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The Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association has called on the Minister for the Marine to "do his duty and stand up for the industry he is mandated to represent."

The Chief Executive of the Association, Brendan Byrne, has described as "draconian and brutal" the European Commission's decision to withdraw from the Irish industry the derogation it had held to weigh fish at factories rather than landing ports. The Commission has cited suspicion of fraud in the process, which is rejected by the IFPEA, to justify its decision. There are 160 processing companies in Ireland.

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogueMarine Minister Charlie McConalogue

Mr Byrne has called on the Commission to produce evidence to prove the charges against the organisation. "We don't have any knowledge of what we are accused of." The major Fish Producer Organisations have also called for the production of evidence.

Speaking on Tom MacSweeney's Maritime Ireland Radio Show, (Iisten to the interview below) Mr Byrne said the IFPEA is confident of its position and will defend it strongly. The Commission and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, and the Minister should produce the evidence; he says: "Show us what we are being accused of."

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An Irish marine biologist has been appointed head of the EU’s monitoring body for the Common Fisheries Policy.

Dr Susan Steele, who grew up on West Cork’s Beara peninsula, has been appointed executive director of the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).

She is currently chair and chief executive of the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA).

The EFCA’s primary role is to organise coordination and cooperation between national control and inspection activities, ensuring the rules of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy are “respected and applied effectively”.

Based in Vigo, Spain, it cooperates with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency to support national authorities.

The EFCA confirmed Dr Steele’s appointment on Thursday (Apr 22), stating that she has a “solid background in fisheries management and control!.

Dr Steele had been head of the SPFA since 2013, and was previously head of the innovation at the national Seafood Development Centre from 2009.

She also worked with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) as head of aquaculture and business from 2006 to 2009.

She holds a PhD from the National University of Ireland, an MBA, a Masters in Education (M.Ed) and a bachelor degree in marine biology.

She is expected to take up her new European post on September 1st, 2021.

Ireland’s SFPA was recently directed by the EU to withdraw its control plan for weighing fish landed by Irish vessels, following an EU audit in 2018 conducted in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

Last year, the EFCA recorded 38,452 inspections at sea and ashore, leading to 1787 suspected infringements in EU member states.

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A Donegal Port has recorded landings of unusually large golden redfish which have been rarely seen in these waters.

Up to ten of the species were landed into Greencastle, Co Donegal and acquired for sale by Stefan Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway.

Several of the fish were over 6 kg, which is the heaviest Griesbach says he has handled.

The golden redfish, or sebastes norvegicus, is prevalent in Iceland, and can be found along the North American coast, south of Greenland and along the Norwegian coast.

In July 2014, a 5.9kg specimen was caught by Aran islander Tomás Conneely of the Ocean Harvester II, while fishing for prawns on the Porcupine.

Several of the fish were over 6 kg, which is the heaviest Griesbach says he has handled Photo: Joe O'ShaughnessySeveral of the fish were over 6 kg, which is the heaviest Griesbach says he has handled Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy

The cold-water species swims at depths of 100 to 1,000 metres and can live for 60 years and weigh up to 15kg, according to rare fish expert Dr Declan Quigley.

A specimen was reported from Isle of Man waters in the Irish Sea in 1927, and seven juveniles, which may have travelled in larvae dispersed from more northern latitudes, were authenticated between 1968 and 1978 in the Dingle Bay area.

Conneely’s catch seven years ago was served by Jess Murphy of Kai Restaurant to Galway arts festival visitors as a “ceviche” or Peruvian seafood starter, soaking it in coconut milk and lemon, along with rapeseed, soaked red onions, lime juice, avocado and coriander.

“Its flesh was so delicate and we felt everyone should have the opportunity to try it – so we went for the starter for many rather than a main course for a few,” she explained at the time.

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The European Commission has withdrawn Ireland’s control plan for weighing seafood catches as a result of lack of confidence in the Irish monitoring system.

As The Times Ireland edition reports today, all fish landed by both small Irish inshore vessels and larger supertrawlers with substantial mackerel catches must now be weighed at point of landing – as in on or close to piers.

The European Commission’s decision is to be implemented with “immediate effect,” the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed.

Brussels has revoked a derogation granted to the Irish industry to weigh catches away from the place of landing, such as in fish factories.

It will not affect other EU vessels landing into Irish ports – such as Belgian and French vessels which then weigh their catch in Europe.

The decision follows an EU audit in 2018 of controls for Ireland’s pelagic fisheries – as in mackerel, herring and blue whiting – in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

The 2018 audit had identified irregularities, including the manipulation of weighing systems in some instances.

The SFPA said that these irregularities were “subsequently confirmed in an administrative inquiry” which it conducted.

The EU move is the latest in a series of setback for the Irish fishing industry, already facing a 15 per cent overall reduction in quotas due to Brexit.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue has also been engaging with the European Commission over a “payback” from pelagic quotas as a result of under-reporting catches.

Whereas the “payback” issue affects one sector of the industry, the entire Irish fleet is affected by the new weighing rules.

National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) secretary Alex Crowley said it had not yet heard directly from the SFPA on the issue.

“We had expected that any sanctions would only apply to the pelagic sector, as this is where the irregularities were found,” Mr Crowley said.

“A lot of smaller boats landing fish would transport their catch to first point of sale themselves, so we are waiting to see what the implications of the EU decision will be,” he said.

SFPA chair Dr Susan Steele said it would be “contacting producer organisations and industry representatives as well as holding local meetings to ensure that the industry is familiar with the changes that are required”,

“The accurate weighing of catches remains the responsibility of industry,” Dr Steele said.

“ The EU’s decision, however, will involve changes to weighing practices. We will be working to ensure that industry can introduce these efficiently and in a way that assures compliance with EU regulations,” she said.

“This decision is a clear marker of tougher fisheries controls across the EU,” she added, stating that the SFPA “takes its commitments under the CFP very seriously”.

Read The Times Ireland here

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Inshore fishermen are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate why stocks of shellfish have declined and seaweed has stopped growing in parts of the Waterford estuary.

As The Times Ireland edition reports today, the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) is also appealing to the EPA to refuse a revised discharge license application sought by a gas-powered plant at Great Island, near Campile, Co Wexford, on the confluence of the Suir and Barrow river estuaries.

NIFA, which was established in 2017 to represent some 200 commercial inshore boats of less than 12 metres in length, works closely with the National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation (NIFO), which also opposes the license application.

NIFA general secretary Alex Crowley says that the Waterford estuary supports important inshore fisheries for shrimp, whelk, lobster, velvet and green crab, and there is also pelagic trawling for sprat and herring and dredging for various bivalve species.

The estuary is close to an “important spawning ground for a number of commercially important species including Celtic Sea herring”, the organisations state.

Crowley says that local fishermen have noticed how shrimp, whelk and velvet crab stocks have recorded a “noticeable decline”.

The fishermen claim that there has been “significant die off” of bivalve shellfish species, and seaweed no longer grows in the intertidal zone for “some miles” downstream of the plant’s current outfall pipe.

SSE Generation’s 464MW natural gas-fired combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant dates from 2015, replacing the former oil-fired station run by the ESB.

All large combustion plants are now required to renew their emissions licence under the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive, and SSE’s application for a licence review is part of this process, the company says.

The company describes the plant as “one of the cleanest and most-efficient power stations on the island of Ireland, generating enough electricity to power half a million Irish homes”.

It says it works with the EPA on an ongoing basis to ensure it is compliant with its licence conditions at all times.

However, NIFA is concerned that the EPA learned last September that some 1300 tonnes of chemicals were being discharged into the estuary under a license covering just five tonnes.

NIFA is specifically concerned with the use of chlorine, in the form of sodium hypochlorite, which is added to cooling water at intake to prevent fouling of pipes within the power station.

The EPA said it had investigated the allegations and found SSE to be “compliant with the license limits on the concentration of chlorine in discharged water”.

The EPA said it found no evidence that SEE’s discharge was having “such an effect on shellfish and fish mortality”, and said there was “insufficient evidence to conclude which individual pressures, if any, are contributing to impacts on marine life in the estuary”.

The EPA said the submission by NIFA would be considered as part of the revised license application under the relevant legislation

Read The Times here

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Ireland’s seafood sector remains “resilient” in spite of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) says.

Its annual Business of Seafood report says that Ireland’s seafood economy declined in 2020, with a drop of 12% (-€142million) compared to 2019, giving a total value of €1.1 billion.

It says this was driven mainly by a reduction of 18% in domestic consumption due to the closure of the food-service sector with additional impacts of a 17% reduction (-€44 million) in private investment and an 8% decline (-€50 million) in exports.

Global markets faced severe disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic, and when added to the continued uncertainty from the UK’s departure from the EU, this made for challenging trading conditions.

It says that despite these challenges the seafood sector remained resilient and adapted to the disruption the market faced. While there was a decrease of 18% in domestic consumption to €406 million, mainly due to a fall in sales in foodservice, this was somewhat offset by a 6% increase (€18m) in retail sales.

There was also a reduction in private investment to €213 million (-17%) reflecting the uncertainty in the markets leading to cautious activity from many seafood businesses. There was also a decline in our seafood balance of trade (exports – imports) which fell by €28 million (-10%) to €263 million.

Overall investment in the sector was €416 million, equivalent to 39% of seafood GDP, a slight increase compared to 2019, underlining the importance of strong public sector support through times of economic turbulence.

Ireland imported some €327 million euro worth of fish last year, with €188million coming from Britain.

While exports of Irish seafood to European and Asian markets were hit, Ireland’s mackerel landings drove an 87 per cent increase in the value of exports to Africa and a 43 per cent increase to the Middle East.

The assessment states that the total value of Ireland’s seafood economy in 2020 was just under €1.1 billion - a decrease of 12% (-€142million) on 2019.

BIM says this was “driven mainly by the severe disruption in global markets”, while “the continued uncertainty of the UK’s departure from the EU made for challenging trading conditions”.

“Despite the pandemic, and even with reduced demand in the foodservice sector, employment in the seafood sector remained stable in 2020,”it says, with over 16,000 employed directly and indirectly in the seafood industry.

Employment remained “high” in coastal regions, generating “significant socioeconomic value in these areas”, particularly Donegal, Cork, Galway-Clare and along the east coast.

“Undoubtedly 2020 was a challenging year for the seafood sector but yet again the sector displayed its ability to adjust and refocus to the available market opportunities,”Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue said.

“The Irish seafood sector sells a lot of its produce to foodservice markets in Europe and in Asia which experienced lengthy lockdowns significantly impacting sales,”BIM chief executive Jim O’Toole said.

He said the industry showed “great agility” during the year, switching where possible from supplying hospitality to supplying the retail market and online sales.

Domestic consumption amounted to €406m, down 18%, exports-imports were valued at €263m, down 10% and private investment was valued at €213, down 17%, BIM says.

However, there was an increase of 9% on government investment – an increase to €203m.

Overall investment in the sector was €416 million, equivalent to 39% of seafood GDP, a slight increase compared to 2019, it says.

Some 346 million euro worth in landings was recorded in Irish ports last year, with Killybegs, Co Donegal recording 112 million euro and Castletownbere, Co Cork, recording 104 million euro worth of landings.

Some 406 million euro in domestic sales value involved 316 million euro in retail and 90 million euro in “food service”.

Top selling species were salmon at €120m and cod at€46m, and the main export markets were the EU, valued at €321m, Britain at €93m and Africa at €75m

The volume of seafood produced by the Irish seafood sector surpassed 220,000 tonnes with a value of €394m, it says.

While less than 20% of this volume was produced by the aquaculture sector, it contributed 46% of the total value.

Species by value:

  • Salmon €127m (+13%)
  • Irish Rock Oysters €37m (-19%)
  • Seabed Cultured Mussels €7m (-15%)
  • Rope mussels €6m (-11%)
  • Other finfish €2m (+12%)
  • Other shellfish €1m (-6%)

By volume:

  • Salmon 13,400 (+14%)
  • Irish Rock Oysters 9,000 (-14%)
  • Seabed Cultured Mussels 4,400 (-11%)
  • Rope mussels 10,300 (-1%)
  • Other finfish 600 (-1%)
  • Other shellfish 300 (-1%)
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Marine environment and inshore fishing groups have welcomed a temporary reinstatement of a ban on larger vessels trawling within six nautical miles of the Irish coast.

As The Times Ireland edition reports, Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue has also welcomed the decision by the Court of Appeal to reinstate a policy directive underpinning the ban, pending a full hearing of the case in late June.

The National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) paid tribute yesterday to Mr McConalogue’s department.

IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said hoped it would “pave the way for full restoration of the ban at the next court hearing”.

“Much of the activity inside the six nautical mile limit by a small number of larger vessels is over for the winter, so it won’t make any practical difference now,” Padraig Whooley of the IWDG pointed out.

However, for marine mammals like the recent Arctic walrus recorded on Kerry’s Valentia island, it is a “positive move”, he said.

NIFA secretary Alex Crowley also said the ruling was very positive in ensuring the sustainability of stocks for some 80 per cent of the Irish fleet.

However, the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy said that the directive still required scientific backing to support it.

The policy directive was introduced in March 2019, stating that from January 1st 2020 “all trawling by large vessels, over 18 metres in length overall, in coastal waters inside Ireland’s 6-mile zone was to cease, other than for a sprat fishery which was to be phased out during 2020 and 2021”.

Following a judicial review by two fishermen, the High Court made an order in favour of the applicants last October and the policy directive was declared “void/or of no legal effect”.

Read more in The Times here

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., today confirmed that agreement has been reached at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to set provisional quotas for EU fishermen in line with scientific advice for fish stocks for the period up to 31 July 2021.

The Minister stated, “Our ambition is to achieve a satisfactory conclusion of the negotiations between EU and UK on setting TACs and quotas for the full year for the stocks shared with the UK. These consultations are ongoing and have not yet been concluded. In the meantime, this is a practical measure to provide continuity for our fishing fleets, because the existing interim quotas expire at the end of March.” 

At the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers in December last year, Ministers agreed to set interim Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for the first quarter of 2021, pending the outcome of the negotiations on a future relationship with the UK.

The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has been engaged in consultations with the UK on setting fishing opportunities for shared stocks for 2021 since early February. While progress is being made in these consultations and an agreement with the UK has not to date been reached, setting provisional TACs and quotas for EU fishermen for seven months will provide certainty and continuity for the fishing industry.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.DThe Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D

The Minister said, “I am hopeful that the negotiations with the UK will be finalised shortly, but even the best estimates would not have the full year quotas in place by the end of March. As soon as the consultations with the UK are complete, I will be seeking to have Council adopt the EU quotas for the full year without delay.” 

In line with the EU / UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, these provisional quotas for 7 months will follow scientific advice. The Council agreed increases in the provisional quotas for important stocks such as Monkfish in Area 7 (+8%) and Nephrops in the Porcupine Bank (+25%), compared to 2020. The provisional quota for the pollock stocks has remained at the level set for the first three months reflecting the precautionary advice from ICES.

For pelagic species, including Mackerel, Arctic herring and Blue Whiting, the full twelve-month quotas has been agreed by Council.

The Minister said, “I am pleased with the outcome of the consultations with Norway in respect of Blue Whiting. The ICES advice is for a 20% cut in this stock and this advice is being followed. I took a strong line internally in the EU in relation to the recently concluded EU negotiations with Norway. As a result, EU negotiated successfully to reduce the customary transfer of this stock to Norway. This reduced transfer of EU Blue Whiting to Norway has resulted in the necessary scientific cut to the Total Allowable Catch being significantly mitigated As a result Ireland’s quota has been reduced by only 8%, giving us a quota of 35,373 tonnes. The level of transfer of EU Blue Whiting to Norway for 2021 has been set at the lowest transfer level we have seen and represents a recognition at EU level of the need to use every opportunity to improve the situation for our pelagic fleet.”

The Minister welcomed the progress that had been made to date in the EU-UK consultations. He added, “It is encouraging that the UK are engaging in these consultations in a pragmatic and cooperative way. An agreement with the UK would provide much needed certainty to our fishing industry. An agreement with the UK must be fair and balanced and provide a level playing field in order to protect the long-term sustainability of our shared stocks and our fishing industry.”

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The fishing industry is "one hundred per cent united" in what it wants the Government's new Seafood Task Force to do for the industry, according to the Chief Executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers' Organisation in Castletownbere.

CEO Patrick Murphy said in an interview that all sectors of the industry were united in their approach, writes Tom MacSweeney.

He said that fishing had been devastated and was reduced to being "just a memory" in his area because of the previous way decommissioning of the fleet had been forced on fishermen.

The key points the industry is seeking are a fair share-out of the Brexit fishing impact amongst all EU nations and a reversal of the discrimination shown against Ireland; that any package of aids to the industry should prioritise the most affected and that the Task Force must continue in existence until the coastal communities are properly protected for their future.

Listen to Patrick Murphy here

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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue T.D. has welcomed the decision of the Court of Appeal to temporarily reinstate the Policy Directive excluding large vessels from trawling in inshore waters within six miles of the coast. This will apply at least until the full hearing of the case by the Court of Appeal in late June.

After hearing the motion on Friday 19th March last, the Court was persuaded that the balance of justice leaned in favour of the State at this time and granted a stay on the order of the High Court up until the hearing of the substantive appeal in June, at which time the matter of the stay will be reconsidered by the Court.

Minister McConalogue commented today “I am pleased to hear that the Court of Appeal has allowed for the reinstatement of the Policy Directive. This decision will mean that vessels over 18 metres in length are prohibited from trawling inside our 6 miles zone, at least until late June, except for a restricted sprat fishery, which would usually not occur during the late spring/summer period. The stay has only been granted up until the June hearing.”

The Policy Directive was introduced in March 2019, following the decision of the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine that from 1 January 2020 all trawling by large vessels, over 18 metres in length overall, in coastal waters inside Ireland’s 6 mile zone was to cease, other than for a sprat fishery which was to be phased out during 2020 and 2021.

A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen who successfully challenged the validity of the Policy Directive. On 6th October 2020, the High Court made an order in favour of the applicants and the Policy Directive was declared void/or of no legal effect. A stay on the order was refused by the High Court on 10th December last. The Court of Appeal has now reinstated the Policy Directive at least until the full hearing of the appeal. The substantive hearing by the Court of Appeal is due to take place on the 22nd and 23rd June.

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