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An internationally-renowned team of Spanish artists has been creating a large mural in the Lithuanian home base of the EU Environment and Oceans commissioner this week to inspire action on climate breakdown.

The Boa Mistura team of artists have been commissioned by the European non-governmental organisation Our Fish, which campaigns to end overfishing and to restore a healthy ocean ecosystem.

Work began this week on the 300 square metre fresco, named “Heartbeat of the Ocean”, on the entire wall of a nine-storey apartment building in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

“We chose Vilnius for the mural, as it is the home city of the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius,”Our Fish programme director Rebecca Hubbard explained.

“His mission to rebuild healthy fish populations and thriving ecosystems will not only ensure the oceans’ abilities to continue supporting life on the planet by providing all of us with oxygen and food – it will also contribute to sustaining the oceans’ protective powers against the worst effects of climate change,”she said.

 The renowned team of Spanish artists Boa MisturaThe team of Spanish artists Boa Mistura

The European Commission is currently preparing an action plan to conserve fishery resources and protect marine ecosystems.

It is “crucial for this plan to set out a pathway for reducing the devastating impact of overfishing on marine life and for bolstering the ocean's capacity to store carbon”, Hubbard said.

“This pathway should outline a transition from destructive bottom trawling towards sustainable fisheries that will also benefit the marine environment and support the livelihoods of our coastal communities,”she said.

Four members of the Boa Mistura team are employed on the mural, with a heart made of different marine species reminding the public that “every heartbeat of the planet comes from the bottom of the sea”..

The Boa Mistura team’s work is visible on buildings or streets in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France, USA, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, South Africa, China, and in other countries.

The mural with the slogan “Save the ocean to save the climate” is expected to be completed in the next fortnight.

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The Workplace Relations Commission has directed that over 20,000 euro in compensation be paid to an Egyptian fisherman employed on an Irish vessel for breaches of his working time and payment of wages legislation.

Egyptian national Ali Rezk (63) was awarded the sum for breaches on the part of his employer, fishing vessel owner and retailer Seán Doran.

Rezk was employed under the atypical work permit scheme, and worked as a fisherman from December 22nd, 2016 to August 15th, 2019.

Legal representatives for Rezk claimed that he was not paid in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Act, he was not paid for hours that he worked, he was not compensated for public holidays and he did not receive the correct holidays.

In his response to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Seán Doran stated that the boat did not operate to full throttle, and the hours were based on work and call outs.

He said the fish catch was very limited, so the hours worked were much less than the hours that are claimed, and “boredom” was factor on this boat due to the small amount of work.

He said there was plenty of rest available as it was a small boat, and Rezk was facilitated with his religious practices and food.

He said Rezk “stopped working for prayers”, he was “a sports fan and he was given time to watch the football matches” and this “was not a profitable business and the prawn vessel "washed its face".

Doran stated that while Rezk was on shore they couldn’t put him in the shop because of his poor English.

He said Rezk was given three to six hours work per day in the factory and was paid for eight hours, was always welcome in the restaurant and not charged for food except for cigarettes and the lotto.

Doran said that the company had up to ten trawlers and never had any labour issues.

Doran said that no records were kept for the vessel, an issue which the WRC inspector drew attention to in his ruling.

Noting the “conflict of evidence” in the case, the WRC inspector said there was a duty to maintain records of hours of work under S.I. No. 709/2003 – European Communities (Workers on Board Sea-Going Fishing Vessels) (Organisation of Working Time) Regulations 2003.

“Based on the claim as presented by the complainant, I find, on the balance of probabilities, that the complainant worked an average of 17 hours a day while at sea and eight hours day while on shore,” the WRC inspector said and this exceeded 72 hours per week as is provided by SI 709/2003.

“I find that this is an industry that is subject to some very challenging weather conditions and the safety of fishermen is of paramount importance,” the WRC inspector said.

He said that it is “essential that fishermen are protected against working excessive hours which may cause them to make errors in their work which could negatively impact on their safety and that of their colleagues”.

He found Rezk was due over €5,364 in addition to a smaller amount for public holidays for unpaid hours, and he should be paid another €15,000 compensation by his employer for breaches of his rights “which is to serve as an effective, dissuasive and proportionate deterrent”.

Rezk had also claimed he was not paid in accordance with national minimum wage legislation, but the WRC said the claim was not well-founded as he did not seek a written statement of his hourly pay.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) said it had a mixed reaction to the WRC decision, due to restrictions in the current legislation.

ITF fisheries campaign lead Michael O’Brien said that under the current Workplace Relations Act 2015, the “cognisable period” that the WRC can retrieve unpaid wages for is normally only the six months prior to a complaint being submitted, or twelve months in extenuating circumstances.

In this instance, the WRC adjudicator was limited to compensating Rezk just over €5,500 for just the final six and a half months of the total 33 months that the fisher was employed aboard the vessel, O’Brien noted.

“If we are to end the routine exploitation of fishers the law needs to provide for 100% retrieval of unpaid wages and entitlements,” O’Brien said.

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It’s been seven years since herring were landed in Bangor on Belfast Lough, but the Fairwind whose home port is Kilkeel on the Mourne coast in south Down, landed its catch in the harbour last week. The crew transferred the fish from the net to the boat by brailing.

Hand brailing is when fish are concentrated alongside the fishing vessel, and a brailing net is used to lift them aboard. The iron hoop of the brail net is first dipped into the net, drawn through the fish, and pulled up again.

It's been many years since herring have been landed in Bangor. The last time was in 2014 when a large fishing vessel with a refrigerated seawater system transferred herring ashore via a pump into road tankers.

"It’s good to see smaller vessels availing of herring quota and the traditional method of brailing being used to land"

“However,” says Harbour Master Kevin Baird “ It’s good to see smaller vessels availing of herring quota and the traditional method of brailing being used to land. There are herring shoals at this time of the year (winter herring) and sometimes they do come into Belfast Lough but are more usually caught in the seas off the Mournes”.

Herring was fished from harbours all along the Down coast with the Mourne ports of Kilkeel and Annalong emerging as key centres in the mid-19th century with Ardglass which had first developed as a fish harbour in the Middle Ages, becoming a herring poet then as well.

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Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue is expected to present a memo on the Government’s seafood task force report to Cabinet this week.

Mr McConalogue is requesting that the Cabinet notes the report, while he awaits a review on its recommendations.

The task force report, published in early October, is recommending just over €423 million be given to the Irish fishing industry to help weather the impact of Brexit.

Highlights include awarding €66 million for a whitefish decommissioning scheme, €6 million to reduce the inshore fleet, and €3.7 million to remove inactive or off-register inshore vessels.

It also recommends €90 million for seafood processors, and a series of short term measures, including a €12 million annual tie-up of polyvalent vessels over two years.

It recommends an €8 million liquidity scheme for the pelagic sector, support for scallop vessels and vessels hit by exclusion from the Rockall squid fishery, and investment in aquaculture.

It also recommends investment in small scale public marine infrastructure, community-led local development, inshore marketing and processing capital.

"Its final report says the Irish seafood sector is “in the eye of the storm”

The proposed whitefish decommissioning scheme aims to remove 60 vessels of around 8,000 GT and 21,000 Kw at a premium of up to €12,000 per gross tonne, including “appropriate” payments to crew and scrapping costs.

The taskforce report was established by McConalogue earlier this year to examine the implications of the EU/UK Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA) for the fishing industry and coastal communities.

Its final report says the Irish seafood sector is “in the eye of the storm”.

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue: The Seafood Taskforce has met 14 times and received 72 submissions from its members, and a further 27 through public consultation, since it began meeting last MarchMarine Minister Charlie McConalogue: The Seafood Taskforce has met 14 times and received 72 submissions from its members, and a further 27 through public consultation, since it began meeting last March

It says that the end of the Brexit withdrawal period has brought about the biggest change and disruption in EU-British relations in 50 years, across all aspects of trade and society.

The Irish fleet has lost access to 15% of its annual quota, including stocks of prawn, monkfish, and haddock, while Brexit has also hit Ireland’s €80m worth of seafood exports to Britain.

It says Irish seafood imports from Britain, valued at €219 million in 2018, have been disrupted, while vital seafood export routes, primarily the ’land-bridge’ via Britain, have been curtailed.

It also says established Irish/British links at scientific and policy levels in EU and ICES have been lost.

The task force has met 14 times and received 72 submissions from its members, and a further 27 through public consultation, since it began meeting last March.

An interim report published in June recommended establishment of a voluntary, temporary cessation scheme running to December 2021 as a first step.

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The Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D. met virtually today with the members of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF).

Minister McConalogue welcomed those representatives from the six Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums who were attending the NIFF for the first time, noting that the process of renewing Forum membership has been working well.

“I am delighted with the level of commitment that people have shown in engaging with the Forums because, without that commitment, this initiative would not have emerged as the influential voice for the inshore sector that it has become,” the Minister said.

The Minister discussed issues, that are important to the inshore sector, with the Forum members, including the recommendations in the final report of the Seafood Sector Task Force. The Minister thanked the NIFF for its participation in the Task Force and the valuable contributions it made to those discussions.

The Minister said, “I am urgently examining the Task Force report with a view to quickly implementing a comprehensive response to the impacts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on our fishing sector and coastal communities.”

The Minister and inshore representatives also discussed a range of other topics including the “hook and line” mackerel fishery and the sustainable management of the brown crab fishery, which is one of the most important stocks for inshore fishers and for the seafood sector.

The meeting included contributions from Bord Bia, the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The Minister thanked all those attending for their constructive engagement throughout the meeting.

Published in Fishing

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue TD, today attended and addressed the Atlantic Stakeholder Platform Conference taking place in the Convention Centre, Dublin.

The conference is part of a new approach for a sustainable blue economy in the EU. 

Speaking on his way into the event, the Minister said “The western seaboard is an important part of the European Union’s maritime community and this is a welcome occasion to celebrate and acknowledge the work that is being done throughout the Atlantic area to ensure the region provides vision, strategic direction, and support to the maritime community both in the Atlantic region and further afield”.

The European Green Deal and the Recovery Plan for Europe will define the European economy for many years, or even decades. And the EU’s blue economy is fundamental to both efforts. 

Minister McConalogue addressing the ConferenceMinister McConalogue addressing the Conference

The Atlantic Stakeholder Platform Conference is an annual event of the Atlantic Strategy Committee which is being chaired by Ireland in 2021. This year, the event also celebrates 10 years of the Atlantic Strategy which aims to address challenges in the maritime sector for which collaborative efforts are required. The conference also features the 5th Atlantic Project Awards which recognises projects that contribute to the implementation of the goals and actions of the Atlantic Action Plan 2.0, adopted by the European Commission in July 2020.

The Minister commented that “the discussions and conclusions from today’s stakeholder conference will provide a rich source of information and knowledge to help underpin the implementation of the Atlantic Action Plan 2.0. Project collaboration is a key feature of the Atlantic Strategy and the projects being highlighted here today demonstrate all that can be achieved through collaborative efforts and working closely with our EU partners at all levels.”

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“Extremely long” working hours, very low wages, and racist insults and verbal abuse were commonplace experiences of a group of migrant fishermen interviewed for a Maynooth University research study.

Over two-thirds of those interviewed said they would work between 15 and 20 hours a day, and pay was usually below the minimum wage, the study, which was funded by the International Transport Federation (ITF), found.

Over half of the 24 participants interviewed for the research said they had been subjected to “racial and verbal abuse”.

Just one-third of participants in the study reported feeling safe on a vessel, although some pointed out that fishing is “an inherently dangerous occupation”, the study found.

Five of the 24 participants reported being “satisfied overall” with their working situation, and the study identified their key challenge as uncertainty around their immigration status and lack of freedom to change employer or section.

The analysis by Dr Clíodhna Murphy, Dr David Doyle and Stephanie Thompson of Maynooth University’s law department drew on semi-structured interviews conducted with 24 male migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry.

Over half the participants had lived in Ireland for ten years or more. The interviewees were described as highly skilled fishers who collectively had over 200 years of fishing experience, the researchers note.

All but two of the interviewees who had been in Ireland since before 2016 “indicated that conditions in the sector had worsened overall since that time”, the study says.

The study says the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) permission - under which the worker is contracted to an individual employer- and the necessity to renew this permission each year can be used by employers as a “means to threaten and exploit workers”.

Less than half of those interviewed recalled boats being inspected by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or any other agency representative about work- related issues.

“ Fear of losing one’s job and work permit, along with language barriers, were key challenges for workers to engaging with employers or inspectors to seek better working conditions,”the authors state.

The study recommends reforms to the work permit system, including facilitating access for undocumented migrant fishers to the Department of Justice’s planned regularisation scheme.

It says applications should be allowed to vary Stamp 1 permission to Stamp 4 (as in line with section 4(7) of the Immigration Act 2004), and these applications should be expedited.

It recommends AWS permits should be granted for the sector, rather than tied to an individual employer, and the model contract used in this scheme should be reviewed and overhauled.

It says the WRC and the Department of Transport’s Marine Survey Office (MSO) should perform more outreach work and speak directly to migrant fishers in private “as a matter of course”.

It says inspectors monitoring workplace conditions should be accompanied by trained interpreters when interviewing migrant crew.

It recommends that legal barriers to claiming employment rights for undocumented workers should be removed , and an expanded role for NGOs to support workers making complaints should be considered.

It also says under-crewing of vessels should be investigated and pursued.

ITF fisheries campaign lead Michael O’Brien expressed concern about the report’s findings, and endorsed its recommendations.

He welcomed a statement from Minister of State with responsibility for law reform James Browne that the AWS scheme is to be reviewed.

“ Through various measures the migrant fishers have to be liberated from the exclusive relationship they are forced into with individual boat owners,”he said.

“ The impending migrant documentation scheme to be finalised by the Department of Justice, if it is sufficiently inclusive, could be the most direct means to achieve this,”he said.

Mr O’Brien said there were “worrying indications” that a new scheme would be “restrictive and contain anomalies that will serve to exclude most migrant fishers”, although Minister of State Jim Browne had said the scheme would offer a path to documentation for many fishers.

The ITF is undertaking a number of initiatives, including supporting judicial review proceedings to seek correct transposition into Irish law of the Working Time at Sea Directive EU 2017/159, in a bid to ensure complaints relating to illegally long hours at sea can be heard by the WRC and Labour Court.

The ITF says it is also holding discussion with the Ghanaian seafarer’s union MDU to explore what steps can be taken to “combat the activities of bogus recruitment agents in Ghana”.

It says these agents have been responsible for the trafficking of fishers to Ireland, north and south, in recent years.

The union says it aims to disseminate information to fishing communities in Ghana about “the pitfalls and dangers of coming to work in Ireland for exploitative employers”.

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The Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, today announced that he has received the final report of the Seafood Sector Task Force that he established in March 2021. The Taskforce examined the impacts on the fishing sector and coastal communities of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This final report follows an interim report submitted by the Task Force in June 2021.

The Task Force was chaired by Aidan Cotter, assisted by a steering group of Margaret Daly and Mícheal Ó Cinnéide, and comprised of ten representatives of the fishing sector, representatives of the aquaculture and seafood processing sectors, coastal communities, coastal local authorities and various State enterprise development agencies.

Following receipt of the report, Minister McConalogue said: “The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that was agreed at the end of 2020 have had some profoundly damaging effects for Ireland’s fishing sector and the coastal communities that depend on fishing. Such a once in a generation event required a collective response involving the seafood businesses and coastal communities that are impacted and the full range of State bodies with a role to play in our response. This is why I established the Seafood Sector Task Force in March of this year and after seven months of deliberations by the Task Force, I have today received and welcome its Final Report which charts a way forward for the sector and the coastal communities dependent upon it ”.

Minister McConalogue added: “I wish to thank Aidan Cotter for his leadership in chairing the Task Force and thank Margaret Daly and Mícheal Ó Cinnéide for their dedication and hard work in assisting Aidan in steering the work of the Task Force. I also wish to sincerely thank all of the members of the Task Force for their constructive engagement with the work of the Task Force and for the many hours and days they put into the process. Lastly, I thank BIM for their hard work as secretariat and I wish to acknowledge the importance of their research and analysis in informing the work of the Task Force”.

Minister McConalogue continued: “I have asked my Department to urgently examine the report with a view to quickly implementing a comprehensive response to the impacts of the TCA on our fishing sector and coastal communities. The recommended measures will be examined with particular regard to available funds and to the eligibility of the recommended measures for funding under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, the European, Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund and with other relevant funding sources and with regard to State Aid rules and the Public Spending Code”.

The establishment of the Seafood Sector Taskforce is an Action in the Department’s Action Plan 2021 under the Strategic Goal to ‘Deliver a sustainable, competitive and innovative seafood sector, driven by a skilled workforce, delivering value added products in line with consumer demand’.

The full report of the Seafood Sector Task Force is available to download below

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EU Commissioner for Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius has said he is taking a “cautious” approach to reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

In an interview with RTÉ Radio 1 Countrywide during his two-day visit to Ireland early last week, the commissioner said he “cannot promise” any fundamental change.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation believes only a thorough review of the CFP can help to address the impact of Brexit on the Irish fleet’s reduced access to quotas.

Commissioner Sinkevičius said the next ten-year review of the CFP, which has to be completed by December 2022, will not only have to take Brexit into account, but also climate change, pollution, and sustainable fishing.

“We’ll do a review, and we will be listening to stakeholders’ concerns, and we’ll look at certain changes, but I cannot promise we will be reopening the CFP,” he said.

“Fishermen have to go through a lot to comply with the rules, and I think it would be unfair to make many changes, so I take a very cautious way here, and only after a review is done and gaps are identified can we take additional action,”he said.

Commissioner Sinkevičius, who also holds the environment and oceans portfolios, acknowledged the large burden borne by Ireland as a result of the Brexit deal.

He said he had planned to come to Ireland for some time but had been unable to do so due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Lithuanian commissioner met Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue in Killybegs last Monday, before holding discussions with Irish fishing industry representatives which he described as “frank”.

He said that Ireland was entitled to the largest proportion of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR), and flexibility clauses allowed the Irish government to allocate funds to those sectors suffering the most.

The BAR and the new European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) would help the Irish industry to “move forward” in compensating those who would be required to adjust to a new reality, he said.

“We had nine member states which were impacted, and we knew from the very beginning that the fisheries sector had nothing to gain from Brexit,” he said.

The unilateral decision by Norway and the Faroe islands to exploit mackerel – a species which he described as “in danger” – is “unacceptable”, but also a consequence of Brexit, the commissioner said.

“We were trying hard to get back to the table and have a sustainable agreement as we had in 2014. Unfortunately, both parties did not agree to that,” he said.

The EU aimed to avoid an escalation of the issue and to try and solve it in a “diplomatic manner”, the commissioner said.

Commissioner Sinkevičius is heavily involved in delivering the European Green Deal, and stressed that the support of both fishers and farmers was vital in making this work.

He welcomed Ireland’s plans in relation to offshore renewable energy, but warned that account must be taken of competing interests including the fishing industry, shipping, tourism and the health of the marine ecosystem.

The renewable energy industry must also comply with the EU Birds and Habitats directives, he warned.

EU member states must draw up marine spatial plans which allowed for sensitive management, he said.

A podcast of the full interview can be heard here

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A documentary on the crisis facing Irish coastal communities in the wake of Brexit is due to be released today. (View video below)

Oireachtas members are invited to view the 26-minute film at a screening in Dublin when it will also be released online.

Individual fishermen and business owners, who rely on the fishing industry for their income, describe the impact of a continuing lack of access to raw material – as in fish in Irish waters.

There is considerable anger over the final Brexit deal, which resulted in a 15 per cent overall reduction in Irish fish quotas, particularly the key species of mackerel and prawns, to the value of 43 million euro.

Brendan Byrne, CEO IFPEOBrendan Byrne, CEO IFPEO

Some coastal towns depend for up to 90 per cent of their income on fishing, the documentary points out.

Niall Duffy, editor of the monthly journal The Skipper, says the documentary was made with the assistance of Sean Moroney of Santander Media in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford.

It was commissioned on foot of the protests by the industry over the summer in Cork and Dublin ports.

Patrick Murphy, CEO, IS&WFPOPatrick Murphy, CEO, IS&WFPO

Moroney is the creator of The Fishers Voice, a social media initiative created to “garner support for the plight of Irish fishermen who feel their voices are unheard by our government and representatives”, Duffy says.

Invitations have been sent to all political party leaders, fisheries spokespersons and coastal community TDs to attend the screening, and a link will also be sent to TDs and senators who cannot attend.

“Five months in the making, this documentary lifts the lid on decades of unfairness, whereby the EU, under the Common Fisheries Policy, allocated the lion's share of 85% of the total allowable catch (Quota) to the mainland European countries, despite the majority of this fishing taking place in Irish waters,” Duffy says.

The documentary points out that Belgium, as a case in point, has 0.1% of EU fishing grounds while Ireland has 10%.

“Yet the Belgian fleet has a greater quota for some prime species in Irish waters than local Irish fishermen,” Duffy says.

Participants were asked to give their views in harbours extending from Malin Head peninsula in Donegal to the Beara peninsula in West Cork.

The full documentary can be viewed on YouTube below

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