creed stated that unfortunately there was no likelihood of the issue being further reviewed.

Michael Creed also heard that changes in the way that Irish authorities applied the EU’s fisheries control regulation were deterring Northern Ireland trawlers from landing in Irish ports, resulting in a loss of revenue to harbours and processors in the Republic, as well as difficulties for processors in Northern Ireland and inconvenience to local fishing vessels.

While there was recognition that EU rules had to be applied in a common fashion, the minister agreed that there were issues that deserved further consideration. It was agreed that a working group, to include Ireland’s Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and industry from Northern Ireland, would meet within the next few weeks to examine and clarify the issues.

With the annual autumn fisheries negotiations on the level of catches in 2020 just beginning, Minister Creed heard that the industry in Northern Ireland generally accepted the latest fisheries scientific advice, which is advising increases in some catches and cuts in others. But Alan McCulla explained to the minister that there was strong disagreement with the advice for Irish Sea cod. He said that for the past 20 years, the Irish Sea fleet had done everything possible to avoid catching cod – but the scientific model now being used interpreted this cod avoidance as a signal that the cod stock was now at a historic low.

The minister heard that Northern Ireland fishermen regretfully concluded that Irish Sea stocks were not a priority for fisheries administrations in either London or Dublin. But if the flawed advice with cod was followed, this would trigger other fisheries management problems via the discards ban, regardless of whether the UK was an independent coastal state come December or not.

Minister Creed indicated that he would review the situation on Irish Sea cod with his officials and fisheries scientists in the coming weeks.

Brexit also loomed large at the meeting. While Minister Creed reiterated Ireland’s view that the UK had made a huge mistake by voting to leave the EU, Alan McCulla pointed out that fishermen in Northern Ireland had concluded that Brexit was the only way left to address the injustices brought about by the CFP. Discussions ranged over future access arrangements for fishing fleets to UK and EU waters, including opinions on a new voisinage agreement and the north/south trade in seafood.

Alan McCulla said: “Over the past few months, we have hosted politicians from across Europe who are interested in why local fishermen voted to leave the EU. Therefore I had no hesitation in extending an invitation to Mr Creed to visit Kilkeel, where he can meet inshore fishermen impacted by the voisinage dispute, and not only hear more about the inequalities imposed on Northern Ireland’s fishermen by the CFP, but also learn about the links between Co Down’s fishing communities and those in the Republic.

“We have been seeking this meeting for some time, and understand the sensitivities created around the voisinage issue. We are yet again indebted to Margaret Ritchie for securing the meeting and arranging the details.”

Fisheries bodies push ministers for maximum Brexit benefits

The Scottish fishing industry united last week to press ministers to maximise the opportunities for the UK outside the Common Fisheries Policy, including the rapid adoption of solutions to major practical problems that would arise for processors if no deal is reached.

Leaders of the catching and processing sectors used a meeting with secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Theresa Villiers at Peterhead fishmarket to warn that if left unresolved, the issues could prevent the UK benefiting fully from leaving the CFP.

The issues relate to costs of export health certificates (EHCs) and the capacity of local authorities to provide them, labelling of seafood produce, and access to labour.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The entire industry shares the goal of leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, because this will allow the UK to determine who catches what, where and when in UK waters, and will lead to Scottish boats being able, in future, to catch a fairer share of the available quota from our own waters. This is the sea of opportunity.

“But without urgent action by the government to provide solutions to these very real practical problems facing the fish processors in a no-deal scenario, this could threaten the uplift that the whole industry will get from the UK becoming an independent coastal state with the ability to manage its own fisheries.

“Any supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the catching and processing sectors have a shared interest in seeing proper measures put in place to provide clarity and certainty to seafood processing businesses. That message was delivered very forcefully to Theresa Villiers today.”

Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said: “With potentially only 40 days until the UK leaves the EU with no deal, the industry is facing a series of major impediments to the continued smooth export of seafood produce into the EU.

“Despite lengthy discussions and promises of solutions, the government has not been able to reassure us that there will not be lengthy delays for trucks exporting fresh and live produce through Dover to Calais and a number of other routes onto the continent.

“Such delays, because of issues around EHCs and labelling, could be fatal for some of the smaller processors in our industry. In addition, the lack of a commitment to ensuring the sector will continue to have access to the EU labour pool is seriously hampering forward planning.

“Together with our colleagues in the catching sector, who also ultimately would be affected if trade is disrupted, we demanded fast action from Theresa Villiers today, and hope to hear what is going to be done very soon.”

‘Irish marine sector potentially has the most to lose if Brexit comes unstuck’

The Irish government has been challenged over its current state of readiness within the marine sector for a no-deal Brexit by Fianna Fáil spokesperson on fisheries and the marine, Pat the Cope Gallagher, reports Pauric Gallagher.

Pat the Cope Gallagher, who is also deputy chairman of Dáil Éireann, said: “It is self-evident to everyone that the marine sector is not being given recognition when it comes to contingency planning and preparedness for the United Kingdom leaving the EU. This sector is the poor relation when it comes to preparing plans and contingency strategies post-Brexit, as opposed to other sectors which have considerably better planning in place.

“The Irish marine sector potentially has the most to lose if Brexit comes unstuck through present negotiations. The Irish fleet depends greatly on access to UK and Scottish waters in catching their respective stocks. The minister should convene a meeting of all stakeholders in the sector to prepare for all Brexit possibilities.

“Any meeting should focus on the potential chaos for the sector, the mayhem which will result in terms of access to UK and Scottish waters, potential for conflict at sea over fishing rights, and threatened blockages of ports. Presently, with the continued uncertainty, the routine fishing patterns have already been disrupted, due to fear of not knowing what is to happen post-Brexit.”

He added, “Our preparations thus far for the marine sector have been haphazard and lacking in direction and cohesion. Unless we focus and bring the entire seafood sector together, we could well face dire consequences, and through poor or indeed no planning, the fisheries sector could suffer a massive hit.

“The British prime minister has stated that EU access to UK fishing grounds will end by 1 January, 2020, following their exit from the European Union. Fish stocks at sea recognise no boundaries or restrictions. The United Kingdom and Ireland have never had a sea-based boundary or fishing restriction. This should remain the case post-Brexit.

“I understand that the minister says that he and department officials met stakeholders; however, we need continuous dialogue over the next number of months. The marine sector is facing wholesale changes, and the engagement from the department needs to reflect this.

“I am calling on the minister to act immediately and bring all seafood and marine stakeholders together, and to set in place a forum specifically focused on Brexit. This forum should work in conjunction with the department until this present Brexit uncertainty is comprehensively dealt with at EU and national level. The months ahead will be without doubt the greatest challenge to face the Irish marine sector in our lifetime,” Deputy Gallagher concluded.

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