#GreystonesHarbour - As recently reported on Afloat.ie, Wicklow County Councillor Derek Mitchell has made the case for the end of commercial fishing at Greystones Harbour, the future of which is "to be a leisure harbour and visitor destination, not a fishing port." But this was news to new campaign group Save Greystones Fishing Fleet, on behalf of whom Laurel Fiszer Storey writes here about what they maintain is the short-sightedness of abandoning the town's longstanding fishing heritage - and its future generations of fishermen...
It is strange to hear of a change of use of Greystones Harbour, which was not made clear to the public during the planning process, until Fine Gael Councillor Derek Mitchell decided to unveil it to us now. Assuredly, the majority of the community of Greystones will be surprised to hear that Cllr Mitchell has decided to change the nature of their town – a fishing village – with an unbroken cultural heritage of fishing traditions dating back several hundred years, to a ‘leisure port.’
This intended change of use most certainly wasn’t made clear in the Wicklow County Council Environmental Impact Survey prior to the development which states: “After the completion of the project, the Harbour will be more accessible from both mainland and sea… The potential for the area to redevelop its commercial fishing industry will be improved due to the increased accessibility of the Harbour to fishing boats” (EIS, p106).
And again: “The expansion of the Harbour will give increased berthage and the basin will be dredged to allow for the ease of movement of fishing and recreational vessels. The upgrading of the harbour could accommodate a higher number of fishing vessels which creates the potential for increased commercial activity in the Greystones Harbour area. The increase in commercial activity has the potential to have a significant positive effect on the economy of the area.” (EIS, p100).
So it may also come as a surprise to Fine Gael TD Simon Harris, who stated in September that he would “…urge Wicklow County Council to work with the local fishermen to ensure that the new by-laws allow them to continue to make a living in our town.
"Common sense must prevail and resolve this matter quickly," he said, remarking on the introduction of the harbour bylaws.
Greystones Harbour is big enough to accommodate fishing boats, which is evident from the Wicklow County Council EIS: the one boat owner working full-time out of the harbour when the development commenced shall be accommodated and so should any fishing boat belonging to any person who wishes to fish out of their local harbour. As local fishermen, they have been accommodated here in this fishing community for centuries. Fishing, by nature is generational. Young people – future skippers – work on boats and learn and earn until they have either inherited a boat or saved enough to buy their own.
One of these men was working on that same Greystones boat (‘that should be accommodated’) in Greystones when he was younger. He has now saved enough to buy his own boat and bring it to Greystones, where his family has lived for generations. It simply did not occur to him that his boat would be rejected.
The owner of the last Greystones boat also has a young son and other younger men with their own families working for him. What if they want to run their own boats - will they be rejected too? And what about the local fishermen who lease boats to fish? They should also be accommodated in their own town.
This is how a tradition is passed down, how it grows and provides employment. Anything else is against economic growth, competition and good sense. What if the same reasoning was applied to coffee shops in Greystones pre- and post-development? Or barbers? Or yachts? How many yachts were ‘accommodated’ before the development? Cllr Mitchell’s reasoning on this point is inaccurate, illogical and irrelevant.
The growth in the fishing industry and number of boats in Greystones is not only testament to the viability of the existing fishing grounds and the potential for growth in the commercial fishing industry in the town, but boats also have jobs available, and those jobs belong to Greystones, as do the skills, traditions and heritage of the men on board.
We have such an incredible opportunity here in Greystones for an integrated, functional, attractive and lucrative public amenity, inclusive of yachts, rowers, anglers, watersport enthusiasts, day-trippers and fishermen. Such an amenity naturally attracts tourists who are not only coming to see the yachts, they are coming to for the character of the fishing community: the seaside feel, the fish and chips and gourmet seafood, the seals eating bait fish, the walks, the views, the smells and the ambiance – the cultural heritage.
We have a massive opportunity here if we can work together. One lone fishing boat may not bring enough revenue to pay for the amenities needed to maintain the fishing section of the harbour: electricity points, fresh water, secure storage, waste removal, and access points. However, the more revenue the boats can earn and support each other the better able they are to maintain these areas when they work together with the council.
Naturally, a private company contracted to manage a private marina gains little or no financial benefit from acting as harbour manager to commercial fishing boats. This suggests a conflict of interest with regards to the management of the public and private usages of space. Maybe we need a neutral harbour master to manage this reasonably?
We also have an opportunity to put in the right amenities now to allow the fishermen to operate in a clean, tidy and efficient manner, and to land and distribute fish efficiently. We would urge Wicklow County Council in partnership with the developer to do so immediately.
One way or another, the Greystones fishermen, their families and traditions will continue in Greystones Harbour. Yet they would surely prefer to be out at sea working than having to fight for the right to the use of a public amenity and to safeguard their livelihoods and heritage for future generations.