Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Marine Minister Welcomes Report On Improving Safety & Welfare In Fishing Industry

20th July 2015
Marine Minister Welcomes Report On Improving Safety & Welfare In Fishing Industry

#Fishing - Irish Water Safety chief executive John Leech presented the report of the Working Group on Safety, Training and Employment in the Irish Fishing Industry to Marine Minister Simon Coveney in Castletownbere, Co Cork earlier today (Monday 20 July).

The recommendations within the report are expected to help reduce the number of fishermen lost to drowning and other accidents at sea, as well as reducing the number of injuries.

They will also improve the welfare of our fishermen, make the industry more attractive for entrants and improve their careers within it, according to Irish Water Safety.

The working group, chaired by Leech, was set up by Minister Coveney to examine a range of important issues for Ireland’s fishing industry such as safety standards and training on board vessels, compliance with regulations, recent technical innovations and the fishing sector’s approach to personal safety.

In its parallel work, the working group also considered options for making the fishing industry safer and more attractive, economically, as a career option for potential new entrants, bringing forward recommendations for improving career structures and the provision of opportunities for lifelong learning.

Central to the working group's recommendations on improving safety in the industry is the need for significant culture change across the fisheries sector.

“We need to ensure that the concept of safety at sea, and on the water generally, becomes as commonplace and habitual as safety on our roads," said Minister Coveney. "While this report brings forward many recommendations across its broad ranging terms of reference, the central message to come from the work of this group, is the need for permanent culture change in the fisheries sector.

"Vessel operators, skippers and crew members need to work together so that a safety first culture becomes the norm and the safety of both vessels and personnel is prioritised.”

The working group identified the wearing of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) as being critical to reducing fatalities and the need for constant vigilance, regarding the challenges and dangers inherent in working at sea and on island waterways.

Also highlighted in the report is the need for Ireland’s existing maritime regulations to be fully observed and the need for safety-training practices to be augmented to include mandatory certificates of competence, for both operators and crew/deckhands on all vessels, vessel ‘stability’ training and work-related safety, survival, fire and first aid procedures, targeted initially at operators of vessels less than 24 metres in length where the majority of recent fatalities have occurred.

In addition, Minister Coveney is making €5.6m available to the fisheries catching sector for training and skills development under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) 2014-2020 Operational Programme.

"This extra funding will be instrumental in addressing recommendations in the report and driving a culture change to enhance safety across the fisheries sector,” he said.

Key recommendations from the report of the Working Group on Safety, Training and Employment in the Irish Fishing Industry, available to download HERE:


1. DTTAS should develop specified, safe manning levels for all fishing vessels, relating to deck and engineering competencies and to be determined according to the size, type and operating parameters of the vessel.
2. DTTAS should develop a user-friendly crew logbook for smaller fishing vessels.
3. Ireland should ratify the STCW-F Convention and continue to develop the certification and training regime for fishermen.
4. In relation to occupational health and safety:
a) fishing enterprises should prepare a safety statement in accordance with the requirements of the SHWW Act 2005
b) to avoid confusion there should only be one, mandatory Code of Practice relating to small fishing vessels, and this should be the DTTAS Code of Practice (for the Design, Construction, Equipment and
Operation of Small Fishing Vessels)
c) there should be a single, safety-inspection regime for these vessels, or at least a co-ordinated one which recognises the remit of both inspectorates; DTTAS already carries out such inspections for maritime safety and the appointment of DTTAS surveyors under SHWW Act section 62 should be considered for the purposes of the SHWW Act requirements
d) DTTAS and the HSA should continue to work to complete an MOU to facilitate the co-ordination referred to above.
5. DTTAS should explore the scope for new stability standards for smaller fishing vessels less than 15m.
6. DTTAS should consider including a requirement in its Code of Practice for Small Fishing Vessels that existing fishing vessels between 12 and 15m long should have a stability book
7. Ireland should consider ratification of the Cape Town Agreement on the Safety of Fishing vessels and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention in due course.
8. DTTAS should explore additional enforcement approaches such as Fixed Payment Notices (FPNs) for appropriate offences, in relation to the wearing of Personal Flotation Devices.
9. Mandatory Certificates of Competency (Deck and Engine) should be introduced by DTTAS for the operators of all vessels with appropriate safety-training in stability and work-related safety.
10. Certificates of Proficiency (Deck and Engine) should be introduced by DTTAS for deckhands with appropriate safety training in stability and work-related safety.
11. DTTAS should introduce requirements and certification in relation to crew qualifications for fishing vessels less than 17m in length and with power of less than 750kW
12. BIM should provide stability awareness and training for operators and crew of vessels less than 24 metres, with an immediate focus on vessels < 15 metres within 12-36 months.
13. The development of appropriate induction training for new entrants to the industry.
14. BIM will continue to work both with research, development and innovation groups and industry stakeholders, to ensure that the latest developments in technical innovation, without prejudice to the regulations, are channelled for marine-type approval and included on a list of safety items, as appropriate, eligible for grant-aid targeted at small fishing vessels less than 15 metres in length.
15. Training Incentives/Career Structure: appropriate Training Incentives and Career Structures should be put in place for those working in the fishing industry.
16. Seafarers' Allowance: that the requirements to allow individuals qualify for Seafarers' Allowance be amended to remove the current exclusion of "fishing vessels" from the definition of seagoing ships.
17. Social Protection: the group recommends the introduction of a more tailored, and appropriate, social protection system that would include share fishermen. This new system would take account of the specific needs of the fishing industry, along the lines of the Family Income Supplement (FIS) and Farm Assist Schemes.
18. Economic Viability: that in order to enhance economic viability for current workers and boost attractiveness to new entrants, the group recommends the introduction of a targeted decommissioning scheme. The Group also recommends that revised quota and fleet management arrangements should be considered in parallel. A targeted decommissioning scheme should take account of the interests of vessel owners and non-vessel owners (fishermen working on decommissioned vessels).
19. VAT: that the current restriction of the VAT rebate system, that excludes vessels under 15GT, be removed.
20. Inshore Management: The group recommends that industry and state partners work together, to bring forward the necessary structures and measures, to facilitate the sustainable management of high-value inshore stocks, consistent with conservation requirements and give those involved in the sector, and considering entering it, confidence in its future.
21. That BIM develop a career-development programme for aspiring deck and engineer officers in the fishing industry.
22. That BIM, in conjunction with the MSO provide courses leading to certificates of proficiency for deck hands in the fishing industry (for example Efficient Deck Hand or Able Bodied Seaman).
23. That BIM, on a phased basis, and in conjunction with the MSO, provide further conversion courses for fishermen, who wish also to operate part-time in the commercial shipping sector.

Published in Fishing
MacDara Conroy

About The Author

MacDara Conroy

Email The Author

MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Irish Fishing industry 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.


Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020