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The Department of the Marine's 2021 budget estimate announced today provides some €13 million in increased funding for the continued promotion of the environmentally sustainable development of fisheries, aquaculture and the wider seafood industry.

This brings the total funding for the Sea Fisheries Programme to €151 million. This sector supports some 16,000 direct and indirect jobs in the coastal communities.

The 2021 provision will allow the Marine Institute to progress the construction of a new €25 million modern research vessel and provide additional funding for the development of fisheries harbours.

Published in RV Tom Crean
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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 Fishing

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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"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

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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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

Published in Fishing
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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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