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Advice and data on fishing opportunities is the theme of a new app designed for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

The adviceXplorer provides direct links to fishing opportunity advice sheets published in the ICES library, which contain the official ICES advice.

ICES says the app is fully integrated with it databases and services and “designed to allow the user to quickly visualize and access the data used for the advice”.

Users can search for advice on over 200 fish stocks by using an interactive map of ICES eco-regions.

It also has s additional filtering options such as assessment year, stock code, and species.

Once a fish stock is selected, the trends over time, advice values, and catch scenarios are displayed through interactive plots and tables.

The data displayed in each graph can be downloaded with a button located in the top-right corner of each graph.

ICES expert groups contribute directly to adviceXplorer by uploading their stock information to its databases.

ICES says that the adviceXplorer app only displays published fishing opportunity advice.

More information is on here

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The Irish Marine Minister, Charlie McConalogue, has announced changes to the 2012 Herring Management Policy in relation to the Herring 6a South quota for non-ringfenced vessels. The Minister has set a minimum allocation of Herring 6a South quota for non-ringfenced vessels under 20 metres in length overall when Ireland's quota for the stock falls below a certain threshold. This decision was made following a full public consultation earlier this year, which attracted almost 90 submissions. The Minister examined the issues raised during the public consultation process and decided that a set quantity of the Herring 6A South quota should be allocated for non-ringfenced vessels when Ireland's quota for the stock is low.

The scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) was that both Herring stocks in the North-West (6a South and 6a North) could be managed as commercial stocks in 2023, following a scientific fishery only from 2016-2022. The public consultation carried out by the Minister related to the southern North-West Herring stock (Herring 6a South and 7bc) only. Ireland's quota for this stock for 2023 is set at 1,720 tonnes.

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue says the Herring policy change will improve fishing opportunities for the inshore fishing families that are the linchpin of rural coastal communitiesMarine Minister Charlie McConalogue says the Herring policy change will improve fishing opportunities for rural coastal communities

The Minister's Herring Management Policy of 2012 sets aside 5% of the 6a South quota for vessels under 20 metres in length overall that did not have a qualifying track record for the fishery. However, Minister McConalogue has now decided that where Ireland's North-West Herring quota (6a South & 7bc) in the annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and Quota Regulation is less than 7,000 tonnes, for 2023 and future years, the 2012 Herring Policy will be modified, and a set quantity of herring will be made available for non-ringfenced vessels (vessels less than 20 metres in length overall), at a level of 350 tonnes.

The Minister has stated that this change will improve fishing opportunities for the inshore fishing families that are the linchpin of rural coastal communities. The new policy will allocate 95% of the set quantity of herring to vessels less than 15 metres in length overall, and 5% to vessels equal to or greater than 15 metres in length overall but less than 20 metres in length overall. Any adjustments (swaps, carry-over/deductions as provided by EU Regulation) will not be taken into account for establishing this threshold.

Minister McConalogue concluded that he appreciates fully the strong support given by fishers for these conservation measures and for the advice received from the North-West Herring Stakeholder Group during the scientific fishery. This new policy provides certainty to non-ringfenced inshore vessels regarding their Herring quota in Area 6A South.

There are two separate herring stocks off the North-West coast of Ireland. Ireland has a quota for both stocks. The first herring stock is found in Zone 6aS 1, 7b, 7c (Divisions 6.a South of 56°00’N and West of 07°00’W and 7.b–c (North-West and West of Ireland)) (‘6A South’ quota). The second herring stock is found in Zone 6b and 6aN; United Kingdom, and international waters of 5b2 (Division 6.a (North), autumn spawners (West of Scotland)) (‘6A North’ quota). 

The Herring stock in 6A South is of more importance and interest to Ireland, given that Ireland has the majority share of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of herring in 6A South. Furthermore, from a geographical perspective, the area 6A South has contact with the Irish coastline in the North-West of Ireland, whereas the area 6A North does not. The main stock of interest for the inshore fishers is the 6A South herring stock. Under the 2012 Herring Management Policy, vessels under 10 metres do not have access to an allocation of quota for the herring stock in 6A North.

In accordance with the 2012 Herring Management Policy, the North-West Herring fishery has a ringfenced group for vessels of 10 metres and over, who have established the necessary track record in the years 2006-2010.

The full detail of the Minister’s decision is here

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A European Parliament fisheries committee member has warned of further attempts by Nordic countries to seek greater access to Ireland’s fish stocks.

Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey made the comments following a recent meeting with the Taoiseach and representatives of the Irish fishing sector.

Markey said Ireland must “stand its ground” during negotiations on 2024 fishing opportunists, which get underway shortly.

“The main EU fishing currency is access, and there are indications that some member states are leaning towards negotiating with Iceland and the Faroe Islands regarding access to EU waters,” he said.

“The Nordic countries are interested in valuable mackerel in Irish waters while the EU would seek cod and capelin in return. Ireland must stand firm and ensure we don’t lose out,” he said.

Markey recalled how Norway had “unsuccessfully sought unfettered access to Irelands’ blue whiting grounds”.

‘Hands off our fish’ - MEP issues warning to Nordic countries

“Earlier this year, Norway behaved like a rogue state by demanding Ireland’s blue whiting while doing deals with Russia,” he said.

“The reality is these countries are not members of the EU, and Ireland is, which makes it even more imperative for our voice to be heard,” he said.

Ireland has borne the brunt of quota cuts after Brexit, and any further losses would be catastrophic, he said.

“With recent deals between Norway and Britain, the issue of access to Irish waters is very much back on the table. We need to be vigilant and tell the Nordic countries to keep their hands off our fish,” he said.

At the meeting between the Taoiseach and fishing industry representatives, Markey said he had also called for an extension to the Brexit Adjustment Reserve to allow more Irish projects to receive funding.

“It would be disastrous to send a cheque back to Brussels simply because of tight deadlines. The Taoiseach has committed to look into the matter, and I’m grateful for his support,” he said.

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A West Cork seafood business says it is scaling up salmon processing and reducing its environmental footprint with help from a Brexit support scheme.

Keohane Seafoods in Bantry, Co Cork, is one of 44 projects to share in a €26.8 million investment from the Seafood Processing Capital Support Scheme administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

The scheme, which has earmarked up to €45 million in funding to the seafood processing sector, is funded by the EU under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, designed to minimise the impact of Brexit.

The company’s managing director Colman Keohane said the grant aid is allowing the business to make a €1.2 million investment in new equipment, which is helping it to overcome the challenges posed by Brexit.

“Brexit had a huge impact on our business in several ways, such as the delivery of salmon and transport of finished goods,” he said.

“But by far the biggest impact was the loss of the fresh fish business in Britain, due to logistical delays that reduced the shelf life of our products,” Keohane explained.

“The grant aid we received from the Brexit Seafood Processing Capital Support Scheme has allowed us to invest in innovative processing and packaging technologies, making our business more competitive and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

New machines, including an ingredient mixer, pouch thermoformer packaging machine, salmon portioning machine, and smart grader have “transformed salmon production, helping minimise waste and increase yields”, the company says.

An upgraded enterprise resource planning software is also “giving the business greater control and visibility of its operations”, it says.

“For example, the new pouch thermoformer means we can increase the number of frozen salmon products being processed by around 50 per cent, allowing us to be competitive in the US and German frozen markets,” Keohane continued.

“Our most popular export product in the last 18 months is our infused product range and this innovative technology ensures consistency across that product line.

“The thermoformer unit is also reducing our electricity consumption while the new fillet portioner will help us minimise food waste.”

Keohane Seafoods is a family business run by Michael Keohane and his sons, Colman and Brian.

The family established the business in 2010, and employs 230 people with processing plants in Bantry and Cork city. The company supplies fresh and frozen seafood to the retail and food service markets in Ireland and overseas.

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At a meeting with representatives from the Irish fishing industry this week, it was emphasised that a coordinated approach and cooperation are necessary to reverse its decline and promote growth.

The fishing delegation expressed their appreciation for the ongoing support received from the Taoiseach, his government, and his party, which could strengthen Ireland's voice at the EU negotiating table. Fine Gael and government support were acknowledged to have significantly secured better deals for Ireland, such as the Norway Blue whiting agreement.

The delegation relied on continued support from Mr. Markey, a Fine Gael MEP, who has been instrumental in promoting Ireland's interests at the EU level and demanding a fair outcome for Ireland. The meeting also welcomed contributions from new Assistant Secretary Sinead Mac Sherry, and outlined the Department's support for the fishing delegation.

The delegation emphasised the need for an all-of-government approach to secure better deals from the EU and highlighted the impact of Brexit on Ireland's fishing sector.

From L to R: Michael Treacy, EU Advisor to the IFPO and IFPEA; An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar; Manus Boyle of Killybegs Stevedoring; Colm Markey MEP (FG); Brendan Byrne, CEO of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA); and Aodh O Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO)From L to R: Michael Treacy, EU Advisor to the IFPO and IFPEA; An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar; Manus Boyle of Killybegs Stevedoring; Colm Markey MEP (FG); Brendan Byrne, CEO of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA); and Aodh O Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO)

The Taoiseach pledged to engage at the highest levels in Europe to champion Ireland's position and expressed his keen interest in the fishing industry.

The meeting concluded with a discussion on the need for collaboration between the industry and state agencies to deliver better outcomes for Ireland, including diversification opportunities and harmonized protocols on fishing controls.

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Two fishing industry organisations have criticised aspects of a recent ecologically sensitive analysis of the western Irish Sea for potential marine protected area (MPA) designation.

In a joint statement, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) and Irish South and East Fishermen’s Organisation (IS&EFO) say that the report is a “good starting point” but has not addressed “some key issues”.

It “should not be used” for informing offshore renewable planning on this basis, they argue.

The “Ecological sensitivity analysis of the western Irish Sea to inform future designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)” report published last month identified a list of 40 sensitive species and habitats in a sea area which has been targeted for extensive offshore windfarm development.

It was commissioned by the Department of Housing, which holds responsibility for marine planning.

The two organisations criticise the report’s decision not to include species or habitats already listed in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives or species individually managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and socio-economic impacts.

This decision was due to the fact that legal provisions for their conservation and sustainability are already in place, according to the report’s authors led by Prof Tasman Crowe of UCD’s Earth Institute.

“ Until these additional issues are considered, the report should not be used for informing the ORE planning process or for identifying areas suitable for MPAs,” the two organisations state.

“Given the importance of these issues and their dependence on the output of the ecological sensitivity analysis, it is essential to establish a transparent review and revision process through which issues may be highlighted and addressed,” they state.

The KFO and IS&EFO also say that there is “no official consultation process on the report, and the current informal approach whereby stakeholders may submit observations is far from robust or transparent”.

“ These issues call into question the validity of the output of the current analyses for ORE planning and MPA identification and highlight the urgent need for a more comprehensive approach and report,” they say.

The organisations say that four levels of stakeholder engagement were defined in the report, namely “inform, involve, engage and disseminate”.

“The seafood industry were involved in the first, third and fourth levels, whereby they were informed via email of the project and offered an opportunity to submit feedback, invited to an in-person information session where a broad overview but no specific details of the analytical method was presented and discussed and finally invited to an online presentation of the final report and results where questions could be asked,” they state.

“All of these engagement levels essentially concerned informing stakeholders,”they note, but say that “no specific details of the analyses were presented in the Level 1 and Level 3 sessions, therefore it was not possible for seafood industry stakeholders to make a meaningful input into the process”.

“For example, the key features chosen for the sensitivity analysis and the underlying data were not known to the seafood industry prior to the presentation of the final report,”they state.

The level 2 “involve” stage appears to be where data and feature selection were discussed in detail, but “this level was restricted to involving only key government and agencies stakeholders, and the seafood industry was excluded… despite their extensive knowledge of the area and features within”.

“The reasoning behind this exclusion, as highlighted in the report, was the limited time available for the study,” they note.

“ The KFO and IS&EFPO understand that this was not the choice of the report authors,” they say, and they say this was the fault of the Department of Housing, which commissioned the study with a tight deadline of just four months.

“All future processes for identifying potential areas for MPAs or for assessing potential sites for ORE developments should involve all stakeholders early at every step and level of the process,” they say, as “the only way to ensure a successful outcome”.

Excluding habitats and species that are listed in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives was “a flawed decision that resulted in a significant data gap in the sensitivity analysis and led to the incorrect interpretation of the areas that were not deemed to be potentially sensitive” the organisations note.

This situation is “particularly notable in the case of sandbanks, defined in Annex I of the Habitats Directive as “sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time”, they state.

They note that Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has identified the Irish Sea as having “the greatest resource of sandbanks in Irish waters”.

“To date only the Long Bank and the Blackwater Bank, both located off Wexford, have been designated as special areas of conservation (SAC) in the western Irish Sea,” they state.

“ Some of the largest sandbank, including the Kish, Arklow and Codling remain undesignated and have also been highlighted as areas for ORE developments with monopile-based wind turbines,” they state.

“One would assume that as sandbanks are listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive then they would be considered sensitive habitats regardless of whether they were legally designated as SACs or not, and any analysis of sensitive habitats in the western Irish Sea would highlight these areas for protection,” they state.

“Neither the Kish, Arklow or Codling bank were highlighted as sensitive areas in the sensitivity analysis report,” the organisations say, questioning why non-designated sandbanks were excluded from the analysis.

The report is also confusing in relation to a range of infra and circa-littoral sediment types included as features that met the criteria for inclusion for spatial protection, they state.

The organisations also say that the exclusion of seabirds from the ecological sensitivity analysis, as they are considered under the EU Birds Directive, is “also a significant issue”.

Since the report’s publication, the same department which commissioned it has announced the proposed designation of a large special protection area (SPA) for birds in the northern part of the Irish Sea, and this “completely changes the perception of the outputs of the report”, they say.

“Offshore wind turbines are well proven to cause disturbance and displacement of seabirds and are likely the most damaging activity that could occur within an SPA,” they note, and failure of the report to highlight this “indicates a significant deficiency”.

The two organisations also say there are “significant issues related to the data used in the analyses”.

“Most of the data was fisheries-dependent data, which is biased towards areas that are of key importance for commercial fishing,” they say.

“ Fishermen will try to avoid areas with, for example, a high abundance of juveniles as these are of no commercial value and will represent wasted effort. Therefore, an analysis which is mainly based on VMS and logbook data is biased towards identifying areas with fishing operations,” they point out.

“The resultant sampling data is not a true representation of the species range and does not capture the diversity of life present in the Irish Sea,” they say.

“The lack of data, despite being mentioned in the report, is not immediately apparent to the general reader and requires further extensive reading of the appendices,” they state.

“There are also specific examples where the data used for assessing individual features is questionable,” they state, citing ray distribution data as an example.

“The bottom trawl survey data were collected in the Irish Sea from 1993-2012 and as such, are older than the 10 years defined in the report as “relevant to the current distribution” of mobile species,” they state.

“Another example of questionable data is the delineation of the herring spawning grounds in Dundalk Bay,” they say.

“There is no evidence to support this delineation, and it was made purely on the basis of the presence of a coarse sediment substrate type, which is also widely found further south in the Irish Sea,” they state.

Other issues raised include an “overly simplistic” analysis of carbon sequestration; omission of seafood provision in terms of protein and nutrients as an “essential ecosystem service”; and failure to include decommissioning of ORE developments as a significant pressure source on ecosystems.

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Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., held a 'positive' meeting with fishing sector representatives.

The agenda included, among other items, an update on the implementation of the Seafood Sector TaskForce recommendation support schemes and advance preparations for 2024 fishing opportunity negotiations.

The organisations at the meeting were the Irish South and East Fish Producer Organisation, the Irish Fish Producer Organisations, the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Irish Island’s Marine Resource Producer Organisation, National Inshore Fishermen’s Association, National Inshore Fisheries Forum, Co-operative representatives and the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Organisation. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) and the Marine Institute also attended.

Commenting on the meeting, the Minister said: “The meeting was very positive, and there was a good discussion on positive outcomes for Ireland this year, on implementation of the fishing representative-led Seafood Sector TaskForce recommended schemes and on fishing opportunity negotiations for 2024, amongst other agenda items discussed.”

The Minister provided an update on the implementation and uptake of the Seafood Taskforce Brexit support schemes and also updated the industry on the progress of the final remaining schemes as recommended by the Seafood Sector Taskforce:

“I was pleased to advise the industry that four new schemes have been submitted to the EU Commission for State Aid approval. These are the Brexit Pelagic Fisheries Support Scheme, the Brexit Fish Processor Transition Scheme, the Brexit Specific Scallop Fleet Transition Support Scheme and the Brexit Fisheries Cooperative Transition Scheme 2023. Following approval, these schemes will be rolled out to support fishers in the coming months. On receiving the TaskForce report, I was eager to make sure that this report was fully implemented. With these four schemes coming online, I am glad to say that I have listened to fishers and representatives and brought the report to reality.”

Minister McConalogue also discussed the preparations for the negotiations on fishing opportunities for 2024, during which the industry representatives outlined the views of their members.

The Minister said: “I wanted to take this opportunity for an initial discussion with the industry ahead of the fishing opportunity negotiations, which will take place in the autumn. Our fishing industry plays an essential role in Ireland’s preparation for these crucial annual negotiations. Working together in 2022 and 2023, we achieved positive outcomes on negotiations, including on Blue Whiting.”

The Minister added: “I thank the industry representatives for this week's constructive meeting. I will continue to work closely with the sector to secure our shared objective of a sustainable future for our seafood sector and the coastal communities dependent on it.”

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Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue, T.D., addressed the key issue of decarbonisation of the fisheries and aquaculture sector at the Informal Meeting of Fisheries Ministers held in Vigo, Spain on 17 and 18 July.

At the meeting, organised by Spain, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Fisheries Ministers from across the EU discussed ways to overcome challenges and potential barriers to deliver carbon neutrality for the seafood sector by 2050.

Member States agreed on the need for significant investment, in addition to that provided under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF), in order to achieve the energy transition. Ministers also noted the need for innovation in alternative energy for fishing vessels as the current technologies are not yet sufficiently developed and available to scale for maritime use.

Minister McConalogue highlighted the need for an EU-wide approach:

“Fisheries are a shared Union resource. Therefore, we need to take collective action on an EU-wide basis. Any policy or regulatory framework must have clear, realistic objectives, taking into account the cost involved and the investment and support needed over a realistic timeframe. Such a framework must consider all aspects of the seafood sector and adopt a dual approach of increasing efficiency and exploring alternative energy sources in parallel.”

On the decarbonisation of fishing vessels, the Minister noted:

“Different fleet segments will have different needs and challenges, and these must be considered when planning supportive action.”

The Minister went on to say that: “Adapting port infrastructure to facilitate the use of alternative fuels and sustainable energy sources will require significant investment. An EU-wide investment framework is essential for equitable development and to allow Member States to maintain competitiveness.”

Regarding the Aquaculture and Processing sectors, the Minister said:

“Moving to more sustainable and efficient energy use will make these sectors more resilient and competitive and help them to fulfil their crucial role in ensuring the EU’s food security.”

Last month, the European Commission launched the Energy Transition Partnership – a multi-stakeholder platform to promote cooperation and dialogue in order to accelerate the energy transition in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. This follows on from the publication of the Commission’s Communication on the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector as part of its Fisheries Package in February.

One of the objectives of the Commission’s Communication is that by 2024, the Commission – in close cooperation with the Energy Transition Partnership – will develop a roadmap for the energy transition of the sector towards climate neutrality by 2050.

Minister McConalogue welcomed the establishment of the Partnership and, in conclusion, said:

“Successfully transitioning to more sustainable energy sources will be a key factor in securing the sector's long-term viability. Therefore, we look forward to working with the Commission and the Partnership to develop the energy transition roadmap.”

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The intergovernmental marine science organisation which advises the European Commission on fisheries regulations has been told by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation that it has got its data wrong in recommending major fishing closures.

The Killybegs Organisation has challenged the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to examine and withdraw its recommendations on closing 87 areas of EU waters. The KFO Chief Executive says there are several errors in the data ICES used, which the KFO has identified and which make ICES decisions incorrect.

This is a serious challenge to the scientific body and to the European Commission, which, acting on ICES advice, closed the areas to bottom fishing last September.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation CEO Sean O’DonoghueKillybegs Fishermen’s Organisation CEO Sean O’Donoghue

“We have carried out a major amount of work in looking at the underlying data, and we have found several errors in the data used by ICES,” KFO CEO, Sean O’Donoghue, told me. “The upshot of this is that there are significant errors in areas such as off the Donegal coast, indicating that there is no scientific basis for their decisions. We have notified ICES, the Commission and the Minister.

“There is no way that the existing closures on the ICES advice can be carried forward because they are not on a scientific basis. ICES must retract its advice and perform a full and transparent review. In the interim period, the European Commission should suspend the enforcement of the closed areas.

”KFO recognises the need for conservation and restoration of sensitive marine habitats and ecosystems. This is important not only for addressing the biodiversity crisis but also for supporting sustainable fisheries, which are critical for food security. We acknowledge that there is a need for areas to be closed to mobile contact bottom gears but these areas need to first be identified based on robust scientific evidence, which is currently not the case,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

In this week’s Podcast, he outlines the manner in which the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation is challenging ICES.

Listen to the Podcast below

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A leading fishing industry leader has said that the commercial fishing and offshore wind energy sectors “must work together” if Ireland is to protect both its energy and food security.

Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O Donnell said that wind farm developers have “failed to properly engage with the fishing fleet about locating wind farms in rich-fishing areas”.

“This could have a fundamental impact on how much fish the Irish fleet can catch and ultimately on our food security,” he said in a statement

“Irish fishing communities deliver one of the lowest carbon footprint sources of healthy renewable protein,” O Donnell said.

“We deserve recognition and respect for our role in Irish society and in peripheral coastal communities.”

O’Donnell said his organisation was “particularly concerned about plans to locate large sea-based wind farm projects in the Irish Sea”.

"the naïve view of wind farm developers is that fishermen can simply move"

“The choice of location for most of these projects was driven by legacy considerations revolving around optimal grid connections and project cost. It appears that even basic considerations about traditional fishing activity and sensitive spawning areas have been discounted or largely ignored,” he said.

“The richest fishing grounds are often in areas favoured by wind farms, and the naïve view of wind farm developers is that fishermen can simply move,” he adds.

“But these sea basins have been fished traditionally for generations, particularly for Dublin Bay prawns. This is a significant sustainable wild-caught fishery, which ranks as Ireland’s most valuable seafood,” he said.

‘’The seafood sector is willing to engage and work on a co-existence approach. There is an abundance of sea in the Irish EEZ (European Economic Zone) to locate wind turbines, and technological developments have enabled new possibilities,” he said.

“To avoid the worst outcomes, developers and fisher stakeholders alike must adhere to the communications standard developed by the Seafood Offshore Energy Working Group,” he said.

The group was convened by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue in 2022.

“Our key concern is that the fishery sector is still not receiving adequate information about turbine details and locations. This is a basic prerequisite for proper engagement and meaningful consultation,” O Donnell said.

“We appreciate that the external environment is much changed, with an energy crisis driven by the Ukrainian war - and the need for energy security has accelerated the priorities,” he continued.

“ But there must be a balanced, informed, and coherent process between energy security, environmental impact, food security and fisheries interests,” he said.

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