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Irish fishing industry bodies say they are “gravely concerned” that the outcome of current ongoing negotiations in Oslo will see Norway granted access to Irish waters to fish 150,000 tons of blue whiting.

This move would confer a value to the Norwegian fishing sector estimated at €42 million and without any compensation to the EU and Irish industry, they claim.

Aodh O Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) said that the Irish industry is not opposed to granting Norway access arrangements to fish blue whiting, as they have done so for many years.

However, the industry “considers it entirely reasonable” that the EU receives compensation from Norway for granting such access.

O Donnell says: “We are in Oslo to participate in ongoing fishing negotiations for 2024 and with a prospect of Norway being granted access to our waters to fish almost three times Ireland’s own quota and free gratis. This access ambition is of critical importance to Norway as this blue whiting stock is abundant mainly in Irish waters.

“We are not opposed to reaching an agreement and there is precedence in such arrangements for granting access. The access for Norway to Irish waters underpins their profitability for this fishery.

“However, a fair treatment is needed if Ireland’s seafood sector is to survive and grow, as Norway’s is. This is critical for the Irish industry, which is still reeling from the Brexit TCA in which we lost 40 per cent of the total EU value in this deal.”

Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) says Irish fishing bodies are united on this issue.

“The Irish industry has grave concerns at the prospect of Norway being granted enormous levels of free access to Irish waters,” Byrne says. “This cannot be at Ireland’s expense, and so there must be something on the table for us too.

“The Irish Government must maintain the position similar to the UK, that any access for Norway to our fishing grounds must be adequately compensated. Discussions are ongoing and a firm position must be taken until an arrangement is reached which benefits the EU and Ireland in particular, as much as Norway. Ireland must no longer attend the table as a perpetual loser; we must refuse to countenance any additional unfair deal with a non-EU member.”

O Donnell adds: “We are at a crossroads and Ireland must be prepared to maintain a firm unwavering stance. A radical reset is required regarding access by third countries to fish in our waters. The UK granted access rights to Norway in 2023 to fish mackerel in its waters and received in return a quota transfer that benefitted the UK sector to the tune of approximately €35 million. This mechanism is a benchmark that can be equally applied to the blue whiting access under discussion for Norway.

“We ask the [Marine] Minister [Michael McConalogue] to maintain a resolve and be prepared defend our interests with a meaningful compensatory transfer of quota by Norway in lieu of access. This is required as a step to turn the tide for our coastal communities.”

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The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) has moved to clarify its concerns about both the operation and oversight of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

IFPO chief executive Aodh O Donnell says his organisation’s primary interest is to ensure that Ireland has fit-for-purpose controls which are fair to everyone.

“Our current focus is on two main areas: inspections and accountability,” O Donnell says. “We are concerned that the information offered by the SFPA — in their annual report or on their website — does not offer sufficient transparency regarding the level of physical inspections, in particular.

These statistics provided by the SFPA appear to be based only on catches landed in Irish ports. They don’t appear to reflect the number or level of catches from Irish waters which are landed elsewhere.

“For example, the SFPA figures for 2022 show just 50 landings of catches from Norway vessels to Irish ports. Given the high level of Norwegian fishing opportunities in Irish waters, it’s likely that there are exponentially more Norwegian catches from Irish waters landed into other countries. This is the basis for our concern that the limited information from SFPA statistics may not reflect the full number of Norwegian or other foreign vessel catches in Irish waters.”

O Donnell adds that the IFPO also has ongoing concerns about the level of physical inspections carried out on Irish fishing vessels compared to foreign vessels.

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the SFPA to offer greater transparency on how controls and inspections are applied to all of those fishing in Irish waters. Otherwise, the Irish fishing industry has to question whether there is a level playing field in Irish fisheries controls,” he says.

O Donnell adds that in the interests of sustainability, there needs to be a more productive relationship between the SFPA and the fishing industry.

“But this is a challenge while there are so many unresolved issues, such as inspections, by-catches and concerns over the recording procedures in weighing system regulations,” he says. “The bottom line is that there needs to be greater independent oversight of the SFPA at Government level in Ireland and at present there is none.”

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the SFPA has launched a public consultation on its Statement of Strategy for 2024–2026 which will be open for submissions until Tursday 21 December.

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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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The EU and government plan to cut the Irish whitefish fleet by over 30 per cent through voluntary vessel scrappage “will not preserve fish stocks in Irish waters”, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) has warned.

European vessels will fish these stocks in Irish waters instead, the IFPO says.

The organisation was responding to the 60 million decommissioning scheme, announced by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue after the EU approved up to 80 million euros in funding for scrappage as a result of the impact of Brexit.

IFPO chief executive Aodh O Donnell says the scheme must be accompanied by plans to develop and support a greener and more innovative Irish fishing industry.

“Many fish producers are being forced to decommission because fuel costs mean they simply cannot afford to put to sea any longer,” O’Donnell says.

“ We estimate that around 60 whitefish vessels will be scrapped under decommissioning. This will create up to 500 permanent redundancies and directly impact the livelihoods of up to 300 coastal community families,” he says.

“ There will also be a knock-on effect on the marine services industry and a coast-wide impact,” he says.

“Rising fuel costs have been offset in other European countries by 30% EU fuel subsidies. But once again, the Irish Government failed to support our fishing fleet, refused to pass on these subsidies, leaving us at a competitive disadvantage. ” O’Donnell says.

O Donnell says the fuel crisis is “simply the last nail in the coffin, following decades of Government neglect of the Irish fishing industry”.

“Quotas were so unfair and so small that the industry has been left with no alternative to decommissioning. We are constantly losing out to other EU states,”he says.

“For example, Belgium has a 67k coastline, while the Irish coastline is 4400k, representing 12% of the EU waters. Yet Belgium’s fish processing sector had a turnover of €961m in 2019 compared to just €622m for Ireland,”he says, drawing figures from Eurostat.

“Germany has a coastline of 2389km, yet in 2019 their fish processing sector turnover was €2,196m in 2019,” he notes.

"The big question is, where is the fish?"

"Furthermore, over the last eight years, the Irish industry has fallen from 3rd highest in Europe to 10th place. The decommissioning scheme will reduce the whitefish fleet to a third of its 2006 size,”he explains.

“The big question is where is the fish? Who is catching the fish in our waters and outstripping the Irish fishing industry in the process?”

“We have the best and most productive waters in Europe. Irish fish producers have contributed to the sustainable management of fish stocks, while others have been able to exploit resources in our rich waters. Decommissioning is our Government’s solution to a historical legacy of failing to deliver for industry and coastal communities,” O’Donnell says.

“Everyone agrees on the need to preserve fish stocks. But we need a level playing field in Europe for the Irish fleet and we have never had that. Ireland has the richest waters in Europe, amounting to more than six times our land mass. Yet the Irish Government record is one of lost and untapped opportunities for our fishing industry. They have never sought or secured a fair share of EU quotas for fishing our own waters,”he says.

O'Donnell says many will have no choice but to avail of permanent scrappage.

“But the Government must also support the scheme with positive coherent policies for the longer-term development of the fishing industry,” he says.

“We need a vision for the whitefish fleet which addresses global green agendas and creates a safer and more innovative industry, which harnesses the best technology. We need to build economic resilience and support sustainable employment at sea and in coastal communities. Other EU states have delivered growth and economic opportunities in their fishing sectors. It’s long past time for Ireland to do the same,” he says.

“We call on the Minister for the Marine to support the decommissioning scheme with development plans which will create a sustainable future for our fishing fleet and coastal communities,” O’Donnell says.

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#Brexit - Britain's exit from the EU could create an opportunity for north Atlantic coastal countries to form their own economic group, according to a leading Irish fishing industry figure.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) CEO Francis O’Donnell said there was sympathy within the industry for Brexit due to the impact of Common Fisheries Policy quotas on their livelihoods.

New markets in South America, Asia and the Middle East could also replace any loss of access to the crucial EU common market, O'Donnell suggested, if Ireland were to "become a global player" and band together with the UK, Iceland and Norway.

Such sentiment within Ireland's fishing communities runs against the current of the majority of Ireland's farming sector, with the IFA urging Irish in the UK to vote to remain in the EU.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

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Ireland would have breached EU law had it not implemented a new points system last weekend for serious infringements by fishing vessel licence holders, says the government in response to criticism from the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation.

The relationship between the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and the Irish Fishing Industry has now reached an all time low, according to the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation. This follows the Minister signing into law a new penalty points system 'without consultation with the industry' and after the High Court had dismissed the previous system.

'Nothing can be considered lower than penalising someone who has been found innocent by a court of having committed an offence. There is neither a legal nor moral basis for this. It is totally unacceptable and it’s important that the public are made aware of this," said the Chief Ececutive of the IFPO, Francis O'Donnell. Fishermen are expected to go back to the High Court over the situation.

In response the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine told Afloat.ie:

The EU Fisheries Control Regulation requires Member States to have in place legal provisions to implement a Points system for serious infringements of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. This EU Points system is applicable to all fishing vessels which fish in the Irish exclusive fisheries zone, whether they be Irish or Foreign flagged.

Ireland had previously implemented the required EU Points system for serious infringements by fishing vessel licence holders by means of a Statutory Instrument which gave effect to the EU requirement in Irish law . This Statutory instrument was the subject to two recent High Court challenges and was struck down. The two High Court Judgements are subject to appeal.

As Ireland is required to have in place a legal instrument implementing the EU Points system a new amended legal instrument was drafted and put in place which took on board, to the extent possible, issues of concern in relation to procedures and process which had been highlighted in the High Court Cases.

The replacement legal instrument , with amended procedures and processes, (S.I. No. 125 of 2016 - European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2016) was signed by the Minister on 1 March 2016 so as to avoid a legal lacunae , which would have meant the EU Points system would not have been applicable to Irish or Foreign flagged vessels for serious infringements of the EU Common Fisheries Policy in the Irish 200 mile zone. This new legal instrument adopts the requirements of Article 92 of Council Regulation(EC) No. 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 and Title VIl of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 404/2011 of 8 April 2011. In accordance with the regulations this instrument establishes the required EU point system, with amended procedures and processes, which will apply to the Licence Holder of a sea-fishing boat when a serious infringement of the Common Fisheries Policy is detected within the Exclusive Fishery Limits of the State or for an Irish vessel, wherever it may be.

It is important to note that the assignment of points is an administrative act and separate from a prosecution for a fishery offence for breaches of the common fisheries policy. Therefore to await the outcome of the results of a prosecution for fishery offence does not comply with European Union law.

Points are assigned to the licence holder. In the majority of cases the Licence Holder is a different person or legal entity to the person on the vessel who commits an offence and who will be prosecuted. Therefore there is no connection between the assignment of points and the prosecution by the Courts of offences under fishery law.

The EU regulations require that points be assigned from the date of the detection of the 'serious infringement'. That requires that the procedures are sufficiently swift to be determined in as short a time as possible. Fishery prosecutions may take some considerable time before they are finally determined.

To await the outcome of a prosecution therefore would put Ireland in breach of EU law as this would result in considerable delay particularly as the assignment of points is separate to and not dependant on a conviction in the Courts and, as the licence holder (the person assigned the points) is generally not the person prosecuted.

In bringing in this Statutory Instrument it was necessary to strike a balance between Ireland's obligations under EU law with a system that gives licence holders a fair hearing, along with ample opportunity to deal with any issue a licence holder may have. This was done by setting up determination panels and a right to apply to an independent adjudicator thereafter if the licence holder is dissatisfied with a determination of the panel. This is an independent and robust system intended to achieve the objective of the common fisheries policy which is the conservation of fish stocks to secure the future of the fishing industry. The purpose of conservation of fish stocks is twofold. Firstly, as an end in itself to preserve the fishing resources for all and for future generations. Secondly, to reassure the majority of law abiding Irish fishermen fishing within the rules that the State is taking seriously their concerns that a fishing industry can be maintained for them and those coming after them. The conservation of this precious and valuable resource is in everyone's interest and is vital for the future of the Irish fishing industry .

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority is determined as the competent authority for the administration of the points system including the establishment of the determination panel and the assignment of points.

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