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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”.

Podcast below

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The Irish South and West Fishermen’s Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) has condemned the recent detention of two Irish fishing vessels by the Norwegian coastguard.

IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy said that a breakdown in communications appeared to have led to the detention and questioned whether the EU had passed on the information it received from Norway to the Irish authorities.

Murphy said the two 37-metre-long vessels Ronan Ross and Sarah David had to pay a bond equivalent to 250,000 euro to be released after they were escorted into the Norwegian port of Tromsø by Norwegian Coastguard vessel Svalbard last month.

IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick MurphyIS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy

The two vessels had steamed from west Cork to fish for an Irish quota of Atlanto-Scandian herring in Norwegian waters. They were detained after an inspection by the Norwegian coastguard in the Lopphavet (Lopp Sea) area.

“Basically,we understand that a Norwegian authority decision to change details on a closed area was not transmitted via the European Commission to the Irish authorities before these vessels steamed up to catch a quota of Atlanto-Scandian herring,” Murphy said.

“We are seeking further clarification, but it appears Ireland was not informed of the decision, and the vessels steamed to this area in good faith,” he said.

“Surely the Norwegian authorities could have shown some compassion here if it was a genuine error, and this was explained to them,” he said. “All they have to do is check with the Irish authorities.”

“Norway is seeking more blue whiting off the Irish coast, and it is ironic that they should treat two Irish vessels in this way,” he said. “One wonders how they would feel if two of their vessels were detained here under similar circumstances.”

Murphy said it was “nothing short of bullyboy tactics”.

It is understood there will be a court hearing on the case at a later date.

Asked to respond to the criticisms by the IS&WFPO, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said the matter was one for the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Norwegian police.

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hileThe role of three fishermen in rescuing the crew of a ship off Kerry in 1977 after the violent death of one of their colleagues is recalled in a newly released documentary for the RTÉ Doc on One radio series.

“Skyhope”, produced by Ronan Kelly, recalls how “exotic fun” turned into a “dreadful disaster” in 1977 after a freighter of the same name under the command of Capt Dave Potter went aground near Ballydavid Pier.

Ballydavid PierBallydavid Pier

As newspapers reported at the time, a tug from Holyhead in Wales, the Avon Goth, was standing by and waiting for a clearance in the weather to take the ship in tow.

A newspaper headline of the incident from The Irish Independent, Oct 15 1977A newspaper headline of the incident from The Irish Independent, Oct 15 1977

However, the tug’s lifeboat was called out after two men were injured in a fracas on board the Skyhope.

One of the sailors had buried a meat cleaver in his shipmate’s head, and the documentary narrates how “a comedy of errors” became “a tragedy” after a lifeboat bringing the ship’s crew, and the injured man, ashore was swamped at sea.

The Skyhope at Ballydavid Pier in October 1977The Skyhope at Ballydavid Pier in October 1977

At the request of the Garda, two English fishermen working out of Ballydavid, Malcolm Foster and David Stokes, along with hotelier Billy Granville, had to come to the rescue of the 11 on board the lifeboat – one of whom, a Chilean named Jose Mellada, died after he had been injured in the attack on the ship.

However, at the subsequent inquest, a verdict of accidental drowning was returned, and there was no prosecution.

Artura - SkyhopeArtura - Skyhope

The three rescuers, all of whom have since died, were awarded bravery medals for their efforts. However, Malcolm Foster refused to accept his, stating that he was just doing his “duty”.

Captain Dave Potter with the cook of Afon Goch Captain Dave Potter with the cook of Avon Goch 

Later though, when he and his Danish wife Birthe moved to Denmark, the Irish ambassador in Copenhagen asked her to trick him into visiting the embassy where they had an awards ceremony and a party for him.

“We had the most fantastic day at the embassy – even the ambassador got a little bit drunk,” she recalled in the documentary.

As for the Skyhope, it was broken up for scrap. The ship’s name lived on in the names of racehorses and the poetry of Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide.

Listen to the RTÉ Doc on One produced by Ronan Kelly here

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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue has announced a €25.6 million support package for the Irish pelagic fisheries sector.

The Pelagic Fisheries Support Scheme, funded under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund, 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 cash flow 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.”

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 and 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 concluded: “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 instruct BIM to administer this scheme without delay.”

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

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On-going efforts by fishermen to reduce their environmental impact, increase their efficiency and contribute to scientific data collection are continuing to enhance the sustainability credentials of seafood, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation has claimed.

The major Donegal-based fishing group is also looking for “ways and means of weaning the vessels off diesel.”

“While the fishing industry sometimes struggles to get the recognition it deserves for its importance to the Irish economy or as producers of highly nutritious low impact food, this is proof positive of the sustained work which KFO members are investing into long-term sustainability,” the Organisation’s Chief Scientific and Sustainability Officer, Dr Edward Farrell, has said

A report commissioned by the State’s seafood development agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), earlier this year, to which the KFO had significant input, found that carbon emissions for the sector are less than 2% of those produced in other key food sectors. It also stated that the carbon footprint of small pelagic species, such as mackerel and herring, is a mere fraction of land-based animal protein production.

“The KFO participated in a ground-breaking project called NEPTUNUS, the primary objective of which was to develop a life-cycle inventory database of seafood for the Atlantic Area. In addition to analysing fuel use and catch, the project has provided a carbon footprint for pelagic species, which reflects very positively on the industry here,” according to Dr Farrell. “Killybegs’ proximity to the main fishing grounds and our vessels' seasonal, targeted and selective fishing approach distinguishes them from foreign fleets landing the same species.

“While fuel accounts for the majority of the industry’s emissions, it is important to put this into context and look at the return on that energy investment, which in the case of small pelagic species was considerably higher than for land-based animal protein production.

Dr Farrell also revealed that the KFO is looking for alternatives to diesel as the fuel for its fleet: “We are probing ways and means of weaning the vessels off diesel. The KFO is working with several interested parties and research groups to explore the options, potential and realities of decarbonisation and the energy transition for our members’ vessels. As an industry wholly reliant on natural ecosystems for sustainable food production, the KFO is fully committed to sustainable fishing and ongoing reduction of its carbon footprint. “

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The Irish pelagic sector has received a much-needed boost with the announcement of over €25m in EU aid. The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) has welcomed the news, stating that it is an important “first step” in addressing the massive losses the fishing sector sustained due to Brexit.

According to IFPO chief executive, Aodh O Donnell, the quota transfers from Ireland to the UK post-Brexit created an estimated loss of €28 a year to the Irish fishing industry. The pelagic sector was the hardest hit, and this aid scheme is a welcome first measure in compensating the fleet for this massive loss.

Mr O Donnell confirmed that the scheme has been in the pipeline for some time, and that Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue had made a commitment to introduce it. The State aid scheme will be fully funded by the European Commission and take the form of direct grants to fishing vessels.

While this is a positive development, Mr O Donnell emphasised that the Irish Government needs to collaborate with the fishing industry, coastal communities and the EU to reverse the decline in the seafood sector.

Other EU and non-EU members in Europe are achieving growth, and it’s time for Ireland to support growth too. Building the capacity for sustainable growth with a modern fleet, a skilled workforce and efficient regulatory processes is crucial for the future of the sector.

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A European Court of Auditors report on offshore renewable energy says targets set by the EU in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may be difficult to reach, and the impact on the marine environment hasn’t been sufficiently “identified, analysed or addressed”.

As The Sunday Independent reports, the auditors’ report also expresses “particular” concern about “the unresolved conflict with fisheries in some countries”.

Four EU member states were analysed for the report, but the report’s recommendations apply to all member states, including Ireland.

The report studied progress in Germany and The Netherlands (both of whom have advanced offshore sectors), plus those of France and Spain.

EU member state targets may be delayed by planning and the effect of inflation, it says, but it says this pace may accelerate under changes to the renewable energy directive, requiring member states to designate “renewable go-to areas” on land or at sea for “overriding public interest”.

However, the audit report says the European Commission did not assess the environmental impact and impact on the fishing industry of these increased targets.

Installations of energy infrastructure at sea “may result in a progressive reduction of access to fishing areas, which could lower revenue from fishing and increase competition between fishermen,” it says.

While this may benefit some fish stocks, it claims “an improved fish population on a larger scale is uncertain”.

The report also says the scale of the planned offshore renewable energy roll-out, from a current 16GW of installed capacity to a planned 61GW in 2030 “and beyond”, may result in a “significant” environmental footprint on marine life, which “has not been taken sufficiently into account”.

The EU has argued this will require less than 3pc of the European maritime area and is “compatible with the EU’s biodiversity strategy” — but the report says deploying offshore renewable energy “might influence a much larger proportion of certain habitat types and their biodiversity”.

The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications says it is scrutinising the report, and said it underlined the importance of “plan-led” approach by Ireland to phase two projects.

The first designated maritime area plan for future offshore energy development for the south coast is out for public consultation.

Read The Sunday Independent here

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A €5 million plan to deliver skills for a “sustainable seafood industry” has been initiated by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue.

The strategy, entitled The Next Wave 2023-2028, has been drawn up by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) and is funded by the minister’s department.

It aims to attract new entrants to the seafood sector; create and promote career paths in the seafood sector; deliver "the right courses, to the right people, in the right way"; and build strategic partnerships for growth, BIM says.

“An agile, professional, and skilled workforce is essential for the future sustainability of Ireland’s seafood industry,” Mr McConalogue says.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogueMinister for Marine Charlie McConalogue

“The ambitious goals outlined in this strategy aim to support the industry in navigating future challenges and opportunities. By offering diverse and rewarding career paths, complemented by modern and professional training, I’m confident the industry will be better positioned to attract and retain the talent required for its long-term success,” he says.

The plan comes at a particular crisis point for the fishing industry, with skills in danger of being lost due to the Brexit-related decommissioning scheme in the whitefish sector.

"New skills are required that reflect recent technology advancements"

The strategy “seeks to address a number of challenges faced by the fishing sector, as identified in an analysis of the  Irish fishing fleet labour force, commissioned by BIM in 2022”, BIM says.

“In addition to delivering skills that are currently required, BIM will determine and plan for future skill requirements, ensuring business and technical skills,” it says.

“The skills needed by the Irish seafood industry are evolving significantly,”BIM chief executive Caroline Bocquel says.

The Chief Executive Officer of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Caroline BocquelThe Chief Executive Officer of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Caroline Bocquel

“Although traditional skills remain extremely important and are at the core of the training BIM provides, new skills are required that reflect recent technology advancements, regulations and market demands,” she says.

“The development of skills to protect our natural environment, while operating a sustainable and profitable business model, are integral to the continued growth and success of the industry,” she says.

“ We are also working to develop a range of sustainability programmes and modules across BIM’s training and client services that will enhance knowledge and insights and allow the industry to meet rapidly changing demands,” she says.

The Irish seafood sector is an important and valuable contributor to the national economy, valued at €1.3 billion in 2022 and employing almost 16,000 adults, many of whom live and work in Ireland’s coastal communities, BIM says.

“The process of catching, growing and adding product value through seafood processing, retail and food service plays a key role in the cultural, social and economic fabric of coastal communities,”it says.

The Next Wave 2023-2028 can be downloaded below as a pdf file

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