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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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The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation has called for co-operation and collaboration collaboration to tackle “the current and growing imbalance between EU and non-EU Members fishing rights.

The Chief Executive of the IFPO, Aodh O’Donnell, who is in London today for a Coastal States meeting, says that EU coastal states are losing out to non-EU members because the European Commission’s scientifically informed approach to quotas is subject to abuse by rogue Nordic players. The result of this approach is that the EU is losing its share of mackerel and blue whiting.”

Last week this issue was raised at meetings in Brussels and is being made a central issue to what the Irish industry considers as “not just a matter of inequity, this practice poses a serious threat to the sustainability of European fish stocks.”

“The Minister for the Marine has taken on board our concerns, but much still needs to be done. Government and industry representatives need to collaborate to level the playing field.”

Mr O’Donnell said the EU had indicated it would take a strong attitude on the issue but must do more than that and “must deliver,” he told me.

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The European Commission has given a “red card” to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The “red card” relates to an EU regulation on IUU which provides for a co-operation framework. This aims to ensure only legally caught fishery products can be sold in the EU market.

In a statement, the European Commission said the listing of the country follows from “lack of progress in addressing the serious shortcomings outlined in the pre-identification decision of Trinidad and Tobago as a non-cooperating country, adopted in April 2016”.

“Despite the support of the EU to Trinidad and Tobago under the IUU dialogue, both in relation to the revision of the legal framework and in monitoring, control and surveillance, the country did not make sufficient progress to satisfy the requirements under the IUU legislation,” the Commission said.

“Notably, Trinidad and Tobago did not enact an adequate legal framework regulating the activities of the national fishing fleet in and beyond waters under national jurisdiction, nor the activities of third countries' fishing vessels in national ports,” it said.

“Other persistent shortcomings relate to the lack of adequate control over the national fishing fleet and the foreign fishing fleets calling to port in the country as well as the lack of necessary measures for the cessation and prevention of IUU fishing activities,” it said.

The Commission said it will “continue its dialogue with the authorities of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to help the country address the identified shortcomings”.

The EU is the world's biggest importer of fisheries products. Fighting IUU fishing is part of the EU's actions under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The global value of IUU fishing is estimated at 10-20 billion euros per year. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally every year, corresponding to at least 15% of world catches, according to the Commission.

“The zero-tolerance approach to IUU fishing pursued by the Commission is an integral part of the European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy,” it said.

“The Commission cooperates with partner countries in view of improving fisheries governance and ensuring that all States comply with their international obligations,” it said.

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A recent incident on Lough Foyle saw a commercial net fisherman’s licence suspended for one year after being caught illegally fishing in the waters near Redcastle, Co. Donegal.

The incident occurred on 30th June 2022, when Fishery protection officers on patrol witnessed a small white boat near the shore. The officers investigated further and saw two men aboard pulling in an illegal net and subsequently attempting to re-launch the boat.

The officers quickly intervened, identifying themselves and requesting the fishermen come ashore.

The two men were advised of their rights, and upon further inspection, a net of approximately 100 metres in length was confiscated.

On 18th April 2023 at Letterkenny Court, the elder of the two men pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal netting, and one of using a boat as an aid to the commission of an offence.

The Judge imposed a probation order against the man but ordered him to pay Loughs Agency costs of over €700, and to make a charitable donation of €350 to the RNLI.

The accused also held a commercial salmon fishing licence, and the Agency sought a one-year suspension. The Judge granted this request, suspending the licence for the entirety of 2024.

Loughs Agency enforces illegal fishing activity control on both sides of the border, protecting fish populations and their habitats.

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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue highlighted priorities for Ireland at the EU Fisheries Council on Monday, September 14, ahead of 2024 Fishing Opportunity negotiations.

McConalogue set out Ireland’s priorities during the exchange of views ahead of the upcoming EU-UK, EU-Norway and Coastal States annual consultations on fishing opportunities for 2024. 

"Most of the commercial fish stocks on which Ireland’s fleet relies are shared with the UK"

“Most of the commercial fish stocks on which Ireland’s fleet relies are shared with the UK. Therefore, it is important that we reach a timely, balanced agreement which will support the sustainable management of our shared stocks and provide stability for EU fishers. On the EU-Norway negotiations, I reiterated Ireland’s longstanding position that those who benefit most from this agreement must pay for it”

The Minister also underlined the need for action to prevent the unsustainable actions of other Coastal States, outside of the EU, diluting the EU’s Mackerel quota share.

The Fisheries Council also discussed the Long Term Vision for the European Union’s rural areas and exchanged views on simplifying and improving European Union regulations.

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There can be no let-up in highlighting the importance of a review of the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU as vital to the future of the Irish fishing industry.

That is the view expressed by the Chief Executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Sean O’Donoghue.

“The Government must take a firm stand in support of the industry,” he told me in an interview. “Support must be in action, not just words. The industry needs that from the Government. It has accepted the industry’s Review Report, which it sought and which it has got, so it must follow through. We need absolute commitment on this so that changes can be made to improve Ireland’s situation.

Sean O’Donoghue, Chief Executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s OrganisationSean O’Donoghue, Chief Executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation

“ have pointed time and again to this. We need absolute commitment on this so that changes can be made. Brexit fundamentally changed the CFP. The opportunity is now and, with the EU returning to full operation again this month, this must be grasped. If Ireland doesn’t do so, there will not be another opportunity for ten years which is not acceptable.”

However, the EU Commission is trying to present such a review, and this, it seems, could be because of pressure from the other EU Member States, which have been allocated much bigger quotas to catch fish in Irish waters than the Irish fleet has been given.

“We fundamentally disagree with the Commission,” Sean O’Donoghue told me. “There must be changes, and the Government must insist on them. There can be no question of a let-up on this. It is vital that changes to benefit Ireland are achieved.

“The Common Fisheries Policy must be changed. There can be no let-up on the pressure by Ireland to achieve this.”

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Banning demersal trawling would lead to higher CO2 emissions as consumers switch to more protein produced on land, according to a new scientific paper.

Writing in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, researchers agree that demersal trawling can be highly destructive when not managed well, but when stocks are overfished, this is usually due to poor management.

The scientists led by Prof Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington and involving researchers at Heriot-Watt and Bangor universities used relative benthic status to measure the impact of trawling on the seabed.

Demersal trawls generally have higher levels of bycatch and discarding, but there have been improvements in the selectivity of gear over the past two decades.

A global assessment of relative benthic status showed very different levels of impact of trawling around the world, with severe levels in parts of the Mediterranean while the Irish Sea and west of Scotland are not quite so damaged.

Australia, Southern Chile and the Gulf of Alaska were the least depleted.

The authors agreed that areas with sensitive habitats like deep water coral should be closed to trawling, as these species can take decades or centuries to recover.

In a review of data from “whole lifecycle” assessments of different foods, they found that an average kilo of bottom-trawled fish produces 4.65 kg of CO2. While this is double the carbon footprint of chicken (2.28kg), it is one quarter the footprint of beef (19.2kg).

They point out that well-managed fisheries have lower fuel use, citing Alaskan pollock, the world’s largest whitefish fishery, as one example. It produces just 0.83kg of CO2 for every kilo of food, and the authors attribute this to enlightened fisheries management.

The authors note that catching fish in the ocean “uses no pesticides or fertilizer, almost no fresh water, and no antibiotics”.

“The global impacts from these would be increased if bottom trawling was banned and/or agriculture or aquaculture increased to compensate, although there are significant differences in these impacts among cropping systems,” it says.

The authors conclude that banning all demersal trawling would not be good for the planet if it drives consumers to another animal protein with a higher carbon footprint. They recommend improving management rather than introducing widespread bans.

The full paper is here

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ESB’s 2040 strategy Driven to Make a Difference: Net Zero by 2040 sets out a clear roadmap for ESB to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. 

ESB will develop and connect renewable energy to decarbonise the electricity system by 2040. ESB will invest in the development of new renewable generation, including onshore and offshore wind and solar, and will significantly increase the amount of renewable generation connected to our electricity networks.

ESB will:

  • Deliver more than a fivefold increase in our renewable generation portfolio to 5,000MW.
  • Reduce carbon intensity of generation fleet from 414 to 140gCO2/kWh by 2030.
  • Decarbonise 63% of our generation output by 2030 and 100% by 2040 (up from c20% now).

Offshore wind

ESB know the importance of offshore wind in tackling climate change and delivering net zero. Ireland has a unique capability given its prime location to take advantage of the potential of offshore wind. ESB are working hard to develop offshore wind projects for the benefit of everyone across society in Ireland and the UK. This includes ongoing engagement with marine users and local communities so ESB can deliver these significant projects.

Offshore wind will play a major role globally in our fight against climate change. It will help to replace energy generated by burning fossil fuels with that from a clean, safe and secure renewable energy source. Ireland’s geographic location on the exposed edge of the Atlantic presents us with a significant opportunity to generate electricity from wind – both offshore and onshore.

Power from onshore wind farms currently provide over one-third of Ireland’s electricity needs. But, whilst its marine area is many times the size of its landmass, Ireland’s offshore wind potential is only starting to be realised. ESB have a coastline stretching over 3,000km but only one operational offshore wind farm – Arklow Bank, with a capacity of 25 MW. In contrast, Belgium’s coastline is only 63km long, but it has already developed more than 2,000 MW of offshore wind. In Great Britain, with a coastline four times the length of ours, offshore wind generation now equates to over 440 Arklow Banks, with an installed capacity of 11,0000 MW as of late 2021.

The Irish Government's target to install 5,000 MW of offshore wind capacity in our maritime area by 2030 is set out in the Climate Action Plan 2021. It also has the objective to source 80% of Ireland’s electricity needs from renewables by the same year. In line with this, ESB is applying its professional and proven engineering expertise to the challenges set within the Climate Action Plan.

ESB are committed to playing a strong role in developing Ireland’s offshore wind potential for the benefit of the people of Ireland. This will be done in consultation with marine users and local communities, and with due care for the marine environment.