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Fishing industry representatives have said they are “ confounded and disappointed” by the Government’s repeated refusal to draw down EU-approved fuel aid for the Irish fleet.

As Afloat reported previously, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) and Irish Fish Processors’ and Exporter’s Association (IFPEA) said they met with Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue last Friday, and once again “urged him to secure the existing EU aid to help with the crippling costs of going to sea”.

An unallocated five million euro in the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund could be used as a support measure, with EU approval, the organisations have pointed out.

Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogueMinister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue

“Based on BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara) annual consumption data, we require fuel aid of €20m to €25m a year to compete effectively in Europe,” Aodh O’Donnell, IFPO chief executive, and Brendan Byrne, IFPEA chief executive, said in a joint statement.

“Otherwise, we are up against fleets whose governments are distributing the existing EU fuel aid or offering other fuel aid support - whereas many Irish boats can’t afford to fish because of fuel costs or can’t make a profit on fishing,” they said.

"The time for action is now"

Byrne said this was the second meeting they had requested and held with the minister this year.

“The industry spoke with one voice on the key issues of fuel aid and securing EU-approved measures to enable our fleet to compete,” he said.

Aodh O’Donnell, IFPO chief executiveAodh O’Donnell, IFPO chief executive

While the minister “took note and undertook to assess the industry’s needs”, he gave no firm commitment, the organisations said.

“Our fishing families and coastal communities deserve clear answers and clear action,” O’Donnell said.

“Jobs, livelihoods, and communities are all at risk here. We are operating in an environment of uncertainty requiring a decisive approach in line with European counterparts. The time for action is now,” he said.

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Fishing industry representatives say they are confounded and disappointed by the Government’s repeated refusal to draw down EU fuel aid.

They met with the Minister for the Marine on Friday and urged him to secure the existing EU aid to help with the crippling costs of going to sea.

“However, Minister McConalogue failed to meet this demand, although it would incur no cost to the Irish exchequer. Furthermore, a statement issued by the Minister after the meeting on Friday made no reference to the EU fuel aid scheme,” industry organisations say in a statement today.

The meeting was attended by Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation said that prior to the meeting, the Minster had been presented with a pre-budget submission.

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers OrganisationAodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation

“This outlined fully costed measures aimed at creating a level playing field for Irish fishers in Europe. Based on BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara) annual consumption data, we require fuel aid of €20m to €25m a year to compete effectively in Europe. Otherwise, we are up against fleets whose governments are distributing the existing EU fuel aid or offering other fuel aid support. Whereas many Irish boats can’t afford to fish because of fuel costs or can’t make a profit on fishing.

Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogueMinister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue

Brendan Byrne of the IFPEA said this was the second meeting they’d requested and held with the Minister this year. “The industry spoke with one voice on the key issues of fuel aid and securing EU-approved measures to enable our fleet to compete.”

“The Minister took note and undertook to assess the industry’s needs. We also pressed for the unallocated €5m European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which is fully EU funded, to be used as a support measure for our industry.”

Mr O’Donnell said they would be discussing the Minister’s response with their members and hoped the Minister would take practical action soon to address their concerns. “Our fishing families and coastal communities deserve clear answers and clear action. Jobs, livelihoods, and communities are all at risk here. We are operating in an environment of uncertainty requiring a decisive approach in line with European counterparts. The time for action is now’’.

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Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency has today (Friday, 23 September) announced an extension to the Brexit Voluntary Permanent Cessation ( ‘decommissioning’ scheme) for fishing vessels.

The new deadline is 5pm, Friday 18 November.

BIM has also announced a change to the crew compensation agreement within the scheme. This agreement which was previously required to be submitted with an application, can now be submitted prior to first scheme payment subject to an applicant being approved for decommissioning and having received a letter of offer.

The aim of the new scheme, that opened for applications last week, is to help restore balance between fishing fleet capacity and available quotas following quota reductions arising from the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK. The scheme is a recommendation of the Seafood Task Force, established by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue TD, in 2021.

More information, including details on eligibility and how to apply can be found by visiting www.bim.ie

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A coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks says progress is beginning to be made towards protecting some of the most vulnerable ecosystems within Irish waters. Fair Seas has welcomed a decision by the European Commission to close parts of the Northeast Atlantic to bottom fishing but says more action is needed.

The move will see deep sea fishing using gear such as trawls, gillnets and bottom longlines, banned in 87 sensitive zones. The area amounts to 16,000 km2 of EU waters, of which nearly 9,000 km2 are within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Fair Seas published a report in June identifying 16 ‘Areas of Interest’ for MPA designation in Irish waters. The new closures line up almost perfectly with the areas identified by Fair Seas.

The new ban on bottom fishing will apply to 1.8% of Irish waters. Fair Seas is urging the Government to designate a minimum of 30% of Irish waters as Marine Protected Areas by 2030, up from the current figure of 2% which the group says is wholly inadequate. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of our seas and coasts legally protected from activities that damage the habitats, wildlife and natural processes.

A basket star which is found in some of the deep water habitats off the coast of Ireland. The Gorgonocephalus catches prey with its many arms that bend and coil towards a mouth on the underside of its central disc. Image courtesy of the SeaRover project which is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund 2014-2020A basket star which is found in some of the deep water habitats off the coast of Ireland. The Gorgonocephalus catches prey with its many arms that bend and coil towards a mouth on the underside of its central disc. Image courtesy of the SeaRover project which is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund 2014-2020

Aoife O’ Mahony, Campaign Manager for Fair Seas highlighted the need for legislation to be implemented in Ireland, she said, “The Irish government has committed to protecting 30% of our waters before 2030. We need to ensure that MPA legislation is ambitious and timely to conserve, restore and protect our ocean. Our ocean territory is home to endangered sharks, globally important seabird colonies, and animals threatened with extinction. It is vital that we act now to restore critical habitats, safeguard wildlife and help address the climate crisis. The time for action is now.” 

Regina Classen, Marine Policy and Research Officer with the Irish Wildlife Trust said, “This is incredible news for Ireland. We have sensitive ecosystems in the deep waters off the Irish coast. These areas are home to cold-water coral reefs, deep sea sponge reefs and sea-pen fields which are easily damaged by bottom-contacting fishing gear. Not only are we now protecting fragile deep-sea reefs from bottom trawling, but even a part of the Porcupine Bank, which is heavily trawled for Dublin Bay Prawn, is now protected due to the presence of sea-pens. 

Ireland South MEP Grace O’Sullivan, Green Party Spokesperson for the Marine added, “The news that over 16,000km2 of fragile marine ecosystems are to be strictly protected is a fantastic development for Ireland and our seas. Civil society organisations have worked hard to achieve this victory over the last few years and should be commended. These areas are home to priceless biodiversity and are also some of the most effective at storing carbon. I believe these areas could now play a central role in the government’s work to protect at least 30% of our waters with new Marine Protected Areas, a third of which should be ‘strictly protected’ from human interference. The EU meanwhile must now ensure that these commitments are met by Member States as the clock is ticking towards 2030.”

The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks, including Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Sustainable Water Network, Friends of the Irish Environment, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Environmental Network and Coastwatch. It is funded by Oceans 5, Blue Nature Alliance, BFCT and The Wyss Foundation.

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Several leading Aran Island fishers have spoken of how impossible it is for family businesses to continue fishing due to Brexit-related quota losses and escalating fuel costs.

Interviewed on RTÉ Radio 1 Countrywide, John and Mary Conneely outlined the struggle involved, and said they would be considering applying for the Government’s decommissioning scheme.

The Conneelys, who live in Gort na gCapall on Inis Mór, are a fourth-generation fishing family.

A 60 million euro scrappage scheme, where vessel owners who agree to surrender their licenses and have their vessels broken up, is being rolled out by the Government with EU backing.

It is anticipated it will involve decommissioning up to 60 vessels to ensure that the remaining Irish whitefish fleet remains viable.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which is administering the scheme, has opened it for applications.

Conneely, whose late father Gregory was something of a legend in the Aran fleet, told the programme that the industry is no longer offering an attractive career for young people from the islands.

Stevie Joyce, also an Aran islander, said he hopes to remain in the industry. Joyce, who fishes the 27-metre Oileáin an Óir, recalled how there was a time when one had to queue for several hours to land fish in the Galway fishery harbour of Ros-a-Mhíl.

Stevie Joyce’s trawler Oileáin an Óir in which he hopes to continue fishing. Photo: Ray O'Donoghue/Marine TrafficStevie Joyce’s trawler Oileáin an Óir in which he hopes to continue fishing. Photo: Ray O'Donoghue/Marine Traffic

“Those days are gone,”Joyce said, and landings by Irish vessels are becoming increasingly infrequent.

He told the programme how Irish fishermen had agreed to conservation measures for the Porcupine Bank prawn fishery, but now Irish vessels have to tie up early due to the small quota, while French, Spanish, Northern Irish and other vessels continue to fish there.

Landings of foreign vessels into Irish fishing harbours have risen by 48 per cent over the past decade, while there has been a “big drop” in the amount of fish landed by Irish vessels, according to two seafood industry organisations who met Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently on the issue.

Listen to the RTÉ Radio 1 Countrywide report HERE

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Achill Island RNLI went to the assistance of two local fishermen whose 21ft fishing vessel was experiencing engine difficulties this morning.

The volunteer lifeboat crew were requested by Malin Head Coast Guard to go to the assistance of the two fishermen who reported difficulties with their engine close to Corrán, off Achill Island, shortly after 10am this morning. The ‘Sam and Ada Moody’ launched with Dave Curtis, Coxswain, Michael Cattigan, Mechanic, Patrick Kilbane, Terry Hogarth and Declan Corrigan on board. They quickly reached the vessel, which was located approximately two miles from the Lifeboat Station, in what was described as ideal sea and weather conditions at the time.

On reaching the vessel, both fishermen were found to be safe and well. The vessel was assessed, and a decision was made to tow it the short distance to Corrán, the nearest and safest pier.

Speaking after the call out, Ciaran Needham, Achill Island RNLI’s Lifeboat Operations Manager, said: ‘The fishermen on board this vessel did everything right and made the right call in seeking assistance. Anyone can encounter problems with their vessel, and while sea and weather conditions were perfect this morning, they can change very quickly. Our advice is never to hesitate to call the Coast Guard for help if you encounter unexpected problems while at sea. Our crew are always happy to assist.’

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The Government today approved submission to the European Commission of the European Maritime Fisheries & Aquaculture Fund 2021-2027 - Seafood Development Programme.

The Seafood Development Programme, which will now be subject to adoption by the EU Commission, is worth up to €258.4 million and will make available significant funding to the seafood and marine sectors.

This new Programme represents an increased funding commitment from the €240 million allocated under the previous Programme under European Maritime & Fisheries Fund 2014 to 2020.

Announcing the decision, Minister McConalogue said; “I welcome Government’s approval of the new Seafood Development Programme 2021-2027. This new programme represents the Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting the seafood sector and coastal communities, as well as ensuring that our marine environment is maintained for future generations.”

Developed to implement the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, the Programme supports the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU maritime policy and the EU’s international commitments for international ocean governance and as such supports sustainable fisheries and the conservation of marine biological resources, for food security through the supply of seafood products, for the growth of a sustainable blue economy and for healthy, safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed seas and oceans. In addition to its important function to support the preservation of the marine environment, it is also a key source of funding for the development of the seafood sector including fishers, processors and aquaculture operators to support sustainable, economic growth in our coastal communities.

The programme was developed over the past two years in consultation with the public, stakeholders and the EU Commission. This programme is complementary and in addition to the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, €225 million worth of supports and developmental strategies that have been implemented by the Minister in 2021 & 2022. The supports followed the recommendations of the Seafood Task Force which was established by Minister McConalogue in response to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The implementation of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve supports, as recommended by the Seafood Taskforce, meant that this new Seafood Development Programme development timeframe was extended to ensure a coherent and long-term approach to supporting the seafood sector through the remainder of the EMFAF programme to the end of 2027. A final public consultation and statutory consultation on advanced drafts was concluded in early September.

Minister McConalogue added; “Over the past year, I have announced a range of schemes, worth €225 million, designed to support the seafood sector and coastal communities in overcoming the impact of Brexit. This new Programme will provide for further support to the sector over the coming years up to 2027 to ensure that it will not only survive, but transform to generate economic growth and sustain jobs. The Programme will also provide funding to state bodies which carry out important work in the marine environment to protect our coastal natural resources.”

Government approval of the Programme now means that it will be submitted to the EU Commission for adoption by the end of 2022.

The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) 2021 to 2027 is the successor to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) 2014 to 2020 by which Ireland successfully implemented the previous Seafood Development Programme. Almost all of the funds available under EMFF have been committed and have resulted in a significant investment in Ireland’s marine sector and environment. It is expected that all funds will be expended by the end of programme.

The new Seafood Development Programme is a high-level framework for investment. It details the vision and key missions to be achieved by its implementation. It also demonstrates how the strategic objectives of the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (specified in Regulation (EU) 2021/1139) will be employed in fulfilling the Programme.

The Programme aims to support a diverse range of activities within the marine area. Specifically, it aims to support Ireland's environmental obligations through a continuation of the EMFF Marine Biodiversity Scheme. This will fund appropriate assessment of fisheries and aquaculture activities, reporting on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, projects in support of the CFP, and species and habitat restoration.

The Programme also aims to support enhancement of Ireland's knowledge of its marine environment, particularly in terms of enhancing knowledge of climate change impacts on fish stocks, habitats and species.

Fishing

For fisheries, the Programme envisages support for capital investment on board, capital investment ashore relating to the landing obligation, innovation in fishing gear and methods, technical advice to the fleet, acquisition of first vessel by young fishers, supports to the inshore fleet, training and marketing.

Aquaculture

For aquaculture, the Programme envisages support for implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture. This will include in particular, support for capital investment in aquaculture sites, supports for innovation and research to develop technology and enhance knowledge, advisory services, training and marketing. For processing, the Programme envisages support for capital investment in seafood processing enterprises, in particular, to add value to raw material, enhance energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, and enhance competitiveness. It will also support innovation to develop new products, advisory services, marketing and training.

The Programme aims to support the socio-economic development and diversification of coastal communities through the seven Fisheries Local Action Groups. This will carry on from the Brexit Blue Economy Enterprise Development Scheme, implemented through the FLAGs over 2022/23, but will also have a broader remit to support community-type projects.

Lastly, the Programme aims to fund Ireland's compliance with its obligations under the CFP, specifically for fisheries protection and for fisheries management science.

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Landings of foreign vessels into Irish fishing harbours have risen by 48 per cent over the past decade, while there has been a “big drop” in the amount of fish landed by Irish vessels.

The figures were conveyed to the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar by Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’Donnell and Irish Fish Processors’ and Exporters’ Association (IFPEA) chief executive Brendan Byrne at a meeting with him last week.

Ó’Donnell and Byrne described the hour-long discussion with the Tánaiste – arranged through Fine Gael - in Government Buildings as “positive”.

O’Donnell said it was “the first step in a process aimed at ongoing engagement on the developmental needs of the seafood sector.”

The Department of the Marine was represented by Dr Cecil Beamish.

Byrne said the meeting was focused on “building a whole of government approach to arrest the decline of the sector”.

Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’DonnellIrish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’Donnell

He said it also “focused on the need to support industry at all levels in a process of innovation-led development’’.

Landings of Irish fishing vessels in both domestic and foreign ports fell by a third since 2012, O’Donnell told the Tánaiste.

“Over the same period, landings of foreign vessels at Irish ports rose by 48%. There is a major disparity here, leading to a big drop in the amount of fish landed by Irish fleets,”he said.

“ This hits hard at fish producers and fish processors, but also at other industries relying on Irish fish. We discussed this in the context of the adverse and disproportionate impacts of Brexit quota transfers,”O’Donnell said.

“We emphasised that there is a need to achieve a rebalancing so that Ireland has a fairer share of quotas in the EU,”he said.

“We are moving towards a situation where Irish processors, retailers and restaurants are forced to buy more fish from foreign vessels because the Irish fleet can no longer meet demand,”he said.

“We outlined how this is a threat to our food security and employment in coastal communities,” he added.

The value of the fishing processing industry in Ireland fell from €627m in 2015 to €325 in 2020, a fall of 48%, according to the latest available Eurostat figures.

The IFPO and the IFPEA say they also “took time to press for the need to immediately draw down the existing EU fuel aid subsidies which other member states are already claiming”.

“There is no cost to the State in passing on this aid as it is already on offer. It makes no sense to force our fleet to compete at a disadvantage with other EU fleets that are getting as much as 30c/litre in fuel aid. Otherwise, putting to sea will simply be unaffordable for increasing numbers of Irish vessels,” they said.

O Donnell says he outlined to the Tánaiste the need to back demands for the development of plans for the fishing industry’s future.

He said the Government “needs to press the EU to achieve a more equitable share of quotas for Ireland”.

“At present, decommissioning around a third of the whitefish fleet is being implemented to match the fleet to reduced quotas post Brexit. This is a bleak prospect for the sector,” O’Donnell said.

“We have stressed the need for a developmental approach to modernise and renew the fleet. This needs to be supported by innovative ways of securing more quotas,” he said.

O’Donnell said they also “outlined the need for Government to take account of fishers in the planned development of offshore wind”.

The IFPO and the IFPEA said the delegation was satisfied with the exchange of perspectives.

Byrne thanked the Tánaiste for ‘’taking time in his busy itinerary to meet with industry representatives in a frank meeting and for sharing his insights”.

“The Tánaiste clearly confirmed his commitment and that of the whole of government to working on sustaining this important industry to coastal communities,” Byrne said.

O’Donnell said the seafood industry must “continue to build a consensus and work together to represent this sector, and this is a step in this process”.

The meeting was arranged by Manus Boyle and Declan Lovett of the Dunkineely and Killybegs branch of Fine Gael

The IFPO and IFPEA representatives credited the support of Boyle and Lovett and their Fine Gael branches.

They also paid tribute to Colm Markey, Fine Gael MEP for the Midlands-North-West constituency for “his drive and commitment in raising awareness of fishery matters at national and EU level’’.

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Marine expert Dr Kevin Flannery has called for a commission of inquiry into how successive governments have managed Ireland’s fishing resource.

In an Irish Independent feature on the impact of the 60 million euro whitefish fleet decommissioning scheme – totalling 80 million euro including tax credits – Flannery also says people will drive around the west coast in a few years and wonder where all the Irish boats have gone.

The decommissioning scheme aims to scrap 60 vessels – a third of the active whitefish fleet, at a time of growing concern over food security.

It will be funded from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve to compensate for quota losses due to Brexit.

“In reality, an Irish skipper would be better off now taking the decommissioning money and buying a vessel registered in France to fish from its quota,”Flannery says.

“The Spanish have been doing this for years, and now the Dutch are at it too. You take one well known Dutch fishing company and it has a turnover equivalent to the total turnover of the Irish fleet.

“Our politicians always seem to view fishing as a problem, rather than an industry which could help us with food security,”Flannery says.

Marine expert Dr Kevin FlanneryMarine expert Dr Kevin Flannery

Flannery says that Shetland is buying up vessel tonnage to keep for its fishermen, who may need it later, and believes the Ireland should not be scrapping viable vessels permanently.

John Lynch of the IS&EFPO says Ireland’s last hope is in the upcoming review of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy – but he isn’t holding his breath.

“We have the best and most productive waters in Europe,” Aodh O’Donnell of the IFPO says, pointing out that the Government here has a duty to initiate development plans for those left in the fleet.

“ Irish fish producers have contributed to the sustainable management of fish stocks, while others have been able to exploit resources in our rich waters. Decommissioning is our Government’s solution to a historical legacy of failing to deliver for industry and coastal communities,” O’Donnell says.

Aodh O’Donnell of the IFPOAodh O’Donnell of the IFPO

Vessel owner Caitlín Uí Aodha from Helvick, Co Waterford, says increased regulations, fuel prices and Brexit-related quota losses have piled on the pressure, she says.

“I think my family has been involved in fishing since before the Famine,” she says. “My grandfather fished, my father, brothers, cousins...and now maybe I am the last one in that line.”

“If farmers in Munster – a beautiful green province – were told that they had to sell off their farms to one or two investment companies, there would be an outcry, but that is the agricultural equivalent of what is happening here. And once you surrender your license, there is no way back in...”

Read more in The Irish Independent here

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Fishing and seafood organisations say they are “shocked and disappointed” at the Minister for Marine’s failure to address the fuel crisis facing the sector.

A joint statement from eight representative organisations calls on the Government and marine minister, Charlie McConalogue, to set up a national scheme and draw down existing EU funds to cover extra fuel costs.

The statement follows a lengthy meeting with Mr McConalogue earlier this week, which the minister had described as “productive”.

However, the eight organisations have warned that the survival of the entire seafood sector is at stake and that he must “act now”.

On July 6th, the same day as the meeting with Mr McConalogue, the European Parliament had voted to allocate unused funds in the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to tackle the fuel crisis.

“Some member states have had a quick and effective response, leading to a reduction of fuel prices for fishing vessels,” the joint statement by the organisations says.

“ Others such as Ireland, have refused to compensate their fishermen - a response which has sparked port blockades in, for example, the Netherlands,” the statement says.

‘’There is no excuse for the minister to delay in immediately setting up a national scheme to cover the additional costs, particularly fuel -the EU funding is there,” the statement continues.

“Failure to act is a major threat to the survival of the fishing/seafood sector, which is worth € 1.26 billion to the Irish economy. It’s also a blow for the coastal communities which depend on our sector for their survival,” it says.

“We are disappointed that the Minister did not announce a scheme at our meeting last night. However, we do expect he will act, having reflected on the magnitude of the crisis very clearly articulated by us at the meeting.”

The joint statement was issued on behalf of the delegation which met the minister. 

They include the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO), the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA), the Irish Farmers’ Association aquaculture (IFA Aquaculture), the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation (IIMRO), the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation (IS&EFPO) and Ireland’s seven Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs).

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