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Displaying items by tag: Sea Fisheries Protection Agency

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 (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

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says a new control plan is expected to come into effect on May 1st.

This is subject to approval by the European Commission, which withdrew Ireland’s control plan for weighing fish catches a year ago due to lack of confidence in the Irish monitoring system.

The SFPA said a new control plan to enable the derogation of weighing of fishery products after transport in Ireland has now been submitted to the European Commission “with a view to achieving permanent approval”.

Once approval is secured, it would be adopted by Ireland and would come into force from May 1st, the authority said.

The SFPA said it “has been working intensively to move from interim arrangements to develop a fair and effective permanent control plan”.

It said the objective was an approved plan that “balances the requirements of the industry whilst also enabling meaningful control to manage real noncompliance risks”.

“The SFPA believes the control plan it has submitted addresses significant EU Commission concerns surrounding Ireland’s control measures and the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, particularly in pelagic bulk landings to Ireland which resulted in the Commission’s revoking of Ireland’s weighing-after-transport control plan in 2021,” it said.

The interim plan initiated from January 1st of this year is due to expire on April 30th, so there was a degree of urgency to ensure a permanent arrangement is in place.

The default provision of EU legislation is that all wild-caught fishery products have to be weighed immediately at transport by operators.

There is potential for a derogation to allow weighing to take place after transport but that requires EU commission approval of a plan to “manage compliance risks arising from that practice”.

Last year’s withdrawal of the plan followed an EU audit in 2018 of controls for Ireland’s pelagic fisheries in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

The 2018 audit had identified irregularities, including the alleged manipulation of weighing systems in some instances.

The SFPA said that these irregularities were “subsequently confirmed in an administrative inquiry” that it conducted.

The Irish industry had reacted angrily to the EU move, seeking sight of the audit which was refused. Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said the European Commission was “playing the role of judge and jury, with the fishing industry being refused the basic right to establish what it might stand accused of”.

Published in SFPA

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority’s executive chair has said that the organisation is “committed” to detecting those who “choose not to comply” with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The new chair Paschal Hayes was commenting after fines were imposed by Judge John Alymer on the master of the Maggie C fishing vessel at Letterkenny Circuit Court in Co Donegal earlier this week.

The fines of 15,000 euro were imposed at a circuit court sitting in Letterkenny on February 8th.

At a previous sitting of the court, the master of the vessel had pleaded guilty to fishing offences including the failure to accurately record catches in the logbook while at sea.

The value of the catch and gear in the sum of €18,000 was also forfeited.

The vessel was detained following an inspection at sea by the Naval Service on October 13th, 2015, and was subsequently detained and brought to Killybegs Harbour, Co Donegal.

“The accurate recording of catches in logbooks is a critical element of effective quota management and is an important part of ensuring the sustainability of our marine resources,” Mr Hayes said in a statement issued after the judgment.

“ Most operators adhere to the requirements of the EU CFP; however, there are some who choose not to,” he said.

“ We are committed to detecting those who choose not to comply,” he said.

“ With the support of our control partners, our risk-based approach to regulation allows us to identify activity and vessels that pose a higher risk, and where non-compliance is found, the appropriate action will be taken, “ he said.

Ruling by the European Court of Justice

In a separate development, the SFPA has also welcomed the ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that Ireland’s sea-fisheries regulator can submit data other than fishermen’s declarations of their catches to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the European Commission.

It said the ECJ ruling “endorses a decision by the High Court that the SFPA can use reasonable, scientifically valid methods and data to certify data logged by fishermen so as to achieve more accurate catch figures, when they consider fishermen’s declarations unreliable”.

“Fishermen should accurately declare their catches, and the SFPA should not have to consider second-guessing legal declarations,” Mr Hayes commented.

“ Protection of Ireland’s marine resources is critical to sustaining their future and we will continue to use all tools available to deter and detect over-fishing, ensuring fishers comply and Ireland’s data are as accurate as possible,” he said

The case arose following an assessment by SFPA of a mismatch between time spent in different areas and the proportion of catches logged.

Consequently, the SFPA data that was provided was based on the total catches declared on fishermen’s log sheets as assessed against the actual fishing operations logged by the fishermen (including time spent) for their fishing activity in FU16 (the Porcupine area)¹ in 2017, and not according to the catch area declared.

Published in SFPA

Staff with the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) have served notice of a 24-hour work stoppage this week with further strike action to follow.

Barring last minute efforts to resolve issues, the move is expected to cause disruption in designated fishing harbours around the coast.

The SFPA monitors and enforces sea fisheries and seafood safety legislation, and works with the Naval Service on inspections of fishing vessels under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

The State seafood regulator was established in 2007 as an agency independent of, but working with, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Lack of consultation with staff over a new strategy and organisational changes are among key reasons cited for the industrial action.

The Fórsa trade union’s marine branch representing approximately 110 members of the SFPA.

They undertake inspections of landings and monitor certifications at six sea fishery harbours - Killybegs, Co Donegal, Ros-a-Mhíl, Co Galway, An Daingean (Dingle), Co Kerry, Castletownbere, Co Cork, Dunmore East, Co Waterford and Howth, Co Dublin.

Industrial action had originally been due to take place in March 2021, but this was suspended when invitations were issued to attend talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

However, after failure to resolve issues at several WRC conciliation meetings, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court which convened a hearing in June 2021.

The Labour Court said it could only assist in the context of binding arbitration, and adjourned its hearing for both sides to consider this.

When the hearing was reconvened last July, the SFPA is understood to have said it would need approval from the Departmental of Agriculture, Food and Marine in advance of agreeing to be bound by court recommendations.

Fórsa has described this as “procedural gymnastics”, and has accused SFPA management of continuing to “unilaterally alter our members’ core working conditions and agreements”.

The union has served notice under the 1990 Industrial Relations Act of 24-hour work stoppage by all Fórsa members from midnight Wednesday, January 19th to midnight Thursday, January 20th.

This may be followed by a 48-hour work stoppage by all Fórsa members from midnight Tuesday, January 25th to midnight Thursday, January 27th unless there is a resolution.

The union has indicated the action could be avoided if the SFPA agrees to binding arbitration by the Labour Court.

In a statement, SFPA management said it had been notified of strike action, and said that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Consultative Committee, comprising representatives of Ireland’s marine community including industry, had also been informed.

“ The SFPA has requested Forsa to confirm that minimum cover will be provided on these days, as is required under the code of practice on disputes procedures, to help minimise disruption to industry and seafood trade,” it said.

The organisation would be “making best efforts to minimise the impact on industry from this industrial action, but some disruption of SFPA services may be unavoidable”, it added.

“The SFPA is keen to secure as early a resolution to matters as possible and is disappointed that industrial action is being taken at this time,”it said.

Former Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine principal officer Paschal Hayes was appointed executive chair of the SFPA by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue earlier this month.

Published in SFPA

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says it is continuing to work as “collaboratively” as possible with key stakeholders in its new three-year strategy.

The strategy published late this week was developed in consultation with stakeholders, the regulatory body says.

It says it reflects “the extent of the SFPA’s remit across the sea-fisheries and the sea-food production industry as well as the evolving regulatory environment in which it operates”.

The strategy also sets out plans to complete the organisational change programme that is “already underway”, it says.

“As the sea-fisheries regulator, the SFPA’s remit includes all fishing vessels operating within Ireland’s 200-mile limit, almost 2,000 Irish registered fishing vessels, wherever they operate, and all seafood produced in Ireland’s seafood-processing companies,” it states.

SFPA authority member Tim Donovan said that “while our primary functions have not altered since the organisation was established in 2007, the SFPA’s environment has changed substantially and will continue to evolve”.

“Our plan reflects this and underpins our commitment to promote compliance, safeguarding public welfare as well as the delivery of a sustainable, competitive, and innovative seafood sector,” he said.

“Ireland has a safe, innovative fishing industry that is recognised and respected worldwide, while its fish products are acknowledged globally as healthy and nutritious food,” he continued in a statement.

“Robust confidence in an effective regulatory service plays a key role in maintaining that reputation and in ensuring fair and sustainable usage of a shared marine resource for which many compete,” he said.

“ Good regulation is required to protect it and ensure fish for future generations as well as ensuring consumers worldwide can enjoy Irish seafood safely,” he continued.

Donovan referred to changes such as a “rapidly evolving regulatory environment with substantial changes to EU fisheries and seafood safety law” and “monumental changes brought about by Brexit”.

Brexit is having a significant impact, particularly in relation to catch and health certification of Irish fish exports as well as import controls that have significant implications for the industry as well as for the SFPA, he noted.

“ This strategy is a new pathway forward and outlines a new vision for the SFPA, in how we carry out our work. It represents ambition and so too commitment and a deep desire to ensure an engaged and collaborative approach to ensure the sustainability of this important sector,” Donovan said.

Published in SFPA

An environmental group has called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to separate the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Agency from control by the Department of Agriculture and the Marine.

As The Times Ireland edition reports today, the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) believe EU penalties imposed on the Irish fishing sector are a consequence of the SFPA's lack of independence.

The entire Irish fishing sector is now having to bear the burden of penalties arising from an EU audit of specific breaches which were not sufficiently addressed by Irish authorities, FIE says.

The 2018 EU audit had identified “severe and significant weaknesses in the Irish control system” for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, detailing irregularities, including the manipulation of weighing systems in some instances.

Ireland is already negotiating terms of a payback quotas, as the EU auditors found that Ireland had overfished its quota of mackerel by 28,600 tonnes; horse mackerel quota by 8,100 tonnes and blue whiting by 5,600 tonnes between 2012 and 2016.

The EU’s recent decision to withdraw Ireland’s control plan for weighing catches has caused consternation within the industry, as all seafood catches by both large and small vessels now have to be weighed at the point of landing.

Ireland had previously secured a derogation to allow weighing in factories, due to the loss of quality involved in weighing at the pier.

The FIE has published the full EU audit report on its website, and has also written to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations and to the Criminal Assets Bureau, asking both agencies if they are aware of the audit team’s recommendations in relation to tackling fraud.

SFPA chair Dr Susan Steele,who is due to take up a post as head of the EU’s fisheries control agency in Vigo, Spain in September, said the EU decision on weighing catches at the point of landing is a “clear marker of tougher fisheries controls across the EU”.

However, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has said it is “simply flabbergasted” that what it described as “this bewildering move which has such a direct and draconian impact on all aspects of Irish fisheries” could “be considered without any advance notice”.

In its letter to the Taoiseach, the FIE says that that the root cause of the problem is an undermining of the independence of the SFPA by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Noting the department's “ development priorities”, FIE Director Tony Lowes said the “necessary and appropriate checks and balances incumbent on the department in the exercise of its functions are impossible”.

“The compounding procedures brought against Ireland by the EU are because the SFPA, like the Marine Institute, is administered by the part of the Department of Agriculture also responsible for the promotion of the seafood industry,” he said.

He has urged the Taoiseach to transfer administration and financing of the SFPA to “one of the many non-marine divisions”.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said it was "not accurate" to suggest it undermined the SFPA's independence.

It said the SFPA's independence is laid down in legislation that is "fully respected", and it said it had also increased the SFPA's budget with further recruitment planned for this year.

Read The Times here

Published in SFPA

An Irish marine biologist has been appointed head of the EU’s monitoring body for the Common Fisheries Policy.

Dr Susan Steele, who grew up on West Cork’s Beara peninsula, has been appointed executive director of the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).

She is currently chair and chief executive of the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA).

The EFCA’s primary role is to organise coordination and cooperation between national control and inspection activities, ensuring the rules of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy are “respected and applied effectively”.

Based in Vigo, Spain, it cooperates with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency to support national authorities.

The EFCA confirmed Dr Steele’s appointment on Thursday (Apr 22), stating that she has a “solid background in fisheries management and control!.

Dr Steele had been head of the SPFA since 2013, and was previously head of the innovation at the national Seafood Development Centre from 2009.

She also worked with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) as head of aquaculture and business from 2006 to 2009.

She holds a PhD from the National University of Ireland, an MBA, a Masters in Education (M.Ed) and a bachelor degree in marine biology.

She is expected to take up her new European post on September 1st, 2021.

Ireland’s SFPA was recently directed by the EU to withdraw its control plan for weighing fish landed by Irish vessels, following an EU audit in 2018 conducted in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

Last year, the EFCA recorded 38,452 inspections at sea and ashore, leading to 1787 suspected infringements in EU member states.

Published in Fishing

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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