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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

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"The Killala Coast Guard Unit is operational and available in the event of a call-out, but is 'off-the-board' for boat search-and-rescue."

That statement was made by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, whose Department is responsible for the Coast Guard, in answer to a Parliamentary Question by former Marine Minister, Mayo TD Dara Calleary.

Coastguard resignations

It means that the Unit cannot engage in search-and-rescue on the water, but can undertake training. It has been reduced in volunteer numbers because of personnel problems. The Unit was involved ashore but not afloat in the recent when kayakers got into difficulties near Enniscrone, within the Unit's operational area. Two were rescued by the Coast Guard helicopter from Sligo. One made his own way ashore.

The involvement of an independent company in an attempt to resolve the issues has not been successful. There have been other dismissals and resignations in Coast Guard Units around the coast because of personnel issues.

This is one of a number of several marine sector issues at present.

Fishing industry fighting penalty points

The fishing industry is fighting the reintroduction of penalty points by the Taoiseach and the Marine Minister, though both politicians opposed the system and led to its defeat in the Dáil previously. It was also defeated in a legal challenge by the industry in the Supreme Court.

Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein Spokesman on the MarinePadraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein Spokesman on the Marine

Sinn Fein has claimed that the reintroduction is because Marine Department officials are deciding policy, not the Government and has called for a "root-and-branch" review of the Department: Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein Spokesman on the Marine says that "the potential of the seas around this island nation is not being fully recognised by the Department which is not engaged in development."

Teresa Morrissey, Aquaculture Executive of the IFATeresa Morrissey, Aquaculture Executive of the IFA

The powerful Irish Farmers' Association has joined in on behalf of aquaculture farmers who it represents. Teresa Morrissey, Aquaculture Executive said there is "a failure at Government level to realise the importance of the aquaculture sector as a food source and as an economic asset of the nation. There is a big contrast by what they say when they talk about its potential and what they actually do."

Covid restrictions on sailing

Fortunately, Irish Sailing has managed to chart a path through the difficulty of pandemic restrictions to keep the sport going, though the impact of the latest in Dublin has cleared the Bay of competitive sailing at present. In Cork, there are worries about the possibility of more restrictions.

In Cork, there are worries about the possibility of more restrictions and how they might affect the rest of the sailing season.

Listen to the Podcast below

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The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) says it intends to initiate a constitutional challenge to the penalty points system for fishing offences introduced by the new government.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin signed the system of administrative sanctions into law late last month, even though his party had opposed it.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue criticised Mr Martin’s move, made during an “interregnum” when he was holding the agriculture, food and marine brief temporarily.

Mr O’Donoghue said that the system signed in by Mr Martin on August 28th by statutory instrument does not allow for the right of appeal, except through a court of law, and penalties can still remain on a licence if the case is thrown out, he said.

A Fianna Fáil motion annulling a statutory instrument (SI) on penalty points, and calling for a fairer system was carried by 80 votes to 54 on May 29th, 2018.

Twelve days before, a letter of formal notice of infringement proceedings had been issued by the European Commission, due to Ireland’s failure to introduce the EU-wide system under the Common Fisheries Policy.

The IS&WFPO said it was “not just an attack on fishermen and women”, but “an attack on everything we as a society hold dear, on our independence and on our sovereignty”.

“Even under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights that form part of the Treaties of the European Union, the articles below do not comply with what we believe to be Taoiseach Michael Martin’s unconstitutional law,” it said, referring to the legislation’s failure to allow for adequate appeal.

“It is an objective of the Treaties of the EU that a fisherman’s standard of living should be improved,” it said in a statement yesterday.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine did not respond to a request for comment.

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Skippers and crew working on the 2,022 registered fishing vessels in Ireland can now access an interactive digital fisheries chart which provides guidance on a vast number of conservation and fisheries management regulations designed to help fishermen understand the rules that apply and support sustainability in sea fisheries.

The chart, developed by BIM in partnership with the Marine Institute and the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) and funded under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund provides guidance on European and national regulations concerning closed areas, mesh size and restrictions on the use of certain fishing gears.

The online version of the fisheries management chart can be accessed at www.fisheriesmanagementchart.ie. The print format of the Fisheries Management Chart produced annually, will continue to be distributed and is available to download from www.bim.ie

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Micheál Martin and new marine minister Charlie McConalogue are expected to meet fishing industry representatives over the Government’s controversial re-introduction of a penalty points system to regulate commercial fishing.

The meeting has not yet been confirmed by Government, but KFO chief executive Seán O’Donoghue said he understood that both Mr Martin and Mr McConalogue were due to meet industry representatives in “the very near future”.

The Donegal TD, who this week became Mr Martin’s third appointee to the agriculture, food and marine brief in two months, is on record as stating that the “needs of the fishing sector” should be taken into account in relation to penalty points.

Penalty points as administrative sanctions for fishing offences have been sought by the EU as part of the Common Fisheries Policy.

The industry says it does not oppose it in principle, but is seeking a system which allows for adequate appeal.

“The existing one was thrown out by the courts on the basis that it did not allow for a right of appeal, except through a court of law, and penalties could still remain on a license if the case is thrown out,” Mr O’Donoghue explained.

“The new Programme for Government had said any new system must be fair, and we took that to mean there would be more consultation,” he said.

Mr O’Donoghue said he believed Mr Martin was not fully aware of the legislation he was approving late last week during an “interregnum period” when he was acting marine minister.

“His two previous ministers – Barry Cowen and Dara Calleary - were both aware that there needed to be more consultation,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

Mr McConalogue was appointed to the agriculture, food and marine brief this week to replace Mr Calleary, who resigned after The Irish Examiner reported that he was one of 81 people who attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden, Co Galway last month.

Mr McConalogue’s Dáil statement on penalty points two years ago was quoted earlier this week by Sinn Féin marine spokesman Padraig McLochlainn in a Twitter thread for the Taoiseach’s attention.

Speaking on a Fianna Fáil private members’ motion to annul the existing system – which was carried on May 29th, 2018 – Mr McConalogue had said that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s “track record in introducing a penalty-points regime has been poor”.

Other EU member states afforded the option to challenge the imposition of points “using lesser forms of proof”, but Irish fishermen were being denied this in this system, Mr O’Donoghue said.

The Government said earlier this week that fishermen who remain within the law have nothing to fear.

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When new marine minister Dara Calleary recently rolled out EU monies to help coastal communities diversify, there was some dismay within the fishing industry.

As The Sunday Times reports today, a garden trail, an art website, a tower house restoration and new stand up paddleboards are among some 93 projects which were awarded grants totalling 1.2 million under the Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG) scheme late last month.

“The one thing that unites all these projects is their contribution to the economic and social development of traditional fishing communities,” Mr Calleary stated when releasing the list of FLAG grants.

“Grant aid for materials for painters and decorators by the looks of it, yet nothing specific and meaningful yet to help the hundred of inshore fishing enterprises that face a very uncertain future,”the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association responded.

Its members have already expressed bitter disappointment at the small level of compensation offered by Government for a temporary tie-up scheme due to COVID 19, amounting to between 500 euro and 6,000 euro for a maximum of two months, depending on size of vessel.

Dr Kevin Flannery, chair of the FLAG committee for the south-west, says it is “time to revamp this fund to ensure people with links to the fishing industry have a role in technical evaluation, and that coastal communities are actually benefiting”.

“Marine tourism has such potential that it deserves its own agency,” Dr Flannery added.

Defending the FLAG scheme, Mr Calleary said neither his department nor Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) have a say in the allocation of funding.

BIM also said it “does not have a say”, and “provides administrative and technical support”.

Read more on The Sunday Times report here

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A leading fishing industry representative has warned of “skirmishes at sea” throughout Europe if there is a “no-deal” Brexit.

Speaking to The Irish Examiner for Ocean Week 2020, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue says there could be “flashpoints everywhere from Rockall to the North Sea to the Celtic Sea and English Channel”.

Fisheries biologist Dr Peter Tyndall of the National Fishermen’s Development Group says Brexit is an opportunity for Europe to accept that Ireland suffered a serious injustice in the original EU access deal.

"Ireland's moral right to greater access to its own waters must be central to any Brexit negotiations"

“So, if Britain wants to play hardball, then the quotas given to the British-registered Spanish vessels for stocks off the Irish west coast should revert to Ireland,” says Dr Tyndall.

Founding editor of the fishing industry’s monthly The Skipper publication Arthur Reynolds believes that recognition that Ireland has a moral right to greater access to its own waters must be central to any Brexit negotiations.

“Germany didn’t have to open up access to Ruhr coalfields. France didn’t have to open up access to its vineyards. Ireland and Denmark were the only two member states with a surplus of fish when the CFP was drawn up,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds cautions that he is not talking about increasing catches to an unsustainable level to compensate Ireland, but about a more equitable share out among EU coastal states of the existing resource.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have knocked Brexit off headlines, but it also exposed how dependent the British fleet is on the European market — a market which collapsed from March, when restaurants closed.

Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op manager John Nolan was disappointed to see how protectionist some EU partners became in the early stages of the Covid-19 related crisis on markets.

“Our Irish whitefish industry is largely export-led, and we experienced a situation where prime Irish monkfish could not be sold in France, and we ended up having to let it go for fishmeal at 10c a kilo,” Nolan says.

For more on The Irish Examiner, read here

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A German-registered Spanish fishing vessel detained last week by the Naval Service near Rockall had been at the centre of an alleged confrontation off the Scottish coast last month.

As The Irish Examiner reports, the 29-metre Pesorsa Dos was detained by Irish navy patrol ship LÉ William Butler Yeats some 250 miles off Malin Head, Co Donegal for “alleged infringements of EU fishing regulations in Irish waters” on July 16th.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has highlighted the Irish detention, noting the British authorities said they could not take any action over an incident involving the same Spanish vessel off Scotland.

However, defence force sources have said the Irish detention was for a separate alleged infringement.

Video footage of the gill netter, from the Spanish port of La Coruna, filmed on June 11th, showed it allegedly trying to foul the propeller of a Scottish fishing vessel, Alison Kay, some 30 miles west of the Shetland islands.

The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was urged to investigate the incident, which Scottish skippers claimed to be the latest in a series of such confrontations over fishing grounds.

However, the MCA said it had no jurisdiction to investigate it as it was outside the 12-mile jurisdictional limit in which it could take action against foreign-flagged vessels.

It said its maritime investigations team had written to the German maritime administration “to raise its concerns”, as it was the responsibility of the flag state.

The German federal police department for maritime security has been reported as stating there is “no suspicion of an offence under German law”.

It is understood the vessel was gillnetting near Rockall, and had ten tonnes of monkfish on board when it was boarded and detained by the LÉ William Butler Yeats.

The vessel was escorted to Killybegs, Co Donegal and handed over to the Garda and the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA).

Mr Carmichael said the fact that “the Irish authorities were able to detain the Pesorsa Dos entirely undermines the argument of the UK and German authorities that there was nothing to be done about its dangerous activities”.

He told the MCA in a letter that the actions of Spanish fishermen had “caused a great deal of anger and frustration for trawlermen in my constituency and across the north of Scotland in recent years”, due to both “aggressive acts such as those outlined, and the wider use of gill-nets which can cover large areas and thus prevent other fishermen from working in those areas”.

The SFPA said that a 24-hour detention order for the vessel was granted on July 21st at Carrick-on-Shannon district court in Co Leitrim. It said it could not comment further as the case was before the courts. It was the Naval Service’s seventh detention at sea this year.

Read more in The Irish Examiner here

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary T.D, held discussions, by video link, with EU Fisheries Commissioner Virginius Sinkevičius on Ireland’s fisheries priorities. The Minister focused on the issues for fisheries in the ongoing EU negotiations with the UK on a possible future fisheries agreement.

Minister Calleary explained the serious concerns Ireland has with the possible implications arising from the UK departure from the EU and its potential impact on the Irish Fishing Industry.

Minister Calleary said “I explained to Commissioner Sinkevičius that I had met representatives of Ireland’s fishing sector yesterday and heard at first hand the substantial impacts if there were significant changes to the current quota shares and access to waters arising from the EU/UK negotiations. I made clear to the Commissioner that we are placing our full reliance on Mr Barnier and the Commissioner delivering on the agreed EU negotiation mandate that sets down clearly the EU objective to “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and traditional activity of the Union fleet”.

The Minister emphasized the absolute necessity that fisheries not be negotiated in isolation from the other elements of the Future Relationship. Minister Calleary said “I appreciate that we are facing very challenging negotiations on fisheries. I made clear that we are seeking that the EU leverage the wider EU/ UK Future relationship to secure the interests of the Irish and EU fishing sector. I assured Commissioner Sinkevičius of my full commitment and co-operation in working to deliver a fisheries agreement that protects the interests of the Irish fishing sector now and into the future.”

The discussion also covered other fisheries priorities including the EU funding package for the seafood sector, including COVID related supports; the negotiations on a new EU Control framework and control challenges facing Ireland, which were raised by the Commissioner; and finally the very strong commitment to progressing further our joint EU commitment to sustainable fisheries.

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary T.D, met today with representatives of the Irish fishing industry to hear at first hand their concerns about fishing in the EU/UK negotiations and the challenges they are facing arising from the COVID-19 crisis.

The industry representatives attending were from the four Fishermen’s Producer Organisations (Irish South and East Fish Producer Organisation, Killybegs Fishermen’s Producer Organisation, Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, Irish Fish Producers Organisation), the National Inshore Fisherman’s Forum and the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association.

The Minister held a detailed and informative meeting with the fishing industry representatives. The representatives made clear the serious long term issues that their members would face in the event that the UK’s demands for a greater share of fish stocks and restricted access to UK fishing grounds were granted. Each of the representatives also set out the very difficult challenges that are arising because of the weaker markets for fish with reduced prices for many species.

Minister Calleary said “I listened carefully to the clearly articulated challenges facing the fishing industry both in the context of Brexit and arising from the Covid-19 crisis. I made clear that I will be pressing for a fisheries agreement with the UK that upholds both existing quota shares and existing reciprocal access to UK waters. I will continue to press for the maintenance of the linkage of fisheries to the overall economic partnership agreement as this will be central to a successful agreement. I assured the industry representatives of my commitment and that of the Government to work towards a fisheries agreement with the UK that protects their interests and ensures a long term future for our coastal communities dependant on fisheries”

In relation to the current challenges facing the sector arising from the COVID crises, Mr Calleary said “The Governments clear intention is to provide supports that help to re-vitalise all areas in the economy including the seafood sector. I will be working across Government to devise measures to support jobs and communities over the coming period. Finally, I sent out the huge ambition in the Programme for Government for building a sustainable fishing sector. The continued ambition for the development of a sustainable fisheries sector is a significant feature of the new Programme for Government. I look forward to working with the sector to delivering on that objective.”

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