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The Marine Institute’s Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services (FEAS) department will undertake a survey of herring off the West and North West Coasts from 1-10 December.

This survey is the fourth in a time series that is hoped will be developed into a long-term index of spawning/pre-spawning herring in ICES area 6a S/7b, for use in stock assessments in the future.

The overall 6a survey (6a N and 6a S/7b) is part of a collaborative partnership between Ireland, the Netherlands and UK (Scotland) that aims to improve understanding of the individual stock components of herring in 6a and 7b.

Next month’s survey will be conducted by the RV Celtic Voyager (callsign EIQN) using a towed body with two split-beam transducers (38 kHz and 120 kHz). The vessel will be trackable online during the survey.

In total around 1,100 nautical miles of cruise track will be undertaken with a mixture of parallel (spaced at 7.5 and 3.5 nm) and zig-zag transects. The vessel will display appropriate lights and signals.

Night operations will involve the towing of the two split-beam transducer. Fishing will take place opportunistically during daylight hours.

Contact details and co-ordinates of the relevant survey areas are included in Marine Notice No 50 of 2019, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

Published in Fishing

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
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Minister for Marine Michael Creed has been forced to close the Celtic Sea herring fishery due to a virtual collapse of the multi-million euro stock writes Lorna Siggins

The closure order, which has not yet been released publicly, was issued by Mr Creed just 48 hours after the seasonal fishery opened.

The decision was taken due to the small size of fish landed into Ringaskiddy and Castletownbere, Co Cork and Dingle, Co Kerry earlier this week.

It is understood that a further survey of fish size will take place in two weeks.

“There were no other choices, and the industry recommended this due to the juvenile fish being landed – it was a mature decision by the industry,” Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Francis O’Donnell said.

Last year, the Celtic Sea herring fishery lost a valuable international sustainable fishery accreditation awarded by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The MSC had accredited the fishery in 2012 and undertook a five-year review in 2017 which it informed its decision to remove the certification last year.

The accreditation had increased the value of the stock, much of which is exported to Europe for the roll-mop herring market.

This, in turn, put pressure on the stock, with quotas falling from a peak of 30,000 tonnes to about 20 per cent of that last year, as recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

Just under 10,000 tonnes of herring valued at 3 million euro on the pier was landed last year, with main export markets being Germany, Britain, Denmark and Nigeria.

The closure comes just weeks after the European Commission gave Mr Creed’s department three months to conduct an 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.

Officials had identified shortcomings in the weighing of catches of pelagic fish, such as mackerel and herring, and issues related to “underreporting of catches of these species”.

The closure affects several dozen vessels from Killybegs, Co Donegal down to Rossaveal, Co Galway and the Cork and Kerry ports of Castletownbere and Dingle, are licensed for the fishery, most of which is exported.

Ironically, a small boat herring fishery, known as the “sentinel “fishery for vessels up to 17 metres in length, maybe hit by a stock collapse it did not cause.

The “sentinel” fishery begins in November from Dunmore East, Co Waterford, and provides a vital source of income to smaller vessels, according to Mr Hugo Boyle of the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ organisation.

Herring has historically played a key role in the economic development of many European coastal states, from Norway, Iceland and Denmark to Britain, where battles were fought in the 17th century between Dutch and English fleets over access to herring shoals.

The fishery has gone through cyclical downturns, and when traditional markets for salted and barrelled herring and fresh fish declined, new markets in frozen fish and in herring roe exported to Japan were developed. In the 1990s, markets for herring collapsed, causing a new crisis.

A “rebuilding plan” was introduced last year by the Celtic Sea herring management advisory committee, and a fisheries improvement plan had been drawn up in collaboration with the Marine Institute.

Published in Fishing
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#Fishing - The Marine Institute intends to obtain samples of spawning herring at the Bills of Achill this month, and the Glen Head/Aranmore area in December.

The samples will be taken during spawning time. These samples are urgently required to assess the extent of mixing of Irish-spawned herring in VIa, particularly VIaN (West of Scotland).

They will be used in a discriminant analysis of herring caught during the summer acoustic survey, taking place West of Scotland and Ireland. The analysis is a matter of urgency because the stocks are subject to a new ICES assessment in 2015.

Currently, herring in VIaN are considered to be part of a separate stock. However preliminary analysis by the Marine Institute suggests a component of herring in VIaN in summer belong to the NW Irish stock.

Authorisation has been received to allow two pairs of pelagic RSW vessels to enter the 12-mile territorial limits, and to fish herring on these known spawning grounds, on one occasion off Mayo and one off Donegal.

The vessels are the FV Olgarry and FV Pacelli, and the FV Felucca and FV Genesis II. These vessels will be fishing against their existing NW herring quotas, and are not being awarded any additional scientific quota for the exercise.

Published in Fishing

#MARINE WILDLIFE - A "feeding frenzy" involving a pod of fin whales was spotted off Hook Head in Co Wexford last week, The Irish Times reports.

And according to Andrew Malcolm of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), two of the whales were in the same location almost exactly a year ago.

Malcolm, who was with a group on board the Rebecca C, used photographs of the whale's dorsal fins to compare records for the confirmation.

The pod of six fin whales was seen feeding some 3km southeast of Hook Head, attracted by the herring spawning grounds in the area.

More than 30 other cetaceans, including common dolphins, porpoises and a minke whale, were sighted on the trip.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#FISHING - The Minister for the Marine has spoken out over plans by the European Commission to make cuts in certain fish stocks that could see €65 million in lost earnings for Ireland's fishing fleet.

According to The Irish Times, Minister Simon Coveney said there was "very credible data prepared by the Marine Institute to back up" the case against proposals by EU maritime affairs commissioner Maria Damanaki to cut certain stocks by as much as 25%.

He told the paper he would "challenge anyone to say we are not sticking with scientific advice", and also suggested that the fishing industry is being more responsible in its own proposals.

"The European Commission is recommending a 60 per cent increase in the total allowable catch for Celtic Sea herring, whereas the industry is seeking 30 per cent as a more responsible approach,” said Minister Coveney.

“So this shows it is not true to say that fishermen are irresponsible, as some would suggest."

EU fish talks continue today in Brussels. The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Fishing

Mr. Sean Connick, T.D. Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welcomed the agreement reached after two days of talks in Brussels on 2011 quotas for the Irish fishing fleet.

The final agreement will deliver whitefish quotas worth some €116 million, including the protection of Ireland's €54 million prawn fishery. There will be a 10% increase in quota for Ireland's €75 million mackerel industry and a two thirds share, worth approximately €4 million, for Irish fishermen of the new boarfish industry.

Speaking at the end of the negotiations in the early hours of Wednesday (16 December), the Minister said

"The negotiations have been particularly challenging this year with the European Commission proposing cuts across many stocks of commercial importance for Ireland. Consulting with our fishing industry and NGOs, working with other Member States and concentrating on the scientific evidence, was, I believe key to securing a balanced sustainable package."

"This package will help underpin the economic future of our costal communities."

There will be 15% increase in haddock and whiting stocks in the Celtic Sea. While for the cod stocks off the North West and the Irish Sea, the quotas will be reduced by 25% in line with the Recovery Plan for these stocks. For Celtic Sea cod, the current quota level has been maintained for 2011 on the basis of new survey results from the State's Research Vessel "Celtic Explorer".

Minister Connick commented "By introducing new information on Celtic Sea cod, I secured agreement that the current level of TAC will continue into 2011, and may be increased during the year if the new survey results are confirmed by the scientists. However, given the poor state of cod stocks off the North West and in the Irish Sea, cuts were necessary".

Commenting on the 3% reduction in the prawn quota, the Minister said "Prawns are a very important fishery all around our coast. It is the most valuable catch for the Irish whitefish fleet worth €54 million. While the Commission originally proposed a 17% cut, I secured just a 3% decrease in the quota on the basis of a strong scientific case."

The quota for mackerel will be increased by 10%, and should be worth up to €75m in 2011. This is the most important fishery for the North West fleet based in Killybegs and is also important for the South West multi purpose fleet, supporting processing jobs in the coastal communities.

There were also increases in the quota for Celtic Sea herring of 30%, although there were cuts in the North West stock reflecting concerns about the state of those stocks.

Finally, Ireland secured the largest share in an important new fishery for boarfish that will be worth just under €4 million in 2011. The Irish fishing industry has been working with the scientific community to develop a management plan for boarfish, a mid-water shoaling species, now found in large volumes off the South West coast. The agreement reached in Brussels provides for a total allowable catch of some 33,000 tonnes, with two thirds going to Ireland.

Minister Connick commented "In an example of a successful investment in scientific research by industry, we have opened up a new fishery and secured the major stake in that industry. This ensures a new revenue stream for Irish industry into the future. We believe we can now develop a significant and sustainable fishery on this stock, in which we will continue to hold the largest share".

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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