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Environmental and commercial fishing groups have joined forces to call for a restoration of a ban on trawling by larger vessels within six nautical miles of the coast.

Marine life such as dolphins, small scale fishing vessels and sea birds dependent on inshore stocks are threatened by the actions of larger fishing vessels, the groups point out.

A letter sent by 15 groups to Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue yesterday (Thursday, 29 October) calls on him to take the “steps necessary” to reinstate the ban and protect inshore stocks.

Former marine minister Michael Creed signed the new ban, applicable to fishing vessels over 18 metres working within six miles of the coast, into law from January 1st of this year.

A three-year “transition period” for vessels over 18m targeting sprat inside the six nautical mile zone was allowed.

However, the ban was recently overturned by the High Court in a judicial review taken by fishermen Tom Kennedy and Neil Minihane.

The National Inshore Fisherman's Association (NIFA) and National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation (NIFO), Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, Cork Environmental Forum, Cork Nature Network, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Environmental Pillar and Friends of the Irish Environment are signatories to the appeal to Mr McConalogue.

The Irish Seal Sanctuary, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Irish Wildlife Trust, Oceana, Seas at Risk, Sustainable Water Network and Our Fish non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also signed the letter.

The groups say that the policy directive, introduced by Mr Creed, “was one of the most important fisheries policy shifts in the history of the Irish state, and was broadly welcomed as being the right decision from a social, economic, environmental and a social justice perspective”.

The groups say it was backed by expert analysis by the Marine Institute and the Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

“The fishing industry and environmental NGOs are often portrayed as opposing forces, however, the reality is they have a common goal or vision for a healthy marine environment,” NIFA spokesman Alex Crowley said.

“Inshore fishers are acutely aware of the need for a healthy marine environment to support their businesses and way of life, and as an economic sector ... we are particularly exposed to negative environmental impacts,” Mr Crowley added.

Birdwatch Ireland policy officer Fintan Kelly said that “overfishing has hollowed out marine ecosystems” and had “a direct impact on the Irish fishing communities” that depend on collapsing stocks.

Our Fish programme director Rebecca Hubbard said that the Government can “ deliver on ambitions to halt the biodiversity and climate emergency” and “set an impressive example for other European countries to follow” by reinstating the ban.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said that the minister is “currently considering the implications of the judgment in consultation with his department officials and legal advisors”.

The department noted that “while the applicants did not succeed on four of the five grounds of challenge, the challenge was made against the entire policy directive and was successful”.

The High Court judgment found the policy directive did not impinge constitutional rights, was not disproportionate and did not breach EU law, the department noted.

However, it said that the challenge did succeed on the point that “given the impact... there was a particular duty on the Minister to provide a fuller explanation and engage in further talks with the applicants”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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 A French-registered fishing vessel has been detained by the Naval Service patrol ship LÉ William Butler Yeats (P63) off the south-west coast.

The detention approximately 45 nautical miles south-west of Mizen Head was in relation to alleged breaches of fishing regulations, according to the Defence Forces press office.

The vessel is being escorted to Castletownbere, Co Cork, where it will be handed over to the Garda.

It is the 12th vessel detained by the Naval Service in 2020, working with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.

As Afloat reported previously, the LÉ William Butler Yeats also detained a French fishing vessel in July, off the Blaskets.

Published in Navy
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An investigation into the death of the young west Cork fisherman Kodie Healy in Dunmanus Bay last year says he may have fallen overboard his boat.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report published today says Mr Healy had only bought the boat three to four weeks before the incident on October 9th, 2019.

The 23-year-old man was a trained and experienced commercial fisherman and was on a day off when he went fishing for mackerel and pollack in the 5.7-metre open deck GRP vessel Tommy R 

He was not wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD), and the report notes that he may not have known that there was a satellite personal locator beacon (PLB) onboard the vessel.

The hull was not found, but wreckage was picked up widely, and his body was located by divers north-west of Carbery island in a gulley or crevice in 11 metres of water on October 13th.

There had been an extensive search for Mr Healy, after he was reported overdue by his father, John Healy - from a well known west Cork fishing family - on the evening of October 9th last year.

An autopsy identified death by acute cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning.

The MCIB report concludes that “the most probable cause” of his death was that he fell overboard sometime after 1 pm when close to the northwest shore of Carbery Island.

“The ‘Tommy R’ steering would have been uncontrolled and the boat would have come into close proximity of the Carbery breaker or the seas northwest of Carbery island,” the report says.

The boat would then have been “overwhelmed, broken up and sunk by a breaking sea”.

Contributory factors identified by the MCIB include adverse weather, with a small craft warning and rough seas in Dunmanus Bay.; and the fact that Mr Healy was not wearing a PFD.

The report says he was fishing “on his own in very dangerous seas off Carbery breaker and Carbery island”, and the vessel was not suitable for those sea conditions on that day.

The qualified commercial fisherman who trained at the National Fisheries College, Castletownbere had left to fish in Dunmanus Bay at 8 am on that morning,

The Irish Coast Guard, RNLI, Naval Service, West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue dive team and Blackwater SAR Daunt and Cork Sub Aqua were among units involved in the extensive search.

Shortly before 10 pm that first night, boat wreckage was found at Drishane point on the Dunmanus peninsula.

The report says that the Tommy R was previously a fishing vessel named the FV Jamie Andrea, and was removed from the fishing vessel register by application in August 2017. As a recreational craft, it was exempt with compliance with the EU directive on fishing vessels of this size.

It says that “from the type and condition of the wreckage, it may be deduced that the boat’s sinking was rapid leaving little time for the casualty, if he was on board and not incapacitated, to send out a distress signal, call for help, grab a lifesaving device or prepare to abandon the boat”.

The report says Mr Healy used the boat for recreational fishing on several occasions prior to the incident.

The boat, built-in 1983, had declarations of compliance, with stability declared as satisfactory.

There was no record of a VHF licence, but the radio was reported to be working. However, there was no reported VHF communication from the vessel.

The report says Mr Healy intended to use a dive board method - a device with several fish lures attached which is trolled at the end of a line behind a boat moving slowly forward at around two to three knots.

In correspondence, Mr Healy’s father John included a number of omissions in the draft report.

Mr Healy said his son was a very experienced seaman, having fished from the age of seven and in waters from “Rockall to the English Channel” in later years.

“Personally, I believe that without more sightings of the boat on that day or, ideally, having the GPS tracker for that day, it is fair and reasonable to say at this time that only the sea holds the mystery of what happened,” Mr Healy wrote.

Published in MCIB

Irish inshore fishermen have said that a High Court ruling which overturns a Government ban on trawling by larger fishing vessels within the Irish six nautical mile limit is “likely to be more severe” on them than a “no-deal Brexit".

The National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) said that the judgment published last week was “deeply disappointing” and “extremely worrying”.

It has called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue to reinstate “without delay” the directive imposing the ban on trawlers over 18 metres in length from working inside the six nautical mile limit.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) has welcomed the outcome of the judicial review taken by fishermen Tom Kennedy and Neil Minihane.

Former marine minister Michael Creed had signed the ban into law from January 1st of this year.

Mr Creed conceded to a phased system for vessels over 18 metres in length fishing for sprat during 2020 and 2021, however.

Sprat - there are calls for a 'robust scientific study' of this vital species to the ocean food chainSprat - there are calls for a 'robust scientific study' of this vital species to the ocean food chain in the wake of the High Court ruling Photo: illustration BIM

Mr Creed had said the “new protection of inshore waters” would “both support our small scale and island fishermen” and sea angling sectors, and would “provide wider ecosystem benefits, including for nursery areas and juvenile fish stocks”.

The NIFA says that the policy directive created a “huge opportunity for the inshore sector".

If “that opportunity is to be denied” as a result of the High Court ruling, then the inshore sector “faces a very uncertain future and possibly a complete collapse”, it said.

“The potential medium to long term negative impacts of the High court ruling on the inshore sector are likely to be far more severe than that of any “No Deal Brexit”, particularly when looked at in terms of equitable access to fisheries resources,” it said.

“The majority of Ireland’s fishing industry, the inshore sector, which accounts for over 80% of vessels in the fleet and is responsible for over 50% of direct employment in the industry is almost exclusively dependent on the resources inside the six nautical mile zone and does not depend on access to UK waters,” NIFA said.

“Despite that dependency, the majority of the resources inside that zone are harvested by a very small number of larger trawlers,” it said, and many smaller vessels said they could not compete with them.

“Over previous decades, the inshore sector has lost much opportunity and entitlement to access to fishery resources previously available to it,” NIFA said.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has also voiced concern and has called on Mr McConalogue and Minister of State for Biodiversity Pippa Hackett to “act swiftly” and take steps to reinstate the ban.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has called for a scientific study of sprat stocks in inshore waters.

IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said that while he did not want to comment directly on the judgment, it was time for a “proper, robust scientific study” on sprat stocks.

Published in Fishing
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The Government has allocated €13 million in increased funding to promote the” environmentally sustainable development” of the seafood industry.

Budget 2021 has approved total funding for the Irish sea fisheries Programme at €151 million.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue welcomed the allocation, and said the fisheries, aquaculture and wider seafood sector “supports some 16,000 direct and indirect jobs in the coastal communities”.

Mr McConalogue also said the 2021 budgetary provision would allow the Marine Institute to progress the construction of a new €25 million modern research vessel.

The new 50-metre research ship – to replace the existing 31-metre Celtic Voyager which is over 21 years old – is being built in Spain, and will complement the existing 65 metre-long Celtic Explorer when it arrives around 2021.

Finance minister Paschal Donohoe has also approved additional funding for the development of fisheries harbours.

Coastguard funding

As Afloat reported earlier, some €108 million of funding will be invested in maritime transport and safety to ensure that the Irish Coast Guard can operate safely and effectively.

The building programme for the Irish Coast Guard is to be “ramped up”, with increased investment in safety-related training, equipment and systems.

Offshore islands

Some €2 million in additional funding for Irish islands has also been welcomed by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys.

The allocation for the offshore islands forms part of a 23 million euro “additional” investment in rural communities, she said.

The €3.4 billion recovery fund for an economy threatened by Covid-19 and Brexit includes up to €5,000 a week for businesses forced to close by Covid restrictions.

Payments will be made to businesses based on 10% of their first €1 million of turnover and 5% thereafter, subject to a maximum €5,000 for businesses which can demonstrate that their businesses have been impacted.

Mr Donohoe said this measure aimed to try and keep businesses afloat over the coming months.

Published in Fishing
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The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has called on Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for Biodiversity Pippa Hackett to “act swiftly” over a High Court decision that overturns a ban on fishing by vessels over 18 metres long inside the six nautical mile limit.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has also called for a scientific study of species including sprat stocks in inshore waters.

A High Court judgment published last week found that the ban on trawling or fishing within seine nets by vessels over 18 metres in length inside the six-mile nautical limit has “no legal effect”.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath issued his judgment on foot of a judicial review of the ban which was introduced by former marine minister Michael Creed in March 2019.

The judicial review of the policy directive was taken by fishermen Tom Kennedy and Neil Minihane.

IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said that the original ban was initiated “after a public consultation in 2018 which was roundly supported by low-impact fishers in smaller boats, anglers, environmental groups and members of the public”.

“It was heralded at the time as the single most important move to protect fisheries and marine biodiversity that we have seen. There is consequently widespread anger and dismay that this has now been undone,” Mr Fogarty said in a statement.

“We’re urging ministers Hackett and McConalogue to act swiftly on this High Court decision and to tell us how the trawling ban can be reinstated on a permanent basis,” he said.

“ Until then we need to see all inshore trawling shut down so that any recovery in marine life which may have been underway is not completely undone,” Mr Fogarty said.

The IWT says that trawling for small fish such as sprat “removes the principle food source for sea life, whether its whales, dolphins or larger fish”.

“Bottom trawling, which scrapes a net across the seafloor, obliterates important habitats for fish spawning and should be phased out across our seas,” it says.

IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said that while he did not want to comment directly on the judgment, it was time for a “proper, robust scientific study” on sprat stocks.

“We know so little about sprat,” Dr Berrow told RTÉ Radio 1’s Seascapes on Friday night, pointing out how important the species is for whales.

The six-mile ban for larger vessels was introduced by Minister Michael Creed on 5th March 2019, and came into force on January 1st of this year.

The directive did give a derogation for fishing sprat within six nautical miles up to December 2021, “subject to any catch limits as may be determined by the minister from time to time”.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) has welcomed the judgment. Its chief executive Patrick Murphy said that “once again, we see flawed legislation being overturned in our High Court “.

“The view of IS&WFPO members remains that only a small proportion of fishing boats in our tiny Irish fishing fleet of 165 vessels of over 18 meters in length actually fish inside of the six-mile limit,” he said.

Mr Murphy concurred with the IWDG in calling for a scientific evaluation to calculate the biomass of all commercial stocks within the six-mile zone.

“Until this assessment is complete, we submit that no total allowable quota figure should be set for this important fishery,” he said.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The High Court has found that a ban on trawling or fishing within seine nets by vessels over 18 metres in length inside the six-mile nautical limit has “no legal effect”.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath issued his judgment on foot of legal action over the ban which had been initiated by former Marine Minister Michael Creed.

The judicial review of the policy directive was taken by fishermen Tom Kennedy and Neil Minihane.

The directive was introduced by Mr Creed on March 5th, 2019, and came into force on January 1st of this year.

The directive did permit a derogation for fishing sprat within six nautical miles up to December 2021, “subject to any catch limits as may be determined by the minister from time to time”.

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy said that “once again, we see flawed legislation being overturned in our High Court “.

“The view of IS&WFPO members remains that only a small proportion of fishing boats in our tiny Irish fishing fleet of 165 vessels of over 18 metres in length actually fish inside of the six-mile limit,” he said, welcoming the judgment.

Mr Murphy called for a scientific evaluation to calculate the biomass of all commercial stocks within the six-mile zone.

“Until this assessment is complete, we submit that no total allowable quota figure should be set for this important fishery,” he said.

Published in Fishing
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The Taoiseach and Minister for the Marine have been described as "dismissive, contemptuous and glib" in their treatment of the fishing industry in moving "dastardly legislation," against fishermen by the country's four fish producer organisations.

The Irish South and West FPO; the Irish South and East FPO, the Irish Fish Producer Organisation and the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, in a joint statement reacted to the Government's defeat of a Sinn Fein motion in the Dáil which sought to annul the Taoiseach's signing of a Statutory Instrument to reintroduce Penalty Points for fisheries offences.

"As the Irish fishing industry teeters on the brink facing its biggest ever crisis in the form of Brexit, our Government has incredulously decided to heap further misery on fishermen. The Taoiseach and Minister McConologue voted against the same legislation just over two years ago when Mr.McConologue said the then Government should listen to the industry.

"The response of both Minister Charlie McConalogue and the Taoiseach who signed the Statutory Instrument (SI), has been at best dismissive, at worst contemptuous and glib. At a time when our industry, which is worth more than €1.2 billion per annum to our economy, stands on the precipice facing its biggest threat since the foundation of the State with Brexit, it is simply appalling". 

"While we have received a huge level of political support for our plight, including from many Government backbenchers which was heartening, ultimately they voted against rescinding the dastardly legislation thus rendering useless, their verbal commitment.

"We have always said that we are in favour of a penalty points system it must be a system which is fair and in accordance with our own legal system. The turgid history of this legislation make grim reading, it has been repealed in the Supreme Court in 2017, tabled by the last Government in May 2018, stridently opposed by then opposition spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue as well as his Fianna Fáil colleagues and now out of the blue, foisted on us by Fianna Fáil more than two years later with no communication nor consultation."

"The industry is simply apoplectic and won't give up the fight."

Published in Fishing
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The Government has opted not to pursue an incident where a British navy ship instructed an Irish fishing vessel to leave grounds where it was working some 60 miles off the Donegal coast.

The 32-metre fishing vessel Marlíona, registered in Greencastle, Co Donegal, was hailed by the British navy ship HMS Lancaster on July 21st last and asked to leave the area, even though it is well within the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was investigating the incident, which had been referred to the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO).

However, the department has subsequently said the location was “not within Ireland’s territorial sea and did not, therefore, infringe our sovereignty”.

“In general, it is not unusual for naval ships to ask other vessels in the vicinity to move away from an exercise location for safety reasons,” the department said.

A British navy spokesperson said that “courteous and professional exchanges between the fishing vessel and frigate operating within the designated exercise area enabled this lawful exercise to continue and conclude safely”.

“The safety of all mariners is taken extremely seriously by the Royal Navy. At no time was there a risk to safety to either the fishing vessel or submarine,” the British navy spokesperson said.

The British Directorate of Defence Communications said the ship “operated throughout in accordance with the UN Convention of the Law of Sea, having due regard for other vessels operating in the area”.

However, KFO chief executive Sean O’Donoghue has said there is now a case for the Government to state that the Irish EEZ should be protected from military training exercises by submarines on environmental grounds.

The Celtic League non-governmental organisation based in the Isle of Man has written to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin on the issue.

It says that the dangers posed to fishing vessels by the activity of submarines “of all powers” were “highlighted graphically” when the Irish MFV Sharelga (italics) was sunk by HMS Porpoise” off the Co Louth coast in April, 1982.

“No lives were lost on that occasion however, unfortunately, that was not the case sometime later when the Scottish MFV Antares was sunk - all crewmen died,” the letter by league assistant general secretary Bernard Moffatt states.

He refers to the recent towing of Co Down MFV Karen by a British submarine, and says an inquest in Cornwall has “still to determine the fate of the crew members of the Breton trawler Bugaled Breizh lost of the Lizard during a NATO exercise”.

Mr Moffatt reminds Mr Martin that a campaign via an Irish government initiative led to the adoption of two International Maritime Organisation (IMO) resolutions.

Mr Moffatt says one of these two resolutions, A709 (17), places an onus on the British navy to move the exercise or cease it, rather than request the fishing vessel to give way.

Asked to comment on the issue, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said that the issue was “not relevant” to it and referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the issue was one for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

Published in Fishing
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The Dáil heard a Sinn Fein motion this week in an attempt to reject the new penalty points system the Government wants to introduce for the fishing industry.

A Statutory Instrument to introduce the system was signed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin when he was acting as Marine Minster after the sacking of Deputy Dara Calleary over the 'Galway Golfgate' affair.

The last attempt to introduce Penalty Points was defeated in a legal challenge by the fishing industry in the Supreme Court and in the Dáil where it was opposed by Fianna Fáil. The Dáil defeat was the first time in the history of the State that a Statutory Instrument was rejected by the Dáil.

Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein spokesman on the Marine, said there was no alternative to taking the issue back to the Dail because the Government was "refusing to listen to the voice of the fishing community."

"The same people who fought against the last Penalty Points introduction and led to its defeat in the Dáil are now the ones introducing it and who won't listen to the fishing industry. Fishers all around our coast were shocked and outraged when they learned that the Taoiseach had signed off on the statutory instrument introducing regulations containing this penalty point system. This unfair and unjust system must be annulled. The Government must listen to the voice of fishers. We need to stand up for our fishing communities and ensure they are treated in a fair and proportionate manner. Common sense must prevail. Fishing organisations have already advised that they will bring the Government through the courts again as soon as the first prosecution occurs. This happened back in 2016 when the Supreme Court ruled that scheme as being unconstitutional."

The Department of the Marine has said the system is needed under EU requirements and without it Ireland would face fines and the denial of EU grants.

The four national fish producer organisations, representing the industry, have offered discussions and an alternative system which would remove what they claim are "guilty even if proved innocent" provisions in the system that would penalise fishermen in a manner in which other citizens are not treated.

More on this in MacSweeney Podcast here

Published in Fishing
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