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The Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has announced the appointment of Mr Michael Finn and Mr Jonathan Hoare as Executive Members of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA). The appointments follow the recent Public Appointments Service (PAS) competitive recruitment process.

The Executive Members, working with SFPA Executive Chairperson Paschal Hayes, will lead the SFPA over the coming years through an ambitious programme of organisational change to deliver efficient and effective enforcement of sea fisheries and food safety law, promoting compliance while detecting and deterring contraventions.

Michael Finn has most recently worked as an Assistant Commissioner for the Garda Síochana. In this role, he was responsible for policing and security of the Southern Region. His previous responsibilities included being part of the Garda Senior Leadership Team, contributing to the overall organisational strategy, policing plans and the delivery of policing and security outcomes.

Jonathan Hoare has most recently worked as a Programme Manager, coordinating and managing the implementation of the South West Regional Enterprise Plan. He previously held the position of Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Irish Local Development Network. Mr Hoare has also held various public service roles, including his work with the houses of the Oireachtas and a period as Advisor to a previous Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Announcing the appointments, the Minister stated, “I am pleased to appoint both Michael Finn and Jonathan Hoare as the new Executive Authority Members of the SFPA. I am confident that they will meet the challenges posed in leading the SFPA organisation through a period of significant change while achieving the exacting standards of public sector leadership. This complex and evolving regulatory sector promotes a sustainable and compliant industry that supports coastal communities dependent on fishing and helps secure our fish stocks for future generations of fishers.”

Both appointees took up their posts on 03rd October 2022.

Published in SFPA

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says it looks forward to “continued and ongoing engagement” with Irish environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), following a meeting with representatives last week.

A range of issues related to “safeguarding and enhancing Ireland’s marine environment and resources” were discussed, the State regulatory body says.

The SFPA described the meeting as “wide-ranging and productive”, and said it outlined its own regulatory remit and “the various strands of Irish and European legislation covering the sector”.

It says it also discussed a number of “areas of focus”, including the shellfish classification programme and monthly water sampling programmes undertaken with industry.

The SFPA says it also gave details on a “number of upcoming projects utilising technology to underpin the sustainability of Ireland’s marine life”.

It says the meeting was part of “an ongoing programme of engagement being undertaken by the SFPA to share best practice, knowledge”.

SFPA chair Paschal HayesSFPA chair Paschal Hayes

It also aims to share “latest developments in relation to strategic initiatives” as part of its regulatory remit to ensure compliance with the EU Common Fisheries Policy, sea-fisheries law and food safety law.

SFPA chair Paschal Hayes said the meeting was “a welcome opportunity for productive dialogue and engagement on a range of issues pertaining to the marine environment and sustainability of our marine resources”.

“Ireland’s marine industry is one that supports over 16,500 jobs, plays a significant role in our coastal communities and has created an industry that is valued at €1.26 billion,” he said.

“Beyond these economic figures, Ireland’s marine resources are of tremendous importance, sustaining a rich and wonderful array of marine life and whose very existence is dependent upon the continued health and vitality of our marine ecosystem,” Hayes said.

“To ensure the long-term viability of our marine resources for future generations, a collective approach is required with shared responsibility,” he said.

“We were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with environmental NGOs focused in the marine areas and we look forward to continued and ongoing engagement, underpinned by an unwavering focus on ensuring sustainability, and a shared agreement on the value and importance of healthy maritime environments,” Hayes said.

Published in Fishing

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority has decided that Irish pelagic vessels involved in pair fishing must submit individual authorisation applications “with immediate effect”.

Pair trawling or fishing involves two or more vessels fishing together, dragging a single large net with small meshing between them.

Previously, one vessel applied for authorisation for, or termination of, the pairing arrangement on behalf of the group.

However, the SFPA says this week that authorisation holder(s) from all vessels requesting to be included in the pairing must now submit an application and the same for termination of pairing arrangements. It says this change takes place “with immediate effect”.

“When vessels fish in an approved pairing arrangement, catches of one vessel will be regarded as catches of the group and any and all catches of any one of these vessels within this pairing arrangement will be reckoned against the cumulative total of all the allocations of these individual vessels,”it says.

“This cumulative total will be used for the purposes of quota balancing,” it says.

The SFPA says that management policies for pelagic and demersal stocks set out that where a vessel exceeds its catch limit, the excess catch retained on board and landed will be subject to quota balancing.

“Quota balancing means that a balancing adjustment (i.e., a deduction) will be made from the catch limit of a future fishing opportunity,” it says.

“Under no circumstances will pairings be approved retrospectively,” the SFPA says.

It says that further details on the application and approval process for pair fishing are available on the SFPA website or by contacting local port offices.

Published in Fishing
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The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has published its annual classification list for commercial shellfish (bivalve mollusc) production areas across Ireland.

This assesses 135 classifications in 60 production areas against strict safety requirements for human consumption.

Across Ireland, nine production areas received “upgrades” during the 2022 review of classifications, one production area received a shift in Seasonal A classification, twelve production areas received “downgrades”, one production area was de-classified for mussels, two production areas were declared as dormant, and two production areas received additional classifications, the SFPA says.

Ireland produces an estimated 28,100 tonnes of shellfish - including mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops - from classified production areas annually, the SFPA says.

An additional 2,700 tonnes of scallops are landed from offshore sites, it says.

Live shellfish can only be harvested from production areas which meet strict classification requirements for human consumption, as set out under European and Irish Food laws.

The SFPA, in collaboration with the shellfish industry, conducts regular shellfish sampling in all production areas, monitoring the levels of bacterial contamination of shellfish to determine the risk and classification status. Each production area is designated a rating that determines the conditions, if any, which need to be observed before shellfish can be sold for human consumption.

The Irish aquaculture sector is worth an estimated €64 million annually (at the first point of sale) and employs around 1,984 people across the country. Around 90% of shellfish produced in Ireland is exported, principally to European and Asian markets, and Ireland is the second largest producer of oysters in Europe after France, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said that Ireland’s shellfish monitoring programme was important for both consumers and commercial producers.

“One of the principal remits of the SFPA is to ensure that Irish and international consumers can be assured of the quality and safety of fish and seafood harvested here, and that we have sustainable stocks for generations to come,” he said.

“Shellfish production is an important industry in many coastal communities around Ireland and it is essential that the highest standards of food safety are maintained at all times,” he added.

“ The SFPA works in collaboration with industry and other state agencies to ensure that production areas are of the highest possible standard and meet rigorous assessment criteria to ensure that the safety and quality of the shellfish placed on the market is not compromised in any manner,” he said.

“ This work is an important pillar in both preserving and further enhancing Ireland’s global reputation for quality, safe and delicious seafood. It is incumbent upon all working in the industry to remain vigilant to any risks which have the potential to impact our seafood production areas and that we adopt a collective approach throughout with a focus on quality and sustainable seafood,” Hayes said.

Sinéad Keaveney, who is the Marine Institute’s shellfish microbiology team leader said that the publication of the classification list is the annual culmination of the ongoing partnership between the Marine Institute and SFPA in the microbiological monitoring of shellfish production areas in Ireland.

“As the National Reference Laboratory for monitoring E. coli contamination in bivalve shellfish, the Marine Institute oversees the national E. coli testing programme,” she said.

“ This contributes significantly to the assessment of the risk of microbiological contamination in shellfish production areas and the overall classification status of individual production areas,” she said.

The SFPA carries out its annual review of all shellfish classifications, drawing on the previous three-year dataset of microbiological results for classifications.

Escherichia coli (E.coli) is used as a proxy or faecal indicator; E.coli levels in shellfish samples are used to determine the classification status of production sites and determines the required harvesting protocols.

During the period January 2019 to January 2022, approximately 4,788 microbiological E.coli samples were taken by the SFPA and reviewed.

Published in Aquaculture
Tagged under

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has issued a warning to the public not to gather shellfish for personal consumption in the Castlemaine harbour area of Co Kerry, due to the presence of two marine toxin groups.

The toxin groups, Paralytic Shellfish Toxins (PST) and Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins (DST), can cause serious illness if contaminated shellfish is consumed either raw or cooked, the SFPA said.

It confirmed the toxins were detected during routine testing as part of Ireland’s shellfish monitoring programme, which is managed by the SFPA with the Marine Institute.

“ As a result of the detection, the Castlemaine production area is now closed for the harvesting of shellfish until further notice,” it said.

“Ireland has a robust and effective shellfish monitoring programme in place to ensure that the highest standards of health and safety are maintained at all times, for the benefit of consumers and to maintain Ireland’s reputation as a world-class producer,” SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said.

“This monitoring programme has now detected the presence of two serious toxins in the Castlemaine harbour area, and we are strongly advising members of the public not to gather shellfish for personal consumption in this area,” he said.

“We are also reminding the public to only purchase seafood, whether for personal consumption or for sale, through reputable suppliers,” he said.

“ Food businesses, including restaurants and retail outlets, should always look for the oval approval number on orders which confirms the supplier is approved to sell live bivalve molluscs,” he said.

Bivalve molluscs, such as oysters, mussels, clams, and cockles may occasionally accumulate these naturally occurring toxins which are produced by certain species of phytoplankton, the SFPA explained.

“These naturally occurring toxins do not harm the shellfish but can cause illness in humans when contaminated shellfish are subsequently consumed,” it said.

“Under seafood safety regulations, live bivalve molluscs can only be harvested from production areas which meet the classification requirements for human consumption,” it said, and these are classified by the SFPA according to the quality of the waters.

The SFPA also conducts a monthly shellfish sampling programme of all classified production areas to monitor the levels of microbiological contamination.

Shellfish production areas are sampled on a weekly basis for analysis by the Marine Institute to determine their biotoxin status to ensure any shellfish species which are harvested is safe for human consumption

Mr Hayes said that anyone with concerns regarding fishing activity that might be illegal or contrary to seafood safety regulations should contact the regulator directly via its confidential telephone line at 1800 76 76 76.

All testing results are available on the the Marine Institute’s website here

Published in Fishing

Recreational fishers are urged to comply with regulations on catch, sale and purchase of crabs and lobsters, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has said.

The authority said it is also calling on all who purchase fish - and in particular those in the restaurant trade - to ensure that they purchase fish from legitimate sources only.

“They cannot purchase from recreational non-commercial fishers,” the SFPA has pointed out.

“It is important that all who are partaking in recreational fishing adhere to the regulations which are in place to protect the marine ecosystem and safeguard Ireland’s marine resources for future generations,”it said.

“ Whilst certain activities are allowed without a commercial license, there are limits in terms of quantities, and usage of fish. All such fish must comply with the general conservation requirements applicable to both commercial and recreational fishing,” it said.

Under EU and national legislation, recreational or non-commercial fishers who do not have a commercial fishing licence are restricted to doing no more than the following in pot fisheries:

  • Fish for lobster and crab with pots from May 1st to September 30th only every year.
  • Fish up to six pots (i.e., a maximum of 6 pots associated with their boat either in the water or on board at any time).
  •  Retain up to five crabs and one lobster daily.
  •  Eat their catch themselves or share with their immediate family – they cannot sell or offer for sale any catches (a commercial fishing license is needed to sell fish).
  •  Only land fish above the legal-size limits. In Irish waters the minimum size of brown crab is 140mm; spider crab (130mm for males and 125mm for females) and velvet crab 65mm, while lobsters must be a minimum size of 87mm and maximum size 127mm (carapace length).
  • Anyone who catches a crab or lobster outside these size limits, must return it immediately to the sea.
  • Never retain a lobster that has been V-notched or has a mutilated tail – they must be released back into the water.
  • Never catch crabs or lobster by means of skin-diving, which includes using apparatus of any kind which enables a person to breathe underwater.

“We are privileged to enjoy a plentiful supply of fish stocks such as mackerel, crab, lobster, and others such as clams, mussels and periwinkles around our coastlines,” SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said.

“It is critically important that we all work to ensure that we preserve the health of our marine ecosystems and safeguard our marine resources for future generations. Critical to this is following the regulations which prioritise sustainability and are in place to ensure the viability of our sea-fisheries,” he said.

“We are also reminding all recreational fishers, of the allowance applicable under the regulations which facilitates the catch for personal use only and not for resale. Further to this, I would appeal to the public to ensure that they only purchase seafood from legitimate sources which are those that are legally entitled to supply and sell sea-fisheries products on a commercial basis,” he said.

“This is vitally important. Purchasing illegally caught fish means your food comes outside of systems designed to ensure future sustainability and may present a risk to public health and risks damaging the positive reputation regarding the quality and authenticity of Ireland’s seafood,” Mr Hayes added.

“The SFPA urges anyone who suspects illegal fishing or activity that could compromise food safety to contact the regulator directly or by calling the SFPA confidential telephone line at 1800 76 76 76,” he said.

Published in SFPA

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) was asked to explain why it couldn’t sort out the fish landings row in Killybegs, Co Donegal, at an Oireachtas committee meeting on Wednesday.

“You’ve really significant powers, you’ve attained oversight of the factories with CCTV at an unprecedented level that doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe, you’re seen as the strongest regulator in Europe and we can’t get some solution to what’s going on in Killybegs that’s acceptable,” Sinn Féin fisheries and marine spokesman Pádraig MacLochlainn said.

“You guys have the highest reputation in Europe as regulators,” MacLochlainn continued.

He was addressing SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes, along with SFPA colleagues Dr Micheál O’Mahony and Olive Loughnane, at a special hearing on the fish landings row held by the Oireachtas agriculture, food and marine committee.

“You have to do your job...you have to make sure there’s not illegal fishing, you have an array of serious powers,” MacLochlainn said.

“Surely we can sort this out, surely we can get to a point where we allow the industry to survive while you do your job which is an important job,” MacLochlainn said.

Responding, Mr Hayes said he was glad Deputy MacLochlainn recognised the important job the SFPA did, but there were parameters within which the agency had to work as a regulator.

“We are willing to discuss with anybody how we can advance in relation to that, keeping in mind that we have legislation from you as the Irish legislator, we have EU regulations that you insist that we implement and we have to keep those functions and issues in mind when we are arriving at a regulatory regime that will underpin the sustainability, the authenticity, and prevent food fraud - to be quite straight about it - within the Irish fishing seafood sector and food sector generally,” Mr Hayes said.

The SFPA had been asked to appear before the parliamentary committee by Independent TD for Cork South-West Michael Collins and colleagues in the continuing row over handling of pelagic fish landings in Killybegs.

Much of the meeting was dominated by technical questions over the background to the dispute, which arose when industry representatives said that three agreed options for checking weighing of landings were reduced to two without notice last March.

Asked by Sinn Fein TD for Donegal Pearse Doherty to explain why two Killybegs fish factories had permits revoked after they handled fish which was landed in Derry to ensure quality, Mr Hayes said that the SFPA was not comfortable discussing individual cases.

Mr Doherty asked Mr Hayes and colleagues to “convince the committee that this was not vindictive”.

Mr Hayes said that this was about sustainability of fish stocks at the end of the day.

In an opening statement running to 30 minutes, Mr Hayes said that it was “with genuine concern” that the SFPA became aware of a “sustained campaign of disinformation and misinformation suggesting the SFPA was not adhering to provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol following the UK departure from the EU”.

“The SFPA confirms that there has been no change in the fish weighing on landing arrangements between the Republic of Ireland and other jurisdictions as a result of Brexit,” it said.

“Under the EU regulations, which SFPA is bound to implement by this Oireachtas, landings to Northern Ireland could never have been weighed in Killybegs under the terms of an Irish 61(1) control plan,” Mr Hayes said.

“That 61(1) derogation is only applicable to post-transport weighing of fishery products when weighed within the member state of landing,” he said.

“The only way in which fishery products might be weighed in Killybegs following a landing to Northern Ireland, would be through a Common Control Programme between UK and Ireland approved by the EU Commission,” he said.

“ It is important to reiterate, no such Common Control Programme has ever existed, either before or after Brexit. Therefore, landings to Northern Ireland are treated similarly to landings in any EU state with which Ireland does not have a Common Control Programme,” he said.

“Irish operators may choose to purchase fish landed to a jurisdiction with which Ireland does not share an approved Common Control Programme, such as Northern Ireland,” he said.

“In such cases, the weighing must have taken place in the landing jurisdiction, either through the default of immediately at landing, or perhaps at a permitted post-transport establishment in that landing territory if a 61(1) control plan exists there,” he said.

“Crucially, however, the weight of the fish upon landing in another jurisdiction must be the weight declared by all parties. Declaration of a weight after transport at a processing facility in the jurisdiction of Ireland is not permitted,” Mr Hayes said.

“Permitting establishments to weigh after transport at a processing facility following a landing in the Republic of Ireland is a significant exemption available under the Interim Fisheries Control Plan
to operators who have the systems to apply such a permit appropriately,” he said.

“The SFPA will not accept the misuse of the weigh after transport system, which has the potential to jeopardise the EU Commission approved exemption for the entire fishing and seafood processing sector. If this exemption is revoked, all landings of pelagic and demersal fish across Ireland could be required to be weighed pierside,” he said.

Published in Fishing

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed that it has withdrawn permits for two fish processors in the continuing row over weighing of pelagic landings.

The SFPA also says it will “not accept the misuse” of the weigh after transport system for pelagic fish.

It was responding to criticism of its actions by two industry organisations, which have warned of losses of up to 40 million euro annually over the SFPA’s monitoring of bulk landings.

The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) and Irish Fish Processors’ and Exporters’ Association (IFPEA) have called on Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue and the Government to “play a vital leadership role in urgently resolving this matter”.

The row erupted after Danish vessel Ruth headed back to Denmark instead of landing some 1200 tonnes of blue whiting for human consumption into Killybegs, Co Donegal on March 31st.

The SFPA had directed that the catch be landed over a weighbridge instead of a pierside system.

Danish vessel RuthDanish vessel Ruth

Since then, several Norwegian vessels have opted to landed into Derry over the border, rather than into Killybegs, while a number of other vessels abandoned attempts to land into the port.

Last weekend, blue whiting caught on the maiden voyage of new Donegal vessel Lauren 95 has to be sent for processing as fishmeal, rather than being sold for human consumption, as the vessel was selected by SFPA officers for supervised weighing of catch.

Skipper Denis Carberry estimated it cost the vessel 55,000 euro in lost income.

Draining of refrigerated seawater from a vessel’s tanks “breaks the cold chain” and results in fish being compressed during transport, IFPEA chief executive Brendan Byrne said.

Byrne said that the SFPA was “over-interpreting” the common EU regulations, leaving the Irish industry at a substantial competitive and financial disadvantage compared to other EU coastal states.

IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said the weighing debacle must be addressed urgently “or displacement of supply could result in the loss of up to €40 million annually”.

The IFPEA and IFPO have pointed out that a High Court ruling in a case taken last year by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation obliged the authorities to introduce an alternative weighing system.

“We call on the Government to halt the new regime immediately and implement the High Court ruling,” Byrne and O’ Donnell said in a joint statement.

The SFPA said that the flowscale system at Killybegs harbour which was the subject of the court case “is approved for the weighing of bulk pelagic fish in the 95% of instances where a supervised weighing upon landing under the terms of the EU approved interim control plan is not required”.

The SFPA said it was “not a system that meets the terms of the EU approved interim control plan in the 5% of bulk pelagic landings where a supervised weighing upon landing is required”.

It also defended its decision to withdraw permits from two factories, after fish which was due to be landed into their premises in Killybegs was offloaded in Derry and then delivered back over the border by truck.

“Operators can choose to land a catch at a port in another jurisdiction – including both EU and non-EU countries – before transporting and processing the catch in the Republic of Ireland,” the SFPA said.

“ However, the catch must be weighed on landing pierside in the landing state before transportation to the Republic of Ireland,” it said.

“ A Common Control Programme that would permit transport to the Republic of Ireland for weighing after a landing in Northern Ireland does not [exist] and has never existed,” it said.

It warned that any “misuse” of the system “has the potential to jeopardise the EU Commission approved exemption for the entire fishing and seafood processing sector”.

“If this exemption is revoked all 20,000 landings of pelagic and demersal fish annually could be required to be weighed pierside,” the SFPA said.

The SFPA said that to meet the requirements of the interim plan – which has now been extended until December - operators may select one of two options for conducting weighing before transport.

“To preserve the quality of the catch, fish are in water when weighed in both options. For absolute clarity there is no requirement in either instance for the fish to be weighed dry,”it said.

The SFPA said that vessel masters and operators in Killybegs can avail of the industry-owned pierside device to separate water from fish as it exits the vessel before discharging directly into a tanker pre-filled with water which is then weighed on the weighbridge (Water in Tare Weight).

Alternatively, the fish can be weighed on the weighbridge without using the industry-owned pierside device (Water in Nett Weight)., but this brought “greater challenges”.

O’Donnell said the debacle was “damaging to the reputation of quality Irish seafood and is losing business for our seafood exporters”.

“Ironically, Irish seafood processors are exhibiting at a Bord Bia 3-day International Seafood Show this week in Barcelona,” he said.

“International customers will be uneasy if there is a possibility of Irish fish quality being compromised by dewatering procedures or undue delays in the freezing of fish after catching,” he said.

O’Donnell said the latest incident with the MFV Lauren “led to the loss of two days weekend overtime work for 51 employees who had to be sent home”.

“The processing plants are a significant source of employment. They are the backbone of the economy for our coastal communities, who are frustrated and angry at how matters have unfolded since March,” O’Donnell said.

“ To secure supply and to compete internationally, we just need a common-sense approach and a level playing field in applying EU regulations,” he said.

“Regrettably, the blue whiting season is now ending, and the losses suffered by the industry and local coastal communities cannot be undone,” O’Donnell said.

“We have a modern pelagic fleet, and processing plants have invested in state-of-the-art weighing systems. These systems include live feed camera monitoring of in-house weighing, supported by 31-day back-ups,” he said.

“No other EU member state has implemented the level of control the SFPA is currently exercising,” he said.

Published in SFPA

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says it will continue to engage with fishing industry representatives after an online meeting was held yesterday in relation to the row over fish landings.

The row erupted last month after Danish vessel Ruth headed back to Denmark instead of landing some 1200 tonnes of blue whiting for human consumption into Killybegs, Co Donegal on March 31st.

The SFPA had directed that the catch be landed over a weighbridge instead of a pierside system.

Since then, several Norwegian vessels have opted to land into Derry over the border, rather than into Killybegs - then trucking catches to south Donegal, while a number of vessels either abandoned attempts to land or sold catch destined for human consumption as fish meal.

The SFPA said in a statement that the interim fisheries control plan enables 95% of bulk landings of pelagic fish to avail of an exemption to weigh-after-transport, meaning that just 5% are subject to supervised weighing on landing.

The Danish fishing vessel MV Ruth, arrived to land 1,270 tonnes of blue whiting for local processing and export to Africa but left port with the fish still aboardThe Danish fishing vessel MV Ruth, arrived to land 1,270 tonnes of blue whiting for local processing and export to Africa but left port with the fish still aboard

“Over the past five days, approximately 9,500 tonnes of bulk pelagic fish were landed at Killybegs harbour, totalling 20 landings. During this same period, one vessel chose to leave port and sail to Derry to discharge its catch,” it said.

The SFPA said the meeting discussed a number of items. This included “ two options for conducting weighing before transport currently available in Killybegs harbour for the 5% of landings which are selected for supervised weighing”.

The SFPA said it outlined in detail how, in both instances, fish are in water when weighed in order to preserve the quality of the catch.

SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said “as the regulator with responsibility for sea-fisheries and the seafood production sector, our role is to ensure that landings of fish in Ireland are in compliance with the EU Common Fisheries Policy to safeguard sustainable fishing stocks in Irish and European waters”.

SFPA executive chair Paschal HayesSFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes

“The interim fisheries control plan agreed between Ireland and EU Commission in December 2021 enables 95% of bulk pelagic landings to be weighed in permitted fish processors, on the condition that 5% of landings – estimated at 30 landings annually – are weighed under supervision pierside,” he said.

“It is our intention to continue to meet the conditions agreed in Ireland’s control plan so that the entire industry can benefit of the exemptions on weighing after transport,” Hayes said.

Published in SFPA

As the row over inspection of fish landings continues, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) invited industry representatives to a virtual meeting on the issue.

Irish Fish Processors’ and Exporters’ Association (IFPEA) chief executive Brendan Byrne confirmed that an invitation to an online meeting today (April 13th) had been issued by the SFPA.

“However, there is no agenda – so I cannot say if this is an effort to resolve the issue,” Byrne said.

The row erupted after Danish vessel Ruth headed back to Denmark instead of landing some 1200 tonnes of blue whiting for human consumption into Killybegs, Co Donegal, on March 31st.

The SFPA had directed that the catch be landed over a weighbridge instead of a pierside system.

Since then, several Norwegian vessels have opted to land into Derry over the border, rather than into Killybegs - then trucking catches to south Donegal, while four other vessels abandoned attempts to land into the port, Byrne said.

“Three Irish vessels had to put their catches of blue whiting, destined for human consumption, to fish meal,” Byrne said.

He said it was “bizarre” and “defied all sense of proportion” and said that up to 300 workers were impacted over a three week period.

A survey of members by the IFPEA over five days found that 1773 workdays had been lost for seasonal workers and 239 households affected directly.

He said that the economy of southwest Donegal had taken a “massive hit” due to the changes in weighing procedures which he said had been “adopted overnight by the SFPA” in early March.

A stormy three-hour meeting was held on the issue in Killybegs on April 9th, attended by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue.

On the eve of the Killybegs meeting, the SFPA issued a statement in which it said that under the terms of the interim fisheries control plan, as approved by the European Commission, only 5% of bulk landings of pelagic fish – an estimated 30 landings annually – are subject to a full inspection which includes supervising the weighing before transport of the catch.

“The other 95% of bulk landings of pelagic fish – an estimated 570 landings annually – can avail of the exemption of weighing of fishery products after transport in Ireland secured under the interim fisheries control plan,” the SFPA said.

“Several bulk pelagic vessels which docked in Killybegs harbour over the past week [ early April] availed of this exemption,” it said.

The SFPA said that to meet the requirements of the interim plan, operators may select one of two options for conducting this weighing before transport.

“To preserve the quality of the catch, fish are in water when weighed in both options. For absolute clarity, there is no requirement in either instance for the fish to be weighed dry,” it said.

The SFPA said that vessel masters and operators in Killybegs can avail of an industry-owned pierside device to separate water from fish as it exits the vessel before discharging directly into a tanker pre-filled with water which is then weighed on the weighbridge (Water in Tare Weight).

Alternatively, the fish can be weighed on the weighbridge without using the industry-owned pierside device (Water in Nett Weight), but this brought “greater challenge”.

The SFPA said this was one of the two options which was available to the master and operator of Norwegian vessel MFV Ingrid Majala at Killybegs.

“Having rejected this option in Killybegs, the master and operator of MFV Ingrid Majala chose to utilise this option after having sailed to Derry to unload,” it said.

Published in SFPA
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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.

FAQs

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

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