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Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue, T.D., addressed the key issue of decarbonisation of the fisheries and aquaculture sector at the Informal Meeting of Fisheries Ministers held in Vigo, Spain on 17 and 18 July.

At the meeting, organised by Spain, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Fisheries Ministers from across the EU discussed ways to overcome challenges and potential barriers to deliver carbon neutrality for the seafood sector by 2050.

Member States agreed on the need for significant investment, in addition to that provided under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF), in order to achieve the energy transition. Ministers also noted the need for innovation in alternative energy for fishing vessels as the current technologies are not yet sufficiently developed and available to scale for maritime use.

Minister McConalogue highlighted the need for an EU-wide approach:

“Fisheries are a shared Union resource. Therefore, we need to take collective action on an EU-wide basis. Any policy or regulatory framework must have clear, realistic objectives, taking into account the cost involved and the investment and support needed over a realistic timeframe. Such a framework must consider all aspects of the seafood sector and adopt a dual approach of increasing efficiency and exploring alternative energy sources in parallel.”

On the decarbonisation of fishing vessels, the Minister noted:

“Different fleet segments will have different needs and challenges, and these must be considered when planning supportive action.”

The Minister went on to say that: “Adapting port infrastructure to facilitate the use of alternative fuels and sustainable energy sources will require significant investment. An EU-wide investment framework is essential for equitable development and to allow Member States to maintain competitiveness.”

Regarding the Aquaculture and Processing sectors, the Minister said:

“Moving to more sustainable and efficient energy use will make these sectors more resilient and competitive and help them to fulfil their crucial role in ensuring the EU’s food security.”

Last month, the European Commission launched the Energy Transition Partnership – a multi-stakeholder platform to promote cooperation and dialogue in order to accelerate the energy transition in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. This follows on from the publication of the Commission’s Communication on the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector as part of its Fisheries Package in February.

One of the objectives of the Commission’s Communication is that by 2024, the Commission – in close cooperation with the Energy Transition Partnership – will develop a roadmap for the energy transition of the sector towards climate neutrality by 2050.

Minister McConalogue welcomed the establishment of the Partnership and, in conclusion, said:

“Successfully transitioning to more sustainable energy sources will be a key factor in securing the sector's long-term viability. Therefore, we look forward to working with the Commission and the Partnership to develop the energy transition roadmap.”

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The intergovernmental marine science organisation which advises the European Commission on fisheries regulations has been told by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation that it has got its data wrong in recommending major fishing closures.

The Killybegs Organisation has challenged the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to examine and withdraw its recommendations on closing 87 areas of EU waters. The KFO Chief Executive says there are several errors in the data ICES used, which the KFO has identified and which make ICES decisions incorrect.

This is a serious challenge to the scientific body and to the European Commission, which, acting on ICES advice, closed the areas to bottom fishing last September.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation CEO Sean O’DonoghueKillybegs Fishermen’s Organisation CEO Sean O’Donoghue

“We have carried out a major amount of work in looking at the underlying data, and we have found several errors in the data used by ICES,” KFO CEO, Sean O’Donoghue, told me. “The upshot of this is that there are significant errors in areas such as off the Donegal coast, indicating that there is no scientific basis for their decisions. We have notified ICES, the Commission and the Minister.

“There is no way that the existing closures on the ICES advice can be carried forward because they are not on a scientific basis. ICES must retract its advice and perform a full and transparent review. In the interim period, the European Commission should suspend the enforcement of the closed areas.

”KFO recognises the need for conservation and restoration of sensitive marine habitats and ecosystems. This is important not only for addressing the biodiversity crisis but also for supporting sustainable fisheries, which are critical for food security. We acknowledge that there is a need for areas to be closed to mobile contact bottom gears but these areas need to first be identified based on robust scientific evidence, which is currently not the case,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

In this week’s Podcast, he outlines the manner in which the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation is challenging ICES.

Listen to the Podcast below

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A leading fishing industry leader has said that the commercial fishing and offshore wind energy sectors “must work together” if Ireland is to protect both its energy and food security.

Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O Donnell said that wind farm developers have “failed to properly engage with the fishing fleet about locating wind farms in rich-fishing areas”.

“This could have a fundamental impact on how much fish the Irish fleet can catch and ultimately on our food security,” he said in a statement

“Irish fishing communities deliver one of the lowest carbon footprint sources of healthy renewable protein,” O Donnell said.

“We deserve recognition and respect for our role in Irish society and in peripheral coastal communities.”

O’Donnell said his organisation was “particularly concerned about plans to locate large sea-based wind farm projects in the Irish Sea”.

"the naïve view of wind farm developers is that fishermen can simply move"

“The choice of location for most of these projects was driven by legacy considerations revolving around optimal grid connections and project cost. It appears that even basic considerations about traditional fishing activity and sensitive spawning areas have been discounted or largely ignored,” he said.

“The richest fishing grounds are often in areas favoured by wind farms, and the naïve view of wind farm developers is that fishermen can simply move,” he adds.

“But these sea basins have been fished traditionally for generations, particularly for Dublin Bay prawns. This is a significant sustainable wild-caught fishery, which ranks as Ireland’s most valuable seafood,” he said.

‘’The seafood sector is willing to engage and work on a co-existence approach. There is an abundance of sea in the Irish EEZ (European Economic Zone) to locate wind turbines, and technological developments have enabled new possibilities,” he said.

“To avoid the worst outcomes, developers and fisher stakeholders alike must adhere to the communications standard developed by the Seafood Offshore Energy Working Group,” he said.

The group was convened by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue in 2022.

“Our key concern is that the fishery sector is still not receiving adequate information about turbine details and locations. This is a basic prerequisite for proper engagement and meaningful consultation,” O Donnell said.

“We appreciate that the external environment is much changed, with an energy crisis driven by the Ukrainian war - and the need for energy security has accelerated the priorities,” he continued.

“ But there must be a balanced, informed, and coherent process between energy security, environmental impact, food security and fisheries interests,” he said.

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A French-registered fishing vessel has been detained by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for alleged non-compliance with European fisheries legislation.

The detention took place on Wednesday (June 21), a day after an inspection was conducted from the European Fisheries Control Agency’s (EFCA’s) offshore patrol vessel.

This followed a “risk-based approach that focused on gear and fishing area, not by the registered flag of the vessel”, the SFPA says.

The EU inspectors, one of whom was an Irish inspector from the SFPA, were operating from onboard the EFCA chartered offshore patrol vessel “Ocean Protector”.

The fishing vessel was found to be fishing using gillnets and was allegedly not using any acoustic deterrent devices on over 15,000 metres of fishing gear.

Gillnets are made of monofilament nylon mesh that is invisible underwater and therefore acts as a hazard to cetaceans and other marine mammals.

By utilising the acoustic deterrents or “pingers” to emit a certain frequency at regular intervals, cetaceans such as dolphins which are at risk of entanglement and drowning in the gear are given a warning.

“Cetaceans are part of the prohibited species list, and catching and landing this species represent a threat to the conservation status of the species, which includes all species of dolphins, porpoises, and whales,” the SFPA says.

The SFPA says it has been using enhanced technologies both at sea and ashore to verify compliance with the requirements for such gear to have acoustic deterrents.

The “pingers” have to be attached at a minimum of 200-metre intervals (when digital devices are being used) or 100-metre intervals if analogue devices are in use, it says.

These devices are required on any bottom-set gillnet or entangling net for vessels over 12m in certain sea areas.

The detained vessel was escorted to Castletownbere, Co Cork where it was handed over to An Garda Siochana and SFPA officers for further assessment and investigation. The master of the vessel was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday evening.

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The Government’s promise of consultation and involvement of the fishing industry in the development of offshore wind farms is not being delivered on according to South East Coast fishermen, who claim that consultation and discussion, which was promised, has turned out to be a “cosmetic approach” for public relations purposes, without meaningful engagement.

The Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Coast Fish Producers’ Organisation, John Lynch, a fishing boat owner himself, says that “picking the site for a wind farm is one thing, but picking the actual location of the turbines is another and of great importance for fishermen and the fishing grounds.”

John Lynch is Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Coast Fish Producers’ OrganisationJohn Lynch is Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Coast Fish Producers’ Organisation

"Picking the site for a wind farm is one thing, but picking the actual location of the turbines is another"

It was very interesting, at the World Ocean Day Conference, in discussion with representatives of environmental organisations, that they expressed concern to me about the same topic as fishermen - an emerging maritime spatial squeeze affecting all marine users.

Kilmore Quay Harbour and marinaKilmore Quay Harbour and marina

On this week’s Podcast, John Lynch says that the fishing industry is willing to engage with wind farm developers on the way forward, but it “must be meaningful engagement, not just being told about plans without our concerns being listened to.”

“Promises were made, but so far, the fishing industry has been offered nothing, nothing, and this is not what was indicated,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of marine spatial squeeze. We will have massive squeeze in the Irish Sea particularly.”

He is my Podcast interviewee this week. Listen to the Podcast here.

Published in Tom MacSweeney

“The saddest thing really is to see how, all around the coast, indigenous fishing people like me become extinct, we’re just not going to be there,” says former skipper and trawler owner Caitlín Uí Aodha in an interview with The New York Times.

Uí Aodha is one of a number of vessel owners interviewed by the newspaper in a feature on the impact of the current Brexit-related decommissioning scheme on the Irish fleet.

A total of 42 vessels from the Irish whitefish fleet are being scrapped, as part of the scheme funded from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve.

The fund was set up by the EU to ease the impact of Britain’s withdrawal and consequent loss of quotas, with Ireland bearing the largest burden among coastal states.

New York Times journalist Megan Specia and photographer Finbarr O’Reilly spoke to Uí Aodha in Co Waterford and to owners in Castletownbere and Union Hall, Co Cork, and Greencastle, Co Donegal

Cara Rawdon, 64, who has been fishing for 40 years from Greencastle, said he received a fair price for his boat and is retiring.

“There are no young men getting into it here,” Rawdon told the newspaper.

Coastal communities around Ireland “are being annihilated”, Rawdon said.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation has welcomed the report, which it has circulated unlocked on this link here

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Irish fishing boats will tomorrow (9th May) join an EU-wide protest about plans to restrict bottom fishing further. The protest is being organised by the European Bottom Fisheries Alliance (EBFA), which says 28% of the fishing fleet has disappeared in the last 20 years due to restrictions.

“Fishers have made huge efforts to protect the marine environment and recover fish stocks,” says EBFA chair, Iván López van der Veen. He says thousands of Km2 have been closed to bottom fishing, putting the future at stake. The EU is now proposing to ban bottom-trawling in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

"Scallops and Dublin Bay Prawns, have been fished for generations by family-run businesses using bottom fishing systems"

The protest will be supported by the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, who say such a ban will create a 30% reduction in available fishing grounds. IFPO chief executive Aodh O Donnell says ‘’many of our key species, such as scallops and Dublin Bay Prawns, have been fished for generations by family-run businesses using bottom fishing systems. They represent a traditional way of life and are the economic and social strength for many communities, some of which will be put at risk.”

“Our members fully support the conservation of fishing stocks and species and adhere to quota restrictions to promote the long-term sustainability of our oceans. As stakeholders, we have a vested interest in maintaining healthy seas. We are delivering on the sustainability targets.”

“But the harsh reality is that we have never had a fair share of EU quotas. We’ve taken the biggest quota hit post-Brexit, and as a result, we are decommissioning a third of our whitefish fleet. Despite all of this adversity, we are now facing another potential huge cut in fishing opportunities.”

“We are committed to conducting responsible fishing in ways which utilise technical measures that protect and conserve marine life. The Irish fishing sector is leading the way in working with the Irish Sea Fisheries Board in developing and applying innovative trawling techniques. The EU should be talking to the fishing industry about these effective, innovative options instead of simply imposing a unilateral ban. This proposed ban will prevent trawling in large areas of traditional fishing grounds, which are of critical importance to IFPO members and many other Irish fishing vessels.”

The protest takes place at mid-day on 9th May - the Day of Europe. Fishers taking part will “sound the horn of our vessels, as the call of distress it signifies,” says the IBFA.

The IFPO is urging its members to take part. “The key message is that the entire industry is in solidarity in protesting against the actions of the EU,” says Aodh O Donnell.

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Britain’s environment department is to hold consultations with its fishing industry in June over remote electronic monitoring (REM) in vessels over 10 metres in length.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) say it wants to “learn lessons as we go” and work in “open collaboration” with the British industry.

It has described REM as “the clear next step for evidence-based fisheries management” but has acknowledged it is a “big step”.

It has identified priority fisheries and says there are no plans for REM on vessels under 10 metres at this stage.

It has identified challenges, including issues around data ownership, privacy, storage, and ensuring remote monitoring is focused on delivering for “science” and for the fishing industry.

In Ireland, a pilot project to test REM technology has been initiated by the SFPA as part of a wider EU north-western waters initiative.

However, a search for volunteers has attracted little enthusiasm, with industry organisations seeking more consultation.

The SFPA said that consultation on REM was a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

REM allows for the remote monitoring of fishing vessels, providing “valuable information on fishing activity and compliance with regulatory requirements, including the landing obligation”, the SFPA has explained.

“The legislative introduction of REM in fisheries control at European level is nearing certainty, having passed through the initial consultative stage, through the European Parliament and back for final consultations,” its executive chair Paschal Hayes has said.

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The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has described as “an absolute scandal” the Government’s delay in paying out funding to compensate the seafood sector for the impact of Brexit.

The Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) worth almost 1 billion euro was allocated to Ireland by Brussels to cushion the impact of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, and must be spent by the end of this year.

Although the seafood sector is one of the hardest hit, only a small percentage of the BAR total has been promised to compensate for loss of quota and access to British grounds.

Ireland lost 26% of its mackerel quota and 14% of Nephrops (prawns) quota under the final deal.

“It beggars belief that a tranche of money which will provide so much relief to our members is not being disseminated,” KFO chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said.

“ We lag behind our EU counterparts and what’s of most concern to us is that if we don’t distribute this funding by year-end, it’ll be returned to Europe and permanently lost to our fishermen,” he said.

“This is potentially an appalling vista and we’re calling for the most urgent of political action by Minister [for Marine] Charlie McConalogue on this matter,” he said.

This week’s BIM report on seafood statistics for 2022 “underlines the seismic challenge” faced by KFO members, with Dublin Bay prawns now surpassing mackerel as the most valuable wild species for the industry, he noted.

The report also states that the volume of exports fell by 13% to 293,000 tonnes due mainly to the lower quotas of mackerel and blue whiting as a result of Brexit.

“In 2022 alone, we have had more than 12,000 tonnes of mackerel valued at approximately € 18 million taken from our quota as a direct result of Brexit. No business can, nor could, be expected to sustain losses on this scale,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

The KFO has warned that in the absence of financial support and other burden-sharing measures, Ireland’s pelagic sector will shed more than 1,200 jobs by 2030 because of Brexit.

From 2021 to the end of 2023, pelagic fishermen will have had more than 37,000 tonnes of their mackerel quota stripped away because of Brexit, resulting in loss of more than €52million, it warned.

“This fishery is the cornerstone of KFO members’ businesses, with fishermen in the northwest feeling the cold wind from Brexit for more than two years now and further hits to come over the next three years,” it said.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine did not respond to a request for comment.

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Plans to ban commercial fishing in ten per cent of Scottish waters have prompted two fishermen to write a protest song comparing it to another Highland clearance.

Donald MacNeil from Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides and Angus MacPhail, who is the founder of the Scottish group Skipinnish, have recorded “The Clearances Again” to highlight the impact of introducing highly protected marine areas (HMPAs).

“Farewell to the Cliffs of Mingulay

And the shores of the Sandray Sound

And the glow of a boat well laden

Steaming north when you’re homeward bound,” the song starts.

Scottish government proposals for HMPAs would limit fishing and aquaculture in around ten per cent of Scottish waters.

The original Highland clearances involved forced eviction of residents in the Highlands and Scotland’s western islands from the mid-18th century to mind 19th century to allow for grazing sheep.

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