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Sea Fisheries Officer Made Protected Disclosure to Marine Minister on Legal Advice

6th October 2019
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The Celtic Sea herring fishery lost its MSC sustainability certification early in 2018. The Celtic Sea herring fishery lost its MSC sustainability certification early in 2018.

A State sea fisheries officer made a protected disclosure over its levels of regulation to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and members of an Oireachtas committee last year.

The whistleblower, an officer with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) was advised to submit a protected disclosure to Mr Creed and to members of the Oireachtas committee on agriculture, food and the marine after he was informed that data breaches were being investigated.

The officer had admitted to alerting an international sustainable fishing certifying body about under-recording of catches of herring when he believed his initial reports to his employer were not being acted upon, as The Sunday Independent reports today here.

The officer first became concerned in 2012, when the prestigious Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) awarded a sustainable accreditation to the Celtic Sea herring fishery.

The officer believed the MSC was not aware of under-recording in the region of 50 per cent of catch returns in four Irish fishery harbours.

The officer says he notified his superior on October 31st, 2012, but says no enforcement action was taken by the SFPA at that time, and he then contacted the MSC.

The Celtic Sea herring fishery lost its MSC sustainability certification early in 2018.

This year’s autumn herring fishery had to be closed to all vessels just several days after it opened last month when undersized fish were landed.

A spokesman for Mr Creed told The Sunday Independent that “the protected disclosure referred to deals with operational fisheries control matters, responsibility for which rests with the SFPA”.

“ The minister has been copied with the relevant documents and he is aware of the issues and the concerns. As the matter is legally within the remit of the SFPA, it has undertaken actions in relation to the issues raised and has advised the minister of same. The minister has asked the SFPA to keep him informed by of any further developments”, it said.

The SFPA refers to one protected disclosure on its website which states that “the issues are being assessed and investigated as appropriate”

Transparency International Ireland chief executive John Devitt said that weaknesses in the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act meant that the focus was on protecting the person making the disclosure, but not on taking action - with some exceptions where there is an issue of compelling public interest.

Under the terms of a new EU directive due to be transposed into Irish law, State bodies will have to respond within a timeframe, Mr Devitt noted.

EU fishing rules

Separately, the European Commission has already ordered Mr Creed’s department to conduct an administrative inquiry into its ability to apply EU fishing rules.

The Commission said the inquiry must evaluate Ireland’s “capacity to apply the rules” which govern the management of fish catches within EU waters, and said its request arose from “the severe and significant weaknesses” detected in the Irish control system during an audit carried out in March 2018 at Killybegs, Co Donegal.

Published in Fishing
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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