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A well-intentioned campaign by a celebrity chef to reduce dumping of unwanted fish in European waters has led to an increase in fishing quotas, according to new research.

The “unintended impact” of the European ban on discarding fish may lead to “implosion of the EU fisheries management system”, Portuguese scientist Dr Lisa Borges, who formerly worked in Ireland’s Marine Institute, says.

The “Fish Fight” campaign spearheaded by chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from 2010 was designed to eradicate a system which fishermen were forced to discard unwanted catch under the EU quota system.

It was claimed up to 1.7 (one point seven) million tonnes of unwanted and juvenile fish was being discarded annually.

The first phase of the EU’s ban on discards – known as the “landing obligation” - was introduced in January 2015.

However, the paper by Dr Borges for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Journal, finds that there has been “no enforcement”, no decrease in discards, and an increase by up to 50 per cent in fish quotas to allow for implementation of the ban.

It notes that this “discrepancy” is “likely to lead to a widespread unmeasured increase in the number of fish killed each year”.

This “undermines the accuracy of scientific data”, Dr Borges, whose research was partly funded by the non-governmental organisation Our Fish and initially grant-aided under the EU Horizon 2020 programme, claims.

It will lead to what she describes as an "implosion of the EU fisheries management system”.

The discard ban requires that all caught fish are documented, counted against quotas, and landed, but there are four exemptions.

The exemptions cover species for which fishing is prohibited, fish damaged by predators, and species that have “high survival” rates after being caught.

Under a fourth exemption, known as “de minimis”, up to five per cent of the total annual catch can be discarded if deemed “very difficult” or “disproportionately” expensive to avoid catching.

Dr Borges says that even though these exemptions exist, all fish caught should still be documented.

She notes that another key condition was that TACs would be increased to account for the new landings of previously discarded fish.

She says that in a “complicated and non-transparent process”, the European Commission receives scientific advice for maximum catches from ICES, and then estimates exemptions and proposes adjusted TACs.

These adjustments have contributed to higher fishing limits, but she says that the number of granted exemptions to the European discard ban has increased, with some fisheries even gaining multiple exemptions.

An analysis of the TACs before and after the landing obligation was introduced shows that there is an average annual increase of 36% in TACs since 2015, and that this increase reached 50% in 2020 overall, above pre-landing obligation levels.

She found that for demersal (whitefish) fish species, which are often caught with less-selective gears and have a high proportion of unwanted fish, these TAC increases reached 60% for 2020 fishing limits.

Dr Borges has worked in fisheries for over 20 years, including for the research institutes of Portugal, Ireland and Netherlands, and for the European Commission, and is now director of consulting company FishFix.

Our Fish, which partly funded her research, says it works to end overfishing and restore a healthy ocean ecosystem.

The European Commission and Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine did not respond to requests for comment on the paper at the time of going to press.

Published in Fishing
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If Fungie or any similar solo bottle-nosed dolphin had a notion to settle in an Irish harbour, they could be in stiff competition for feeding on sprat and juvenile herring.

As The Irish Examiner reports today, there is mounting concern on certain parts of the coast over the environmental impact of a small number of larger Irish-registered fishing vessels working within the six nautical mile limit.

“If we are going to take the forage fish, what is left?” Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow says.

“Catching sprat, which is a short-lived fish, and selling it for fishmeal is a race to the very bottom of the food chain,” Dr Berrow says. 

His group has called for a moratorium on sprat fishing pending further scientific research. 

Independent TD for Galway West Catherine Connolly has also called for a ban on “unsustainable fishing for sprat” 

Inshore fishingInshore sprat fishing off Atlantic coasts Photo: National Inshore Fishermen's Association

It is understood that the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has been alerted to the activities of several large vessels which are legally engaged in fishing for species like sprat and juvenile herring which marine mammals depend on.

A groundbreaking ban on trawling or seine fishing by vessels over 18 metres of length inside six nautical miles, introduced by former marine minister Michael Creed, was recently overturned as a result of a High Court judicial review.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue recently confirmed he is appealing the High Court ruling.

While welcoming the minister’s move, the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) and National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation have both called for an interim “stay order” which would retain the ban, pending the outcome of the appeal.

NIFA member Michael Foley, a third-generation inshore sprat fisherman from Wexford, said that each year is more and more challenging for the inshore fleet. 

Mr Foley (52) pair trawls for sprat on his 13m Western Dawn with another similar-sized vessel.

“When I began fishing 37 years ago, there were small boats in every port, but now all you have is a handful of boats on pots,” he said.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation representing 53 vessels said it believed the process used by the minister Michael Creed for the initial inshore ban was “fundamentally flawed” and its view had been vindicated by the High Court.

It said it would continue to offer its services to the new minister to see if more research should be carried out by the Marine Institute and if a draft management plan for sprat was required.

A Marine Institute study on the impact of inshore fishing found that vessels over 18m in length spend two per cent of their trawling effort inside six nautical miles.

Read more in The Irish Examiner here

Published in Fishing
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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue has lodged an appeal against large trawlers fishing Inside Ireland’s six Mile zone, saying he is committed to the sustainability of fishing in Irish waters. 

In December 2018, following a public consultation process in which over 900 submissions were received, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that vessels over 18 metres will be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020. A transition period of three years for vessels over 18 metres targeting sprat was allowed to enable adjustment for these vessels, as the sprat fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone.

A Policy Directive was issued by the Minister to the independent Licensing Authority for Sea Fishing Boats under Statute and was intended to give effect to the measures announced by the then Minister excluding vessels over 18 metres in length from trawling inside six nautical miles

A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen challenging the validity of the Policy.

The High Court’s ruling of Judicial Review proceedings which relate to the Policy Directive has been appealed by the State to the Court of Appeal and a stay is being sought on the orders granted therein.

Minister McConalogue said that “As this matter is sub judice, I am not in a position to comment on the Policy until the matter can be resolved before the Courts. However, I am committed to the sustainability of fishing in Irish waters and to implementing the commitment made in our Programme for Government that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and pair trawling be prohibited inside the six-mile limit.”

Published in Fishing
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When the funeral of Galway fishermen Martin and Tom Oliver left Claddagh church yesterday, the silence among hundreds of people lining the route was broken only by the roar of the river Corrib and the gentle sound of wind in canvas sails.

Three Galway Hookers had moored in the Claddagh Basin, with musician Sharon Shannon on board the deck of one of the vessels playing soft airs on her accordion.

Three Galway Hookers gathered at Claddagh ChurchThree Galway Hookers moored in the Claddagh Basin

Martin, who was almost 62, and his son Tom (37) died within 24 hours of each other after a fishing accident on their potting vessel on the north side of Galway Bay last Monday.

Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbard, who opened a book of online condolences, paid tribute to the two men as “salt of the earth” and “the best of friends”.

He noted that it was only a few weeks since he had recognised the role of Martin’s relatives, Patrick and Morgan Oliver, in rescuing two paddleboarders, Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn, in Galway Bay last August after 15 hours at sea.

Several generations of the Oliver family have been associated with the lifeboat service, and members of the RNLI and the fishing communities along the coast and on the Aran islands travelled to pay their respects.

Galway RNLI volunteers and members of the Galway Sea Scouts formed a guard of honour outside the church, where a private Mass was celebrated by Fr Gerry Jennings of Salthill parish, assisted by Fr Donal Sweeney of the Claddagh’s Dominican community.

Afterwards, Martin’s daughter and Tom’s sister Susanne and her mother Eileen were consoled by many friends, and relatives, as the city centre came to a standstill and construction work stopped as a mark of respect.

Crew with Badóirí an Cladaigh and the Galway Hooker Sailing Club had rigged the gleoiteog Manuela - named after the late Swiss student Manuela Riedo - along with the leath-bhád Croi an Cladaigh, and the bád mór Naomh Crónán in full sail in the Claddagh basin.

A Garda escort led the cortege over Wolfe Tone bridge and around by Long Walk and into Galway docks, as people lined both sides of the streets.

Two orange flares were released on the water surface, and members of Galway Bay Sailing Club then lit hand-held flares on the dockside, where State research ship Celtic Voyager and a number of fishing and angling vessels were berthed. 

Flares were lit at Galway Docks and Harpist Flares were lit and harpist Úna Ní Fhlannagáin (left) played at Galway Docks

The rich chords of harpist Úna Ní Fhlannagáin resonated as members of the Oliver and Griffin families cast flowers at the water’s edge in bright sunshine. 

The cortege paused for a few moments at the docks, and more tears were shed before the two hearses continued up to Rahoon cemetery overlooking the city. In the graveyard, the father and son – who had been inseparable in life - were buried side by side.

Galway harbourmaster Brian Sheridan said it was a “profoundly sorrowful tragedy for the Oliver family, and the wider fishing community”.

Published in Galway Harbour
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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
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