Four Irish fish producers have said the EU-funded scheme to compensate whitefish vessels which tie up during the Covid-19 crisis is “completely unfit for purpose”.
The new scheme comes into effect on June 1st, when markets are already re-opening, and does not compensate vessels which took a decision to tie up in late March and conserve fish stocks, the industry notes.
The EU-funded initiative offers compensation from €500 per month for a maximum of two months for the smallest vessels (under six metres in length) to €6,000 per month for a maximum of two months for the largest vessels (over 24 metres).
The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO), the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation (ISEFPO), the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (ISWFPO) and Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) wrote to Mr Creed after details were announced initially to ask him to revise it.
They proposed a model similar to the French initiative, starting from April 1st, 2020 for an initial three months with a review. It would be based on 30% of the full grossings of the vessel earned in the same period last year, and with an appropriate tie-up period of 7 to 10 days “to be further discussed”.
Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Hugo Boyle said this would have “allowed strategic management of fisheries, matching effort to market demand, with continuity of supply in the food sector”.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said that Mr Creed’s solution will “do the reverse with very little voluntary uptake as almost all vessels will continue to fish thus making an already oversupplied market worse”.
Mr O’Donoghue had pointed out last month that the closure of sales venues, such as restaurants, markets and other outlets due to the pandemic had seen prices for all fish plummet by between 50 and 70 per cent, creating a “serious and unprecedented crisis for fishermen”.
Mr O’Donoghue said he had “never witnessed anger like it in the sector”, and he would “implore the minister to review the scheme, deliver the very basic support that we need to survive”.
In response, Mr Creed’s department said the scheme was a “safety net” and was not designed to replace viable fishing activity. Fishing crews could already avail of Government horizontal supports for Covid-19, the department said.
“It is up to the fishing vessel owner to decide whether to tie-up or keep fishing and in line with the Government policy of keeping the food chain operating,” Mr Creed’s department said.
“It is, of course, preferable that the supply to fish continues to satisfy available markets,” it said, stating that the scheme was capped at a maximum of 66% of each vessel size category in the fleet to ensure a continued level of fishing activity.
“It would be a positive sign if the take-up of this supplementary scheme is low and that the safety net provided through the scheme is used only by the minimum number of vessels that make a decision, “it said, adding that “generous vessel quota allocations” are being made for June to encourage continued fishing.