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State Sea Fisheries Regulator Defends its Actions in Continuing Row over Blue Whiting Landings in Donegal

30th April 2022
Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue - asked to play
Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue - asked to play "a vital leadership role in urgently resolving this matter”

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed that it has withdrawn permits for two fish processors in the continuing row over weighing of pelagic landings.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

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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About the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA)

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority was established on the 1st of January 2007. The SFPA is independent in the exercise of its functions, which are below.

The principal functions of the Authority are:

  1. To secure efficient and effective enforcement of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
  2. To promote compliance with & deter contraventions of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
  3. To detect contraventions of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
  4. To provide information to the sea-fisheries and seafood sectors on sea-fisheries law and food safety law and relevant matters within the remit of the Authority, through the Consultative Committee established under section 48 of the above Act or by any other means it considers appropriate
  5. To advise the Minister in relation to policy on effective implementation of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
  6. To provide assistance and information to the Minister in relation to the remit of the Authority
  7. To collect and report data in relation to sea fisheries and food safety as required by the Minister and under Community law
  8. To represent or assist in the representation of the State at national, Community and international fora as requested by the Minister, and
  9. To engage in any other activities relating to the functions of the Authority as may be approved of by the Minister.