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It’s time to ask serious questions about the EU’s attitude to Ireland and the Irish fishing industry, according to the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, which suspects that the European Union may be engaged in “closed doors” discussions with Iceland to give away more rights to fishing in Irish waters.

“There is a history of the EU Commission rushing through deals of this nature on before holiday periods to minimise opportunities for pushback and objections,” says the Chief Executive of the IFPO, Aodh O’Donnell. “We fear that this giveaway of more foreign access to Irish waters is being agreed behind closed doors. There is a lack of clarity, and Christmas is upon us, and we are very concerned.”

Iceland is seeking access to fish in Irish waters, in a new deal being negotiated with the EU. The country is not a member, but wants to catch valuable blue whiting in Irish waters. The species are no longer available in Iceland’s own extensive waters and Iceland has a record of arbitrarily increasing fishing quotas in its own waters, denuding stocks, according to industry critics.

“Bi-lateral negotiations are underway and may be near finalisation without our input or adequate consultation with Irish interests,” O’Donnell alleges. “We cannot let the EU off the hook. Ireland says to EU “No Icelandic Deal without Reciprocity. We will not stand idly by as EU negotiate a Norway type deal with Iceland while what it wants can destroy the Irish fishing industry.”

"we will not stand by and watch more plundering of our rich maritime resources by another non-EU country"

“The deal as it stands is nothing less than outrageous,” says Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA). “Blue whiting is abundant and sustainably managed in Irish waters. However, allowing access to another non-EU country would be at the further expense of the livelihoods of Irish fishermen and the sustainability of the stock. We fear another sell-out. Iceland has a massive fishing fleet including factory ships that will covet our stock. There is no justice in allocating them rights to fish in our waters. The EU already threw Ireland under the bus when it came to the Brexit as we took the hardest hits. As a result of that disastrous transfer of Irish fishing quotas to the UK, Ireland has decommissioned 39 vessels and downsized our national fleet. Now, we find ourselves again in an unbelievable situation in granting a Third Country access whilst Ireland’s small fleet and onshore factories struggle with reduced fishing quotas.”

According to information, Iceland's fishing fish blue whiting in Irish waters would benefit that country to the value of €22.5 million, with no reciprocal benefit for Ireland.

“We aim to work in harmony with other EU Member States, but we will not stand by and watch more plundering of our rich maritime resources by another non-EU country,” says O Donnell.

“We fail to understand why our Minister and his officials are hastening an agenda driven by the EU Commission and to the benefit of an Iceland as a non-EU member. Why have we not learned lessons from the past?”

The industry organisations have called on Minister for the Marine Charlie MacConalogue, to immediately block any EU deal with Iceland.

Published in Fishing
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A young fisherman has died in a deck accident off the south-west coast, bringing to two the number of fishermen who have lost their lives this week in Irish waters.

The second fatality in four days occurred on board a prawn trawler working some 100 nautical miles west of the Blasket islands.

The young man was found unconscious, and the alarm was raised. He was given CPR, with Medico Cork assistance.

An Irish Coast Guard helicopter was en route when it was informed through Valentia Coast Guard that the man had died.

The vessel was en route back to Castletownbere last night.

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy said the man was a respected and much-loved member of the community and said the industry is "reeling from this news".

The body of a young crewman on board a razor clam vessel which sank off the Louth coast earlier this week was recovered early on Sunday. A second man on board was rescued and taken to hospital.

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The body of a young fisherman who had been reported missing after a boat sank off Co Louth earlier this week has been recovered.

The young crewman had been one of two crew on board a razor clam boat when it sank north of Dunany Point in Dundalk Bay, Co Louth, early on Tuesday.

One man was recovered and was treated in hospital in Drogheda, and a search was mounted for the second man.

The man’s body was found by Garda divers early on Thursday close to where the vessel was located.

The location was identified after the fishing charity LAST (Lost at Sea Tragedies) sought the assistance of marine survey specialist StatKraft Marine.

It provided a vessel equipped with multi-beam sonar to help survey the search area.

Emergency services had received a Mayday call from the vessel when it began taking in water at around 8.45 am on Tuesday, December 12th.

Commissioners of Irish Lights vessel Granuaile joined in the search for the missing fishermanCommissioners of Irish Lights vessel Granuaile joined in the search for the missing fisherman

The Dublin-based Coast Guard helicopter R116, along with Coast Guard units attached to Clogherhead, Greenore and Drogheda and the Clogherhead RNLI lifeboat participated in the search, along with a number of local vessels and the Commissioners of Irish Lights vessel Granuaile.

Published in Coastguard
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The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has recommended that the Minister for Justice should consider carrying out an audit of the crewing arrangements of any fishing vessel or vessels to ensure non-EEA crew are compliant with the rules governing work permits.

It also says the minister should also ensure there is a robust system in place to ensure those given permits have a sufficient knowledge of English to be able to communicate with fellow crew on board Irish registered fishing vessels.

The MCIB recommendations have been made on foot of its investigation into the circumstances surrounding a serious leg injury sustained by a crew member on board a vessel, the John B, off the east coast in July 2020.

The incident occurred when the crew’s leg became trapped between the centre weight and the weight retaining cage at the stern of the vessel during a prawn fishing operation on July 17th, 2020.

The load was adjusted allowing the injured crew member to extricate his trapped leg from the grip of the centre weight, and other crew provided first aid.

The owners were informed, the vessel steamed to the nearest port, Howth, and the man was taken to Beaumont Hospital emergency department by private vehicle.

No external medical or emergency assistance was sought or requested by the skipper or the owners, the report notes.

The report concludes that no risk assessment for hauling the nets was shared with the crew, and some were employed without mandatory training.

It says the skipper was “inexperienced on the vessel and relied on his crew to recover the gear unsupervised, while he remained in the wheelhouse”.

It says evidence from the skipper asserting that the crew member had been warned about the dangers of standing on the weight while recovering the fishing gear, but continued to do so, “is not supported by any detail or any other evidence”.

It also says this assertion is denied by the casualty.

It says the design and layout of the fishing gear on this vessel was poor, making communication between the winch operator and deck crew difficult.

It says the winch operator could not see the crewmembers feeding the nets on to the reels, and clear lines of communication were also not in place, given that the winch operator could not see the crewmembers feeding the nets on to the reels.

“ Had there been a safe design and planned effective communications in place effective supervision could have been adhered to,”it says.

“ Communications in general onboard the vessel was hampered by a language barrier between crewmembers,” it says and there was a dispute over the number of crew on board during the trip.

The MCIB says it “appears to be the more probable case on the basis of the evidence available” that the crew comprised five and the skipper on the trip in question, and not the normal crew of six and the skipper.

“One man less in the crew complement can of course increase the fatigue factor and also increase the workload on the remaining crew,” the report says

“In addition, there is the issues as to appropriate manning for particular operations. The Working Time Regulation records provided raise some issues as to how many of the crew were working on the operation of deploying and recovering the nets on the day in question,”it says.

“Given the experience of the crew, the nature of the operations and the nature of the trip, a crew of six and a skipper would have been more appropriate on the vessel,” it says.

Once the incident occurred, given the seriousness of the injury, the skipper should have contacted Medico Cork through the Coast Guard Radio Station for advice and arranged safe evacuation to the hospital, but this did not occur, it says.

“ The owners and operators of the vessel did not comply with a variety of legislation in place governing operations and safety of the crew of an Irish registered fishing vessel,”it says.

“It has not been possible to determine definitively who was the employer of the casualty or the other crew members at the time, given the lack of documentation,”it says, and there is an issue with determining the owner.

“ It is essential on any fishing vessel to have clarity on ownership and on the employer given that the regulatory regime imposes duties on owners and on employers,”the MCIB says.

The vessel was submitted for decommissioning, and the report makes a number of recommendations addressed to the registered owners, to the Minister for Justice, Minister for Transport and Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

The full report and recommendations are on the MCIB website

Published in MCIB

The outcome of the annual EU Fisheries Council quota negotiations has been described as “acceptable” but with “much more left to do”.

This is the view of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Association after the announcement by Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue of gains for Ireland, particularly in additional mackerel, an important species for the Donegal fleet.

However, fishermen on the South Coast will not be happy with reductions and by-catches for whitefish in the Celtic Sea: Cod, Haddock, Whiting and Pollock.

The South East Fish Producers’ Organisation had warned before the negotiations that such reduction would have serious consequences for the fleet and coastal communities dependent on fishing.

The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue,The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue

The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue, at the talks in Brussels for the last time before he retires from his post at the end of this month, says he is “pleased that the talks regained some of their raison d'être.”

This refers to his prediction before the talks that, with decisions on many TACs (Total Allowable Catches) and quotas between Norway and the UK having concluded ahead of the Council Meeting, Ireland could achieve more. Over the last three years, he had complained that because this situation was done in reverse, the annual fisheries negotiations had become irrelevant.

“We’ve secured an increase in one of our key stocks, mackerel and while it’s wholly merited and overdue, it doesn’t undo the woeful impact which Brexit has had on our pelagic fisheries with a hit of up to 25% on our bottom line on this stock alone. We’ll therefore continue our campaign of ‘burden sharing’ with gusto whereby all coastal member states share the pain of Brexit equally and proportionally.

“For pelagic stocks, the outcome is predominantly favourable notwithstanding the 9% reduction in mackerel when the Brexit effect is taken into account. We’ve secured a 23% increase in blue whiting, a 20% increase in boarfish, a 20% increase in North West herring, a 17% increase in albacore tuna and finally a 23% reduction in Atlanto Scandia herring. “The Commission has also provided assurance that the issue of the massive overfishing of mackerel by Norway and the Faroes in the Northeast Atlantic which is jeopardising the sustainable management of the stock is a priority. I’ve put on record that we are already paying the price with a 5% cut for 2024 instead of a 10-20% increase had the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice been followed in recent years.

“We’ve reached agreement on a TAC for cod in the North West area 6a for the first time since 2011 as well as reductions in the balance transfer and access for blue whiting in the EU/Norway agreement. For the most part, the news is also positive for whitefish stocks in the North West with a very significant increase of just over 60 % in haddock in 6a.

“Similarly, the Commission has committed to a change in horse mackerel which will happen if the benchmark for the stock for the first quarter of 2024 is significantly revised. The Commission will have to negotiate directly with the UK on this issue.

“The reductions and by-catches for certain whitefish in the Celtic Sea – off the South Coast – namely cod, haddock and whiting as well as pollock in the South and Northwest is a significant concern and will undoubtedly have socio-economic consequences further down the road.

“As expected and in an arrangement which dates back to 1983, ‘The Hague Preferences’ were delivered - which see Ireland getting elevated quotas for a number of key species.

I would also like to acknowledge the commitment and efforts of Minister McConalogue and his officials, and while there’s a long way to go to regain the fish that we want, this does represent a positive step.

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' OrganisationAodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation, commented on the Council outcome: "While the commitment of Minister McConalogue and his team in the December Council process is fully acknowledged, the level of outcomes for Ireland are driven by a historical lack of fair opportunity under the Common Fisheries Policy. We have been locked into this CFP for the last 40 years. Ireland must remain focused on reversing the ongoing decline of the sector that was exacerbated when 40% of the quota given to the UK post-Brexit came from Ireland. 

"Representative bodies must unite further and work collaboratively with the Department to develop a strategy to renew the sector. This must secure the transfer back to Ireland of fishing opportunities which were given away in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that resulted from Brexit. The Council agreement of a transfer of some mackerel to Ireland from Denmark is a vital first step in mitigating a severe quota cut of 9% . This is a paradigm of what can be achieved to turn the tide.

Published in Fishing
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Co-operation, mutual understanding and respect amongst all involved in offshore wind energy development is the best way forward for this island nation. It is a welcome and important step in this process and the protection of traditional fishing grounds that fishing representative organisations say they have been given a guarantee that they will be consulted and involved in the drawing up of the South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan and they are satisfied with that.

This has emerged from consultations about the proposal by the Department, which was announced last July. It proposed wind energy development is in a marine space of about 8,600 square kilometres, stretching along the Cork coastline into Waterford and Wexford.

Eight major fishing organisations representing catching, fish-farming, processing, and inshore sectors - the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the South East Regional Inshore Fisherman's Forum and IFA Aquaculture –made a joint submission to the Department.

Proposed South Coast Maritime AreaProposed South Coast Maritime Area

John Lynch, Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Coast Fish Producers’ Organisation, told me: “We want to be involved. No fishermen is happy with ORE (offshore renewable energy) coming into their fishing grounds, but we have to be involved in what is going to happen and it appears that this is now accepted, which is important for the industry.”

Paul Gallagher of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications for Offshore Energy Long Term Strategic Planning, said: “The State, in co-operation with local communities and with consideration for other maritime activities, including fishing, seafood production and environmental protection, will determine the appropriate location for future offshore wind developments.”

Up to now the wind energy development industry has led the debate, calling for rapid planning decisions. Several of the development areas suggested are on traditional fishing areas, which could have huge, potentially damaging economic consequences for coastal communities and the seafood industry.

“I am happy enough that we will be consulted. This is only right for fishermen and the correct way to proceed,” John Lynch said. “Ireland’s seafood industry recognises that an orderly development of offshore wind energy is critical to the future relationship between the seafood and offshore renewable industries. That relationship is essential if the State is going to meet its targets for ORE development,” said Mr.Lynch.

Further consultation about the development will be held in the New Year. A date for the next statutory phase of the Draft DMAP will be finalised in early 2024 and communicated by the Department.

Published in Marine Planning

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue TD has announced that the Tier 1 and Tier 2 polyvalent vessels that had no authorisation to fish mackerel in December 2021, and who availed of aid under the Temporary Fleet Tie-up Scheme in that month, will not have the payment from that scheme deducted from their aid under this new Pelagic Fisheries Support Scheme.

The Pelagic Fisheries Support Scheme, funded under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund, provides a €25.6 million support package for the Irish pelagic fisheries sector. It will compensate owners of Refrigerated Sea Water (RSW) pelagic vessels and polyvalent Tier 1 and Tier 2 vessels that have suffered losses of mackerel quota over the period 2021-2023 as a result of the quota transfers to the EU under Brexit. The support is designed to stabilise cashflow and assist vessel owners to re-structure their operations in light of the loss of earnings associated with the reduction of available quota under the TCA. The short-term aid is essential financial support to allow the 23 RSW vessels and the 27 polyvalent Tier 1 and Tier 2 vessels sufficient time to put in place longer-term restructuring measures.

Minister McConalogue said: “This €25.6 million support for the RSW pelagic fleet segment recognises the impact of quota transfers to the UK from the EU under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), and in particular that this segment of the Irish fleet has suffered the largest TCA related quota reductions for the main target species of mackerel. I welcome the engagement of the Commission in clarifying this important aspect of the implementation of this scheme, which now means that the maximum aid possible under the scheme may be paid to the affected vessels”

The Pelagic Fisheries Support Scheme was one of the recommendations of the Seafood Taskforce appointed by the Minister. It is restricted to eligible vessels in the RSW pelagic segment as well as Polyvalent Tier 1 and Tier 2 vessels fishing for mackerel in 2021 and 2022. Payments under the scheme represent the value of reduced fishing opportunities that resulted from the actual loss of mackerel quota in 2021 and 2022 arising from the quota transfer of quota to the UK. In monetary terms, the loss of mackerel per vessel over the same period, equates to the loss of one month’s fishing opportunities per year, with payment calculated on the average monthly turnover per vessel, less cost of fuel and provisions, over the period 2018-2020, compensating for one month per annum for 2021 and 2022.

The Minister added: “The RSW pelagic fleet segment has suffered significant quota loss of some 20,130 tonnes worth approximately €27.3 million, and this much needed support will go some way to supporting the segment to adjust to the changed situation we find ourselves in so as to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing fleet into the future. Now that I have secured State Aid approval from the EU Commission, I will be instructing BIM to administer this scheme without delay.”

Scheme information, once launched, will be available on BIMs website at BIM - The Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund

Published in Fishing
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As Afloat reported earlier, Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue, T.D, today attended the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

The agenda included an initial exchange of views on the proposal for fishing opportunities in the Atlantic and the North Sea in 2024, 2025, and 2026.

The EU shares most of the commercial fish stocks in the Atlantic and North Sea with Third Countries such as the UK and Norway. The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, negotiates with Third Countries on the setting of fishing opportunities for shared stocks. These negotiations began in late October and are currently ongoing.

Minister McConalogue said: “The negotiations between the EU and the UK and Norway on shared stocks are still ongoing therefore we don’t have definitive figures for most of the stocks of relevance to the Irish fleet as yet. However, today’s Council is an opportunity for me to highlight Ireland’s priorities for these negotiations. In particular, I emphasised the importance of securing a timely, fair and balanced conclusion to these negotiations. This is key to providing stability for our fishers and ensuring the sustainable management of shared stocks.”

The Minister added: “Ireland appreciates the importance of a timely conclusion to these negotiations, but we cannot accept an agreement at any cost. I have consistently stated that any agreement with Third Countries must be fair and balanced and provide a level playing field.”

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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue T.D, is today attending a meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels where the Council is discussing Council Conclusion on the Long-term Vision for Rural Areas.

The Council agreed that support for rural areas should reflect the pivotal role rural areas are playing in meeting the economic, environmental and social challenges the EU and its member States are facing, including the ones created by the current geopolitical situation.

Minister McConalogue highlighted the need for all EU policies to support rural communities.

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There is a growing feeling in the fishing industry that there is a lack of coordination between various Government Departments in developing marine, specially designated protected areas.

This has been particularly highlighted by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, which has claimed that the initial proposed Special Area of Conservation along the Porcupine Shelf and Southern Canyons, followed by the announcement of a Special Protection Area (SPA) in the North West Irish Sea in July, constitute what it describes as “the most chaotic form of governance that will ultimately alienate fishermen, driving a wedge between them and Government.

There is an acceptance within the industry that offshore developments, part of Government policy, will affect fishing, but there is what has been described to me as “deep unease”.

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Published in Tom MacSweeney
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