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The European Commission has expressed “deep concern” about Ireland’s ability to monitor continued commercial fishing activity at sea during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As The Sunday Times reports today, a letter from the EU maritime directorate’s acting director-general Bernhard Friess has questioned how Ireland can meet legal obligations to control and check landings if physical inspections have to be reduced as a result of the virus.

Inspectors with the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in some fishery harbours had already stopped undertaking physical checks of landings after the Health Service Executive (HSE) Covid-19 guidelines were introduced last month.

However, they now fear the department will use the EU letter to pressurise them into resuming inspections in wheelhouses and fish holds - putting both themselves and fishing crews at risk of infection.

In his letter, Mr Friess says the European Commission “recognises the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis”.

However, he says it “expects member states’ competent authorities to adapt to the new situation and introduce the necessary measures and resources to ensure control, inspection and enforcement of all activities relevant to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)”.

Asked to respond to the EU concerns, the SFPA told The Sunday Times that it is “continuing to maintain its sea-fisheries and seafood safety regulatory services, with some modifications to ensure the health and safety of its staff and industry colleagues, in line with Government guidelines and HSE advice”.

The SFPA acknowledged the “significant challenges” for the fishing industry, and said it was “ extremely confident “ it had “ stepped up to the mark in inspection numbers” and had “ put in place a protocol on boardings”.

You can read more on The Sunday Times here

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Frustration is building around the coastline over a reluctance by Minister for Marine Michael Creed to avail of EU funding to ease the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fishing and fish farming industries.

As The Sunday Times reports, a European Commission scheme was signalled almost a month ago to soften the dramatic economic blow.

The European Commission temporary relief scheme - rubberstamped on Friday by the European Parliament - allows EU member states flexibility to divert existing structural funds into compensation packages, including fleet tie-ups.

Portugal and Latvia are among the first states to secure European Commission sanction for multimillion-euro schemes, while departed member Britain announced a £10 million specific package last week, with £ 1.5 million for Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Creed has said he is not proposing a tie-up scheme for Irish fishing vessels at present.

The department said that a fleet tie-up would be kept “in reserve”, but Mr Creed’s “main focus at this point is to work to continue to support the supply of food”.

He has been criticised for inaction by Ireland South Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan, who said that “ Europe is being proactive in opening channels of funding and support”.

She warned that Mr Creed must “not only... demand a fair share of the funding, but he must distribute it throughout the country and not focus it in one or two geographical areas”.

The Irish whitefish and inshore fleets and fish and shellfish farmers face millions of euro in losses due to a collapse in prices for fresh produce and loss of high-value restaurant markets, exacerbated by disrupted supply chains.

Read more in The Sunday Times here

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A major west coast retail fish supplier has pledged to sell only Irish-caught fish and shellfish during the current Covid-19 restrictions to support the Irish inshore fleet.

Parisian-born Stefan Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway says that he is “out the door” with online orders.

He told The Irish Examiner that the current crisis caused by the pandemic is an “opportunity for the Irish inshore fleet to reassert itself”.

Larger vessels rely on export markets for the longer trips, involving substantial fuel bills, while the inshore sector is “ideally placed” to ensure fresh food is supplied to the domestic Irish market, Mr Griesbach noted.

Mr Griesbach, whose 15-year old company is using 100 per cent compostable and sustainable packaging, was commenting during a week when a dramatic collapse in export markets for seafood has hit the Irish whitefish fleet.

Gannet Fish, based in Ballybane, Galway, normally trades in the Galway St Nicholas's church market on Saturday, but this has now closed as part of the local authority's response to Covid-19.

The company is taking telephone orders, as well as online bookings through eatmorefish.ie, and is offering deliveries of fish over 15 euro free to senior citizens.

For more in the Examiner, click here

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Seven Irish fishing organisations have condemned what they described as “blockades” in two south-west harbours, and said that such protests were “alarmist” and “unnecessary” writes Lorna Siggins 

The seven groups, including the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the Irish Fish Producer’s Organisation, and Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, said that they enjoyed cordial relationships with French and Spanish counterparts, and there was a need to maintain a seafood supply to both Irish and European markets.

The statement was also supported by four fishing co-ops in Castletownbere, Co Cork, Clogherhead, Co Louth, Galway and Aran in Rossaveal, Co Galway and Foyle Fishermen’s co-op in Co Donegal.

The statement was welcomed by Minister for Marine Michael Creed, who said it was “vital for all of us at this time to keep critical food supply lines, such as fishing activity, open and functioning through this period”.

The Department of Transport is requiring all vessels entering Irish ports to furnish a maritime declaration of health at least 24 hours ahead of arrival, and entry may be refused in a case of incomplete reporting.

“In responding to the COVID 19 crisis, Government action has been informed by the primacy of the need to protect public health, guided by the advice of medical professionals in our public health authorities,” Mr Creed said.

“ It is critically important that all of our actions continue to take place on this basis. Such advice does not extend to the selective closure of parts of the single market that are critical to maintaining the food supply chain in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. It is vital for all of us at this time to keep critical food supply lines, such as fishing activity, open and functioning through this period. I welcome the commitment of Irelands fishery organisations to this endeavour.”

Speaking in a personal capacity, south-west fishing industry representative Patrick Murphy said a lack of communication by the authorities had prompted the protests, which were fuelled by fear.

“I won’t condemn any communities for expressing their fears, in the absence of proper communication,” Mr Murphy said.

He said the seven organisations and Mr Creed were now needlessly “escalating” a situation which could have been avoided with proper communication.

“This is nothing to do with sentiment against French and Spanish, but concern about perceived lack of controls in fishery harbours,” Mr Murphy stressed.

Separately, there had been growing concerns about activities of German-registered Spanish and other Spanish flagged vessels off the coast over the last few months, he noted.

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The European Commission says it is revising EU state aid rules to provide temporary relief for fishing fleets and fish farmers who have been hard hit by the economic consequences of Covid-19 writes Lorna Siggins

A “dramatic downturn” in the demand for seafood has prompted the move by the EU, which says it will allow member states to increase the maximum amount of “de minimis” aid from a current level of €30,000 to €120,000.

The Irish fleet is facing forced tie-ups as retailers, restaurants, canteens and other large-scale buyers reduce or temporarily closing down their activities. The largely export-led Irish seafood industry has been badly affected by restricted or closed access to European and Asian markets,

The European Commission also notes that the industry depends on logistics such as landing facilities, transport and storage, which may also be affected by the evolving crisis.

European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said that “our fishermen and women and our aquaculture farmers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of COVID-19, as the demand for seafood has experienced a dramatic slump”

“ But let me say it loud and clear: the European Union stands with you through this crisis. Together, we will ensure that the EU maintains a strong seafood industry and thriving coastal communities, now and in the future,” he said.

The European Commission said this morning that the revised state aid rules will enable member states to make immediate support available, in the form of grants or tax advantages, to operators facing a sudden shortage or unavailability of liquidity.

“ In many cases, this can mean the difference between permanently closing activities and long-term survival of healthy businesses and thousands of jobs,”it said.

“The impact of these measures on coastal areas goes well beyond the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Also companies in the wider blue economy – from biotech to tourism – will benefit, as worsening economic conditions and restrictions on movement will be felt across the Union over the coming weeks and months,”it said in a statement. Aid can be granted until December 31st, 2020.

It said the aid measures are “fully in line with the EU’s common fisheries policy, which promotes sustainable use of ocean resources”. It said aid is not applicable to activities explicitly excluded from the de minimis aid in the fishery and aquaculture sector.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said that the public was buying canned, rather than fresh fish, and access to cold storage for sufficient frozen product – which could allow prawn vessels to store catch - was proving an issue across Europe.

A briefing document by two European industry organisations, Europeche and EAPO, which Mr O’Donoghue has forwarded to Minister for Agriculture and Food Michael Creed describes how the Irish nephrops (prawns), whitefish and brown crab fleets that rely heavily on exports to the Chinese, Italian, Spanish and French markets have seen “huge prices drops and market closures”.

“This is also the case for other species in many countries. This led to the fishing activity being suspended and the whole seafood industry sector is affected,” the documents says.

EU fleets face a drop to “about zero” of all sales to restaurants and food services,” the document says.

The European fishing industry organisations are seeking a number of measures, including ensuring vessels can carry more than ten per cent of their quota into next year.

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Public demand for canned rather than fresh fish during the Covid-19 crisis and restrictions on Irish seafood exports are contributing to a looming storm in the fishing sector, an Irish industry leader has warned writes Lorna Siggins

Fishing representatives are due to hold a video-conference with Minister for Agriculture and Marine Michael Creed today amid fears that fishing vessels may be forced to tie up in port due to lack of markets.

EU fisheries ministers are also expected to hold a video-conference council in the coming days.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said no one wanted to see vessels tied up, but the domestic market for fresh fish is simply not big enough to sustain fleet costs.

“We may have to introduce a system of vessels rotating at sea, but compensation will also be required for those forced to remain in port,” he said.

“The Irish seafood sector is export-led, and so it is severely affected by the fact that European and Asian fish markets are restricted or closing, and leading retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury’s in Britain have suspended their fresh fish counters,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

Access to sufficient cold storage could provide some relief for vessels fishing for prawns – one of Ireland’s staple export fisheries – he said.

A briefing document by two European industry organisations, Europeche and EAPO, which Mr O’Donoghue has forwarded to Mr Creed describes how the Irish Nephrops (prawns), whitefish and brown crab fleets that rely heavily on exports to the Chinese, Italian, Spanish and French markets have seen “huge prices drops and market closures”.

“This is also the case for other species in many countries. This led to the fishing activity being suspended and the whole seafood industry sector is affected,” the documents says.

EU fleets face a drop to “about zero” of all sales to restaurants and food services,” the document says.

Closures of schools, factories and businesses have also hit sales, and Mr O’Donoghue said the public demand is for canned fish at present, with European canneries working hard to keep up supply.

The European fishing industry organisations are seeking a number of measures, including ensuring vessels can carry more than ten per cent of their quota into next year.

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An investigation into a fire and sinking of a fishing vessel in the Irish Sea last year has found that its fire detection system failed to work, even though it had been surveyed only ten months beforehand writes Lorna Siggins

Three crew on board the MFV Suzanne II had a fortunate escape, as their emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) activated, and gave their latitude and longitude.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry records that the three crew had set out from Arklow, Co Wicklow, in the early hours of May 2nd last year, and were working about 30 nautical miles east of the fishing port.

Weather conditions were good, and the three had taken a break when one of the crew noticed smoke coming from the engine room.

The 17-metre French-built timber vessel with aluminium shelter deck was built as a trawler but fitted with a pot hauler in 2018. The vessel had been surveyed and certified for fishing in July 2018.

The inquiry states that the skipper went to investigate the source of the smoke and “soon realised that there was a serious fire in the engine room”.

“He made an attempt to fight the fire but the level of smoke hampered any effort. The smoke and fire very quickly engulfed the vessel’s accommodation and wheelhouse,” it states.

“ The crew retrieved the vessel’s EPIRB and abandoned ship to an inflatable life raft,” it states.

Activation of the EPIRB alerted the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Dublin at 14.21 hours, as the skipper had tried unsuccessfully to seek assistance via VHF radio.

The liferaft was spotted by an angling boat named the Highlander en route from Wales to Ireland, and two of the fishing crew were transferred to the RNLI Arklow lifeboat.

The skipper, suffering from smoke inhalation, was airlifted to hospital in Waterford by the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 117 helicopter.

The MCIB says this was “a very serious marine casualty resulting in a major fire, an abandoned ship and the subsequent sinking..."

A tug boat with fire-fighting capabilities tried to extinguish the blaze, but the Suzanne II sank within three hours.

RNLI Arklow lifeboat coxswain Ned Dillon praised the crew at the time for their rapid actions.

The MCIB says that the fire detection system failed to work, and had been tested as part of a survey in July 2018. There was no record of its most recent test as the vessel’s logbooks were lost in the sinking.

Under existing regulations, testing of fire systems should take place monthly.

The MCIB’s recommendations include requesting the Minister for Transport to issue marine notices reminding of the requirement for all crew to have basic safety training, and the requirement to ensure fire alarms are regularly tested and maintained.

It says this marine notice should include “guidance on the inspection and testing of fire detection systems onboard fishing vessels of 15-24 metres in length”.

Published in MCIB
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Construction of amenity facilities has been granted planning permission at Rossaveel Fishery Harbour Centre in Connemara, reports Galway Bay FM. 

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been awarded the permission to progress the works at the small craft harbour in the village.

The development comprises of welfare facilities including a canteen at ground floor level and administrative offices at first floor level.

An Bord Pleanála granted permission with 9 conditions attached.

One states that the developers must pay a contribution of just over €2,000 to the local authority, while another limits work on site from 7am to 6pm weekdays and 8am to 2pm on Saturdays.

Published in Irish Harbours

Minister for Marine Michael Creed has paid tribute to Irish trawler owners who have signed up to the State’s “fishing for litter” scheme.

Mr Creed said that 96 per cent of trawlers in the fleet have registered to participate, as in 168 boats, along with 56 other vessels.

All 12 ports are involved in the “Clean Oceans” initiative which is run by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

By this year’s third quarter, 150 tonnes of marine plastic waste was collected from the 12 fishing ports and 54 tonnes of used fishing nets have been collected for recycling by BIM’s mobile shredder, named the “Green Machine”.

 “Fishermen have risen to the challenge I set for them early this year and I am sincerely thrilled that 96% of our trawlers are now signed up and onboard, but we need to get every single trawler on-board for this,”Mr Creed said.

When he initiated the scheme last January in Union Hall, Co Cork, Mr Creed called for the entire trawler fleet to sign up by December 31st of this year.

"There are over 2,000 vessels in the Irish fleet"

There are over 2,000 vessels in the Irish fleet, the vast majority of which are multi-purpose and range from smaller inshore boats to whitefish vessels.

“ I’m delighted that the fisheries producer organisations endorsed this Initiative and are encouraging their members to sign up and get involved,” Mr Creed added.

Protecting oceans is one of 17 “global goals” that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Applicants can sign up online at http://www.bim.ie/fishing-for-litter/ or by contacting BIM at telephone (01)2144100.

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All trawling by vessels over 18m in length within Ireland’s six-mile zone will be outlawed from January 1st, Minister for Marine Michael Creed has reminded the fishing industry.

However, a “phased” system will operate for vessels fishing for sprat during 2020 and 2021, he says.

The new protection of inshore waters will “both support our small scale and island fishermen and provide wider ecosystem benefits, including for nursery areas and juvenile fish stocks”, Mr Creed said today.

“This new policy will, I believe, support the development of small scale inshore and sea angling sectors which is a Government commitment,” he said.

New EU conservation measures for the Celtic Sea, agreed at the December fisheries council last week, involve a 25% increase in the size of mesh in nets used to fish for mixed whitefish in this area, Mr Creed also noted. 

“The new measures agreed for the Celtic Sea to help rebuild the depleted cod and whiting fish stocks will also provide substantial benefits for all our whitefish stocks including for our inshore waters,” he said.

“ As this will involve a change in the fishing gear used by Irish fishermen, I have asked BIM to provide grant aid support to them to reduce the costs of the required fishing gear change,”he said.

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Page 4 of 54

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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