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EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has expressed “regret” that EU fisheries ministers failed to adopt her office’s demand for more transparency in dealing out annual catches and quotas in EU waters.

Ms O’Reilly’s comments follow the EU Council’s refusal to accept a recommendation by her office for greater transparency in the lead up to the annual catch and quota negotiations under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Ms O’Reilly has confirmed her finding of “maladministration” against the EU Council and has expressed disappointment that the council had failed to respond positively.

“It suggests the Council has failed fully to grasp the critical link between democracy and the transparency of decision-making regarding matters that have a significant impact on the wider public,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“ This is all the more important when the decision-making relates to the protection of the environment,” she said.

“The Council’s position appears to be that a key democratic standard - legislative transparency - must be sacrificed for what it considers to be the greater good of achieving a consensus on a political issue,” she said.

Late last year, the EU Ombudsman’s office said that the EU Council should “proactively” release documents on annual fishing quota negotiations into the public domain.

The documents should be made public at the same time as they are circulated to member states, or “as soon as possible thereafter” to “promote greater transparency of environmental information”, it noted.

The recommendation followed a complaint by non-profit environmental law organisation ClientEarth, which has offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing.

The EU Ombudsman investigation was opened last May after the lawyers’ organisation raised the issue of “many years of unexplained fishing quotas, set above the scientific advice for the recovery and long-term sustainability of fish populations”.

The finding in favour of the complainant took the view that since the documents in question are “legislative documents” and contain environmental information , “wider and more timely access should be granted”.

The investigation also considered the documents to “contain environmental information within the meaning of the Aarhus Regulation” on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.

It noted that complainant ClientEarth was concerned that not only did the EU’s fisheries council fail to “provide timely access to legislative documents”, but also “has in place an incomplete and unsatisfactory register of documents”.

In its defence, the EU Council argued that proactively releasing documentation could “seriously undermine” decision-making by ministers at the annual December negotiations.

It argued that it could “delay the successful outcome of Council deliberations, as member states need to balance different interests at stake for more than a hundred fish stocks in preparing their initial positions”.

It said that it could expose the Council to “external pressure” as “the context in which the negotiations take place is highly politicised and subject to external attention”.

It said it would also “require a comprehensive case-by-case assessment of the individual information ....to verify whether or not exceptions laid down in the EU rules on access to documents prevent such a disclosure” and would require consultation with “relevant participants”.

ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel welcomed the EU Ombudsman ‘s “stance against the Council’s lack of transparency”.

“But we regret that despite taking crucial decisions for the future of our planet, the Council of the EU still refuses to open its decision-making to public scrutiny, dubiously claiming that it would delay or influence the process,” Ms Friel said.

“Every year, some member states push for fishing catch limits above scientific advice, undermining the sustainability of our ocean and fisheries sector without being held accountable. As a result, the EU has failed to meet the 2020 deadline to end overfishing,” she noted.

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The Managing Director of one of the biggest fishermen’s co-operatives in the country has criticised French fishermen who have tried to impose a boycott on the sales of imported fish. The Scottish fishing industry has also made complaints.

“They like to declare European waters when they have 50 per cent of the monkfish quota in Irish waters, while Ireland gets just 5 per cent of the monkfish quota in our own waters,” says John Nolan, Managing Director of Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op. “But they don’t like to accept that there is a European market to which we have equal access.”

"Ireland gets just 5 per cent of the monkfish quota in our own waters"

THE ECHO Cork reports that he says French fishermen “have been taking television crews to wholesale and processing operations which they accused of buying fish from non/French boats and not supporting their own industry. People are afraid actually in France to take fish off us. Even big supermarkets like Leclerc, even their government is saying only buy French fish. It does get annoying when you see the way the French are acting. You get this parochialism coming in and the French fishermen going around, they don’t want a European market, but they do want our waters to be European for them. I’m disappointed with that attitude.”

More on THE ECHO which, in a leading article today headed: “Island nation - let us benefit,” also calls for the new government to give Ireland’s “marine and fisheries industries the recognition and attention they deserve.”

“A government review of policy leading to more support of the industries should be an early initiative if their statement about seeing Ireland as an island nation is to meany anything,” the paper says.

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Two Irish fish industry groupings have questioned the methodology used in a report published last week which claims Ireland is among the top five EU states who are “overfishing”.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) has questioned how the report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) could place Ireland in an overfishing league when Ireland has a low share overall of quotas in European waters.

The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO ) has also questioned the methodology, while the European Commission says fish is now being caught at sustainable levels.

An analysis of catches over 20 years by the British-based think- tank – which is reliant on trusts and individuals for contributions – found that most “excess tonnage” of fish has been caught by Britain, Denmark and Spain – at 1.78M tonnes, 1.48M tonnes and 1.04M tonnes respectively

However, it claimed that Spain, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany all gained the highest percentage of quotas “above scientifically advised levels for sustainable limits” over a 20-year period.

In an initial response, the European Commission’s maritime directorate DG Mare has said that while 70 per cent of stocks in the north-east Atlantic were “overfished” in 2003, there have been “significant improvements over the past 20 years” which have led to a forecast this year that 99 per cent of all fish landed is at “sustainable levels”.

The IS&WFPO says that Irish vessels tend to have lower quotas for some whitefish species than French or Spanish boats fishing off the Irish coast. It cites hake as one example - it says France's quota for hake was 7.5 times that of Ireland in 2019.

It also points out the Irish fleet also doesn't have access to whitefish quotas in other EU waters beyond Britain, and is largely confined to the Celtic Sea/Atlantic/Irish Sea.

It says that the landings of French, Spanish and German-registered vessels into Castletownbere, Co Cork has increased by 25-30 per cent per annum over the past five years, and says that the NEF is “not comparing like with like to rank states purely in terms of quotas set above scientific advice”.

The report’s author, Griffin Carpenter, said that the question was “whether the EU council of ministers followed scientific advice when setting quotas, and which member states were then fishing the excess total allowable catch (TAC) agreed”.

He said that Ireland’s marine minister Michael Creed is “on record arguing or higher TACs than scientific advice”.

“For some TACs Ireland has a small share, while for others it has a large share,” Mr Carpenter said.

“For some TACs the December Council agreement follows scientific advice, while for others it departs from advice. This study puts all TACs together and across 20 years rather than pick one or two anecdotes,” he said.

“Of course it’s disappointing when a country is near the top of the list but the methodology is peer-reviewed and is pretty straight forward,” he said.

Fintan Kelly of Birdwatch Ireland said that “securing quotas above scientific advice is overfishing”.

“If the fishing mortality resulting from the TAC is greater than that stocks ability to replenish its biomass through growth and reproduction then the size of the stock will decrease,” he said.

“ This will mean that everyone who has a slice (relative stability) of the pie (the TAC) will be worse off in time,” he said.

“The scientists with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) tell the EU Council exactly what level they should set the TAC at to ensure that the stock does not decrease in size,” Mr Kelly said.

“ Indeed NGO’s would consider the ICES advice to be a limit rather than a target since fishing below that level would allow a stocks size to increase until it has reached the carrying capacity of the environment,” he said.

“ Considering that most stocks are at a fraction of their historical size, countries like Ireland should be trying to increase the amount of fish in the sea,” he noted.

“An analysis of the stocks that Ireland has a share in shows that many of them are among the most overfished in the north-east Atlantic,” Mr Kelly added.

He cited Celtic Sea herring stocks as an example and said that “the narrative that Ireland isn't responsible for overfishing because we only have a small share of quota doesn't hold up”.

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A new environmental report on fish catches in EU waters ranks Ireland among the top five in a European “overfishing league table”.

The report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has claimed that Spain, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany all gained the highest percentage of quotas “above scientifically advised levels for sustainable limits” over a 20-year period.

However, most “excess tonnage” of fish has been caught by Britain, Denmark and Spain – at 1.78M tonnes, 1.48M tonnes and 1.04M tonnes respectively – over two decades, the report says.

In an initial response, the European Commission’s maritime directorate DG Mare has said that while 70 per cent of stocks in the north-east Atlantic were “overfished”, there have been “significant improvements over the past 20 years” which have led to a forecast this year that 99 per cent of all fish landed is at “sustainable levels”.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue questioned the methodology used and said that on an initial examination, the NEF report did not appear to make a valid case for its conclusions.

The NEF and non-governmental organisation “Our Fish” claim that collectively the EU member states have overfished by 8.78 million tonnes during the last two decades.

The NEF is a London-based charity which is funded by a number of trusts and foundations.

Fish QuotaA report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has claimed that Spain, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany all gained the highest percentage of quotas “above scientifically advised levels for sustainable limits” over a 20-year period

The two organisations have called on the EU and its member states to “include ending overfishing” and “restoring ocean health” in the EU Green Deal on the basis of their findings.

The report was prepared before the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has tied up many fleets due to a dramatic fall in prices and restrictions or closures of market and supply chains.

Its analysis for Ireland over the past two decades says that “on average, quotas were set 24% above scientific advice in Ireland’s favour, placing Ireland second on the “overfishing league table” behind Spain.

It says that from 2001 to 2020 Ireland set 765,000 tonnes of quota above scientific advice, placing Ireland sixth in tonnes.

The report notes that “some quotas are consistently set above advice including pollack in the Celtic Sea, herring to the west of Scotland and Ireland”.

It says that “the Irish fishing industry and government work in close coordination, with Minister [Michael] Creed, explicitly citing an industry representative as shaping his behaviour”.

Our Fish spokesman Mike Walker commented that “as Irish political parties negotiate a new government, this report should serve as evidence of the causes of the biodiversity and climate emergency, and exemplify how responsible fisheries management could restore the marine environment and the communities who rely on it”.

NEF senior researcher Griffin Carpenter said that if the EU “delivered on its commitment to end overfishing and rebuild damaged fish stocks to sustainable levels, it could create over 20,000 new jobs, provide food for 89 million people, and generate an extra €1.6 billion in annual revenue”.

The NEF analysis calculates that six out of ten total allowable catches (TACs) were set above scientific advice between 2001 and 2020 on average.

“While the percentage by which TACs were set above advice declined throughout this period (from 39% to 10% in all EU waters), the proportion of TACs set above advice has had a lesser decline, from eight out of ten TACs to five out of ten,”it says.

A European Commission spokesman said that “while we are yet to familiarise ourselves with the details of this report and the underlying methodology, it is important to note that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has led to significant improvements in sustainable fisheries in the north-east Atlantic over the past 20 years”.

“In certain cases, scientists do not have enough data to determine with confidence the sustainable catch level,” the spokesman said.

“ We are working with member states to improve the data for the scientists continuously,” the spokesman said.

“The interpretation of catch levels for those stocks with limited scientific assessment can lead to different conclusions as regards the overall sustainability of fisheries,” he said.

“Oceans not only contribute to climate change mitigation but also provide us with healthy and nutritious food,” the spokesman said, with “a much lower environmental impact” compared to terrestrial food production.

“. It is important that seafood is derived in a sustainable way, which does not compromise marine ecosystems. In this respect, the CFP will play a key role in ensuring the continued provision of sustainable fish protein to the consumers,” the spokesman said.

“The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will also play an important role in this transition. One-third of the future fund is expected to contribute to climate objectives, thus contributing to the achievement of an overall target of 25 % of the EU budget supporting these objectives,” the spokesman said.

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Tributes have been paid to fishing industry leader Donal O’Driscoll who died in hospital at the weekend at the age of 86.

“A champion of the Irish fishing industry” is how the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) described him yesterday (sun), as plans were made for a guard of honour in his home port of Castletownbere, Co Cork today.

The RNLI Castletownbere lifeboat station, Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op and the IS&WFPO are among organisations which Mr O’Driscoll was instrumental in founding.

With Cork businessman Tom Hassett, he also established the Fishing for Justice website in 2012 to champion a fairer deal for Ireland within the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Mr O’Driscoll was one of a family of 14 and was born on Sherkin island in 1933. He learned his first fishing techniques – seining for mackerel – from his father, Dan William O’Driscoll.

In an interview with author Pat Nolan, he recalled “graduating” from lobster fishing in a punt to drift-netting for mackerel in the Mystical Rose (italics), a 36 foot vessel owned by Willie McCarthy.

At the age of 17, he began filling in for absentee crew on a fleet of vessels owned by Paddy O’Keeffe, known as the “Bantry boats”. His brothers Denis and Billy also skippered boats in the fleet.

The brothers secured their own vessels and spent a lifetime fishing. Donal’s two sons, Liam and Brendan, followed him into a career which he described as one that could only be pursued by those who loved it – given the challenges of the elements and the tough nature of the industry.

He was a tireless advocate, and was fearless but firm in his criticism of State policy on the marine. In 2011, he wrote on behalf of Fishing for Justice to then marine minister Simon Coveney, outlining the background to the negative deal secured on EU accession in 1973.

He pointed out that Ireland contributed 14% of the total European waters, but was only allocated between four and five percent of the whitefish stocks and around 12 percent of the pelagic stocks.

“The reason that was given was that Ireland’s fishing fleet was not sufficiently developed at the time, to justify a greater portion of the available stocks. This has clearly not been the case for a long time but there has never been an attempt to alter this status quo, despite the fact that the Commission also said that these decisions were never intended to be written in stone,”he said.

In 2012, he and Hassett wrote to then EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, stating that non-Irish vessels took over €1bn worth of fish from Irish waters annually, while the national fleet “survives on a “miserable share” of the quotas”.

In a tribute, the IS&WFPO said that both O’Driscoll and Hassett, who died last year, contributed to transforming the industry “into a modern business”, with a co-operative securing stable prices and secure markets and improving the income of crews.

The two men had also contributed to “modernising the vessels to make them safer places of work”, it said.

“Donal will be remembered as a champion...his contribution to the industry and the communities of the Beara peninsula is legendary,”it said.

He died in Castletownbere Community Hospital after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Maisie, children Liam, Brendan, Marian, Donald, Christine and Sinead and extended family.

A guard of honour with social distancing will form on Castletownbere pier to mark Donal O'Driscoll's final journey at 12 noon today.

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A French registered fishing vessel has been detained by the Naval Service off the south-west coast.

The vessel was detained by the LÉ George Bernard Shaw 180 nautical miles west of Mizen Head for an alleged breach of fishing regulations.

The Defence Forces press office said the vessel will be escorted to Castletownbere Co Cork, where it will be handed over to the Garda.

The detention is the fourth vessel apprehended by the Naval Service this year.

The European Commission has written to Ireland this month, asking it to outline it can maintain physical inspections at sea and in port under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regulations in light of the pandemic.

The Defence Forces have said that in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and commitments to supply ships for testing centres, sea fishery inspections will continue in line with a service level agreement with the Sea Fishery Protection Authority (SFPA).

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The European Commission has expressed “deep concern” about Ireland’s ability to monitor continued commercial fishing activity at sea during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As The Sunday Times reports today, a letter from the EU maritime directorate’s acting director-general Bernhard Friess has questioned how Ireland can meet legal obligations to control and check landings if physical inspections have to be reduced as a result of the virus.

Inspectors with the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in some fishery harbours had already stopped undertaking physical checks of landings after the Health Service Executive (HSE) Covid-19 guidelines were introduced last month.

However, they now fear the department will use the EU letter to pressurise them into resuming inspections in wheelhouses and fish holds - putting both themselves and fishing crews at risk of infection.

In his letter, Mr Friess says the European Commission “recognises the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis”.

However, he says it “expects member states’ competent authorities to adapt to the new situation and introduce the necessary measures and resources to ensure control, inspection and enforcement of all activities relevant to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)”.

Asked to respond to the EU concerns, the SFPA told The Sunday Times that it is “continuing to maintain its sea-fisheries and seafood safety regulatory services, with some modifications to ensure the health and safety of its staff and industry colleagues, in line with Government guidelines and HSE advice”.

The SFPA acknowledged the “significant challenges” for the fishing industry, and said it was “ extremely confident “ it had “ stepped up to the mark in inspection numbers” and had “ put in place a protocol on boardings”.

You can read more on The Sunday Times here

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Frustration is building around the coastline over a reluctance by Minister for Marine Michael Creed to avail of EU funding to ease the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fishing and fish farming industries.

As The Sunday Times reports, a European Commission scheme was signalled almost a month ago to soften the dramatic economic blow.

The European Commission temporary relief scheme - rubberstamped on Friday by the European Parliament - allows EU member states flexibility to divert existing structural funds into compensation packages, including fleet tie-ups.

Portugal and Latvia are among the first states to secure European Commission sanction for multimillion-euro schemes, while departed member Britain announced a £10 million specific package last week, with £ 1.5 million for Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Creed has said he is not proposing a tie-up scheme for Irish fishing vessels at present.

The department said that a fleet tie-up would be kept “in reserve”, but Mr Creed’s “main focus at this point is to work to continue to support the supply of food”.

He has been criticised for inaction by Ireland South Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan, who said that “ Europe is being proactive in opening channels of funding and support”.

She warned that Mr Creed must “not only... demand a fair share of the funding, but he must distribute it throughout the country and not focus it in one or two geographical areas”.

The Irish whitefish and inshore fleets and fish and shellfish farmers face millions of euro in losses due to a collapse in prices for fresh produce and loss of high-value restaurant markets, exacerbated by disrupted supply chains.

Read more in The Sunday Times here

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A major west coast retail fish supplier has pledged to sell only Irish-caught fish and shellfish during the current Covid-19 restrictions to support the Irish inshore fleet.

Parisian-born Stefan Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway says that he is “out the door” with online orders.

He told The Irish Examiner that the current crisis caused by the pandemic is an “opportunity for the Irish inshore fleet to reassert itself”.

Larger vessels rely on export markets for the longer trips, involving substantial fuel bills, while the inshore sector is “ideally placed” to ensure fresh food is supplied to the domestic Irish market, Mr Griesbach noted.

Mr Griesbach, whose 15-year old company is using 100 per cent compostable and sustainable packaging, was commenting during a week when a dramatic collapse in export markets for seafood has hit the Irish whitefish fleet.

Gannet Fish, based in Ballybane, Galway, normally trades in the Galway St Nicholas's church market on Saturday, but this has now closed as part of the local authority's response to Covid-19.

The company is taking telephone orders, as well as online bookings through eatmorefish.ie, and is offering deliveries of fish over 15 euro free to senior citizens.

For more in the Examiner, click here

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Seven Irish fishing organisations have condemned what they described as “blockades” in two south-west harbours, and said that such protests were “alarmist” and “unnecessary” writes Lorna Siggins 

The seven groups, including the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the Irish Fish Producer’s Organisation, and Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, said that they enjoyed cordial relationships with French and Spanish counterparts, and there was a need to maintain a seafood supply to both Irish and European markets.

The statement was also supported by four fishing co-ops in Castletownbere, Co Cork, Clogherhead, Co Louth, Galway and Aran in Rossaveal, Co Galway and Foyle Fishermen’s co-op in Co Donegal.

The statement was welcomed by Minister for Marine Michael Creed, who said it was “vital for all of us at this time to keep critical food supply lines, such as fishing activity, open and functioning through this period”.

The Department of Transport is requiring all vessels entering Irish ports to furnish a maritime declaration of health at least 24 hours ahead of arrival, and entry may be refused in a case of incomplete reporting.

“In responding to the COVID 19 crisis, Government action has been informed by the primacy of the need to protect public health, guided by the advice of medical professionals in our public health authorities,” Mr Creed said.

“ It is critically important that all of our actions continue to take place on this basis. Such advice does not extend to the selective closure of parts of the single market that are critical to maintaining the food supply chain in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. It is vital for all of us at this time to keep critical food supply lines, such as fishing activity, open and functioning through this period. I welcome the commitment of Irelands fishery organisations to this endeavour.”

Speaking in a personal capacity, south-west fishing industry representative Patrick Murphy said a lack of communication by the authorities had prompted the protests, which were fuelled by fear.

“I won’t condemn any communities for expressing their fears, in the absence of proper communication,” Mr Murphy said.

He said the seven organisations and Mr Creed were now needlessly “escalating” a situation which could have been avoided with proper communication.

“This is nothing to do with sentiment against French and Spanish, but concern about perceived lack of controls in fishery harbours,” Mr Murphy stressed.

Separately, there had been growing concerns about activities of German-registered Spanish and other Spanish flagged vessels off the coast over the last few months, he noted.

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