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Fisheries Disputes (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 821 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne] It appears the south east has been systematically discriminated against by the Department, the Navy and the SFPA in targeting fishermen under a long list of regulations. The entire O'Flaherty fleet has been ordered to cease trading, despite only two of the trawlers having been questioned originally. It raises the question of whether the fleet on the south-east coast is being unfairly targeted. As these Irish boats remain in port, Spanish, Belgian and French ships continue to fish these seas. The broader issue at stake is the need for Ireland to trade quotas with other states that are under-fishing, particularly the French. The French only caught 38% of their monkfish quota in Irish waters, but they steadfastly refused to yield their unused quota. It is up to the Minister to press this matter at EU level to enable fishermen to maximise the total quota available.

An effective quota transfer system between member states is the key part of the Common Fisheries Policy that delivers both for fishermen who make their living from the sea and consumers on the shore. I ask the Minister to examine the possibility of a swap, whereby fishermen at Kilmore Quay could return to fishing and the men in question could return to work as quickly as possible.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris Yesterday morning I went to Kilmore Quay where I met the O'Flaherty boat owners and crew members and people associated with ancillary industries in the area. Some 170 people are out of work. Most of them are self-employed and can receive no assistance from the State. Some 15 boats have been ordered ashore and tied up. The consequences are alarming and disturbing for the community and the wider industry. This is all about the denial of an adequate quota to Irish fishermen in Irish waters.

In area 7, out of a quota of 18,000 tonnes of monkfish, 58% was caught by the French, whereas the Irish caught 97% of a quota of only 3,000 tonnes. The French quota in the area is six times higher. In the same area, 33% of megs was caught by French vessels, while 92% was caught by Irish vessels. There is a ratio of more than two to one in favour of France. This year some 38% of megs was caught by French vessels, while the figure Ireland is at 81%. I cannot understand how the part of the French quota that has not been caught cannot be redistributed to Irish vessels. There is an another reason, one economically driven in favour of France which is a stakeholder in Irish waters and the Irish mixed fishery feet. This cannot be allowed to continue. This issue needs to be met head-on. We cannot have Irish fishermen with boats tied up on the shore and forced to sign an affidavit before they go back to sea. In other words, they are criminalised before they return to sea. That is a disgrace and I want the Minister to deal with the matter. Decent men and women who are striving to put bread on the table for Christmas as best they can are being effectively criminalised by inequality within the system.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney All matters relating to the operational enforcement of sea fisheries law are, by statute, appropriate to the SFPA. Deputy John Browne, in particular, knows this and I am surprised to hear a former Minister of State with responsibility for the fisheries sector say what he said. The issue relates to a company's compliance with sea fisheries legislation and is one for the SFPA. The matters arising are individual matters of operational law enforcement in respect of an individual company. The principals of the company own the biggest fleet of large whitefish trawlers in the country, with more than a dozen of its trawlers involved. It would be inappropriate for me or anybody else to comment on matters that may be sub judice and may come before the courts in due course.

  This matter relates to illegal fishing. Any illegal fishing has significant consequences for the broader fishing community and the sustainability of fish stocks. Such activity is not a victimless crime and the impact is felt in a very real and immediate way by law-abiding fishermen who will see reduced prices at market, lower monthly quotas and, ultimately, significant stock reductions, putting livelihoods and future sustainability at risk. All fish caught by individual vessels and companies, whether legal or illegal, are counted against the national quota and reduce the quota available for law abiding fishermen in the following period.

  The former Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, knows that the industry plays a lead role in decisions on quota management and in managing quotas. The individual quotas for fisheries each month are recommended by representatives of the fishing industry's producer organisations on a stock by stock basis with the support of data from the SFPA and the Department at monthly meetings. The objective of the monthly whitefish meeting is to give the industry the opportunity to recommend how the national quota can best be used for the benefit of the fishermen and onshore fish processors to achieve the highest economic return and best outcomes in terms of quota availability.

  This year we have had a higher quota in the Celtic Sea for almost all stocks than we have seen for many years. The industry was involved in the allocation of the quota throughout the year and now that we are coming to the end of it the quota is becoming tight, but that is because large portions of it were used earlier in the year. We cannot have a situation where, because people want to catch more fish, they break the rules and do so while other fishermen abide by the quota arrangements decided on in consultation with the industry on a monthly basis.

  With regard to the specific events that have prompted this question, I am informed by the SFPA that on three days last week there were five infringements by the company's vessels detected and files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Since 2007 the SFPA has advised that it has recorded infringements by vessels operated by the company concerned on 42 occasions. I am advised by the SFPA that the decision to direct these vessels to port under Article 43(b) of the EU Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Regulations was carefully considered and taken owing to the serious level of infringements by the company.

  There have been lengthy meetings this week, as there should be, between the SFPA and the company to try to find a way forward. Livelihoods are at risk, specifically at a difficult time of year, in the build-up to Christmas. I want to see these boats out fishing and obeying the rules. What is on offer is not criminalisation; the SFPA has asked the company involved to sign an affidavit to ensure it will keep the rules in terms of the monthly allocation of quota, just like every other fishing boat off the southern coast. We must have the same rules for everyone. We cannot have one rule for the O'Flahertys and another for everyone else. If I were to facilitate this or pressurise the SFPA into facilitating it, we would have chaos in the fishing industry. If we want this to be a credible country in terms of how we manage our fish stock sustainably, everyone must have the law applied to them evenly, including the O'Flahertys. If we do so, it will be my job in December to get the best possible deal for the Irish industry in quota negotiations.

  Relative stability with other countries is a valid issue we have debated in the House on many occasions, but this is not the reason there are 15 boats tied up. It is because people made a conscious choice to overfish and I cannot allow this to happen. The SFPA cannot allow it legally. We are trying to find a practical way forward to get people back to work, while ensuring we are enforcing the rules laid down. Otherwise, the Commission will come to Ireland and enforce the rules.

Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne I am well aware of the rules and regulations in the Department and I am not asking the Minister to break them. I was approached by fishermen in the community of Kilmore Quay to see if we could arrange for a swap or trade with the French who have under-fished certain species.

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