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An Irish parliamentary committee may summon the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) before it to explain its weighing system, reports Lorna Siggins.

This follows a recent parliamentary (Oireachtas) agriculture, food and marine committee debate when Independent TD for Cork South-West Michael Collins called for an independent review of the current system run by the SFPA.

Collins referred to a “crisis” in the system and quoted from an Irish Examiner newspaper report, which claimed that a recording system initiated by the SFPA in December 2022 may be flawed and that 40% of by-catch sampling could be out by as much as 80%.

“That is an astonishing figure. It is out by 80%. This has a knock-on effect of leading to cuts to the level of whitefish quota and the number of whitefish species the EU says fishermen can catch in any one year,” Collins said.

Marine minister Charlie McConalogue told Collins that as minister, he is “specifically and legally precluded from becoming involved in operational matters”.

However, McConalogue said that under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, Collins, as a member of the Oireachtas committee, is “empowered by the committee to engage directly with the SFPA and discuss those matters directly with the SFPA through the committee”.

In a related development relating to weighing systems, Ireland’s High Court has found that the SFPA is entitled to insist that the weighing of fish catches in Killybegs, Co Donegal, should take place “on landing” and not after they had been transported to a processing factory.

Ms Justice Siobhán Phelan ruled that a derogation allowing the weighing to take place in the factory did not impact on the power of the SFPA also to require monitored weighing on landing.

The SFPA was entitled to require that any quantity of landed fish be weighed in the presence of officials before being transported despite the derogation, she said.

Ireland had a derogation since 2012 which permitted weighing at authorised premises after the fish was transported from the quayside.

The derogation was rescinded in 2021, after concerns expressed by the European Commission after irregularities were detected. An administration inquiry by the SFPA was followed up with an EU audit.

The SFPA then said that a percentage of inspections would be carried out on landing, which would involve weighing the catch at the pier side weighbridge in Killybegs and other designated ports for landings of more than 10 tonnes of fish before transport to the factory.

In October 2020, the MFV Atlantic Challenge was selected for inspection and boarded by fisheries officers on its arrival at Killybegs, where a pier-side weighing took place.

This took place “under protest” from the vessel’s master, Noel McDowell, and Killybegs Fishing Enterprises Ltd, which holds the Atlantic Challenge's sea fishing licence, and Killybegs Seafoods also agreed to the weighing under protest.

They argued that post-transport weighing was the best way to preserve the quality, freshness and value of the fish in refrigerated water, as it minimised damage caused by crushing/bruising or temperature variation.

The SFPA argued it was possible to mitigate the effects of “de-watering” and arranged for a water separator, or “hopper”, to be installed at Killybegs pier.

The Atlantic Challenge declined its use during the October 2020 inspection.

The figures sent in when the fish was later weighed in the factory showed a differential of some 11-12 per cent between the weight for mackerel recorded from the pier weighbridge and on the flow scales at the factory.

The SFPA notified McDowell of two "suspected offences" relating to the landing declaration.

The High Court challenge seeking to quash the notice to weigh on landing, used for the inspection on October 12th, 2020, was brought by Killybegs Fishing Enterprise, Killybegs Seafoods and the fishermen's representative organisation, the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation Ltd.

The fishermen/factory applicants argued the Atlantic Challenge was unlawfully selected for monitored weighing on landing as, at that time, weighing ought properly to have occurred at the factory premises under the terms of the derogation.

They also contended that the system of weighing using the State-owned weighbridge at Killybegs Port was not fit for purpose, claiming the factory weighing scales were more accurate and less damaging to the fish.

The SFPA opposed the challenge. It argued, among other things, that where the SFPA requires weighing on landing, the derogation from the general rules did not apply.

Ms Justice Phelan said the power to require a monitored weighing on landing was not a new power, and noted that it had co-existed with the derogation –even if the SFPA did not in practice exercise that power prior to 2020.

The KFO had no comment to make on the ruling.

Published in SFPA

Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) officers recorded an 18% increase in fishing vessel inspection activity last year, the State regulator reports.

A total of 1,903 fishing vessel inspections were conducted in 2022, which marked an 18% increase in inspection activity from 2021, it says in its annual report.

“Throughout 2022, a total of 87 case files were opened as a result of 161 suspected sea-fisheries infringements. The figure of 161 represents the total of both food safety and sea-fisheries infringements,” it says.

“Points for serious infringements were applied in six out of seven cases put forward and one case had points applied to the master of a fishing vessel for the first time under new legislation,”it says, adding that “increased inspection and enforcement provide an effective tool to protect against illegal fishing activity”.

"A total of 1,903 fishing vessel inspections were conducted in 2022"

Officers also conducted 1,958 food safety official controls across 2,323 food premises under the authority’s remit.

The SFPA says it responded to 74 food incidents where there were “concerns regarding the safety or quality of food which required examination in the interests of public health”.

“ Seafood safety enforcement measures in 2022 ranged from informal advisory measures to the service of compliance notices, as well as to the commencement of criminal prosecutions for serious non-compliances,” it says.

“In 2022, two separate criminal prosecutions were commenced against food business operators for breaches of the regulations on food safety including on hygiene, temperature controls, pest control and traceability requirements,”it says.

The SFPA says 16 compliance notices were issued in 2022.

“2022 was a year of significant change within the SFPA with the appointment of a new authority and new senior management members across the organisation,”SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said.

“With renewed leadership and the substantial implementation of the 2020 Organisational Capability Review, the SFPA demonstrated its capacity as an effective, fair regulator and promoter of compliance with sea-fisheries and seafood safety law throughout the year,” he said.

Published in SFPA

Almost 46,000 fishing vessel landings were recorded at Irish harbours last year by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

The total of 45,943 landings amounted to 267,200 tonnes, valued at €448,692,973, it says.

It says that 2,080 non-Irish vessels landed into Irish ports in 2022.

The data is derived from landing declarations and sales notes for all vessels landing into Ireland, plus Irish vessels landing outside Ireland provided to the SFPA by the sector, it says.

“Collecting and reporting data in relation to sea fisheries, as required under community law, is an important part of the SFPA’s mandate,” SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes has said.

“ The SFPA uses the available data to help us monitor trends in fishing vessel landings, locations and species being caught. This information is also beneficial to key stakeholders as well as supporting our service delivery and workforce management,”he said.

Annual and quarterly statistics, including landings and inspections, are published on the SFPA website.

The statistics pages on the SFPA website provides fishers and members of the public with a “one stop shop” to access a range of useful data on fishing activity, including Quota Uptake which is available on a weekly basis, the SFPA says.

Published in SFPA

Information on European logbook requirements for commercial fishing vessels has been published by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

A new fisheries information notice summarises key requirements for vessel masters and owners for vessels of ten metres overall length or more under two regulations - Council Regulation (EC) 1224/2009 and the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 404/2011.

This includes the mandatory information to be reported in the logbook and the requirements for the completion and submission of fishing logbooks, the SFPA says.

Logbooks must be updated every day, no later than midnight, immediately after the last fishing operation has been completed, before entering port, and at the time of any inspection at sea, it says.

Fishing vessels that are 10 metres overall in length and above, up to 12 metres overall length, are required to complete a paper logbook, while vessels of 12 metres in length overall and above must keep an electronic logbook, the SFPA says.

During autumn 2022, training was provided by the SFPA to owners and masters using electronic logbooks on the new version of ieCatch.

This involved an eight-week series of engagements with fishers, rolling out enhancements to the electronic recording and reporting systems (ERS) required for fishing vessels, and the provision of training on the use of the new system.

Training events were held during September, October, and November 2022 at various locations across counties Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Meath, Waterford, and Wexford.

In addition, the SFPA ran training for masters new to electronic logbooks in April 2023 at various locations across counties Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Mayo, and Wexford.

The SFPA says that further details on the fisheries information notice can be obtained by emailing: sfpafood&[email protected]

Published in SFPA

Ten enforcement actions were served on seafood businesses during the second quarter of this year, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says.

The enforcement actions were issued by sea fisheries protection officers as a result of risk-based official controls of approved food business establishments, it says.

“No closure orders were issued over this period,” it says.

The SFPA has responsibility for food safety law enforcement across a range of 2,323 food business operators nationally.

It also confirmed that convictions were recorded against a food business operator for offences under the European Union (Food and Feed Hygiene) Regulations 2020.

Ó Catháin Iasc Teo of Dingle Co Kerry was fined a total of €4,500 at the district court at An Daingean in April 2023.

The SFPA says the defendant company pleaded guilty to charges for breaches of food safety law, including "the placing of unsafe bluefin tuna product on the market, failure to comply with food hygiene requirements and failures to ensure temperature control of bluefin tuna products".

“The case arose following an unannounced inspection of the premises in March 2021, which also resulted in the prevention of the bluefin tuna product being placed for retail,” it says.

Published in SFPA

A list of fish species prohibited from commercial exploitation in the Irish exclusive economic zone has been published by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

Protected species include all species officially protected across a range of international conventions and legislation, it states.

These are defined as species that are legally protected, are considered vulnerable as assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), or may be considered vulnerable to the effects of fishing activities due to low stocks or mortality rates.

“Legislation and policies in place for the conservation of prohibited species are deliberated at a global, national, and regional level,” the SFPA states.

“It is important that commercial fishers should minimise their effects on protected species through the appropriate measures detailed… to monitor and reduce bycatch,” it states.

The key areas covered in the fisheries information notice issued by the SFPA include:

*prohibited species recorded in the Irish EEZ.

*visual representation of prohibited species for identification.

*characteristics of each species to aid accurate identification as well as the care, return to sea and recording requirements for fishers in the event of accidental catch.

The details are on FFSU-FC-FIN-OC-06-23 Fish Species Prohibited from Commercial Exploitation in Irish EEZ waters here

Published in SFPA

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed that a case brought against the master of a fishing vessel for under-recording of catches has resulted in a conviction and fine.

James Devlin, of Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, pleaded guilty at Wexford Circuit Court to the under-recording of monkfish, the SFPA says.

It says this was detected during a joint Naval Service and SFPA inspection in November 2021, when the over-recording of catches of megrim was also detected.

The sea inspection of the vessel was undertaken by Naval Service officers attached to the L.É. William Butler Yeats.

The SFPA then conducted a check of the catch on landing which disclosed the under-recording of monkfish by 62 boxes (2,056 kgs) and the over-recording of megrim by 51 boxes (or 1,454 kgs).

The sentencing was heard at Wexford Circuit Court on Friday, June 30th, where the court found the activity was “an intentional act of deception” and that the under-recording of monkfish was by a “significant quantity”, the SFPA says.

The court imposed a fine of €2,500.

Published in SFPA

The first annual Seafood Trade Report of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has a few interesting statistics about how Ireland’s fishing industry is doing outside of the European Union. Three countries account for 63% of Irish seafood exported to Third countries - Nigeria 30.7%, Egypt 21.8%, and China 10.5%. However, according to the Authority, there was a drop in these exports, which is put down to the “challenging year” for the sector due to the international situation.

It was a challenging year for Ireland’s seafood sector, with the continuing repercussions from Brexit, the fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the continued impact of Covid-19 in export markets, the energy crisis and the cost-of-living crisis creating a challenging trading environment. This was reflected in the decrease in Third country (non-EU countries) exports from Ireland in 2022 to 78,171 tonnes (made up of 26 species from 47 Food Businesses to 48 countries outside the EU) from the 2021 figure of 121,395 tonnes in 2021.

As Afloat reported earlier, last year, the vast majority (93.4%) of seafood exported consisted of pelagic species, including Blue Whiting, Mackerel and Horse Mackerel. 3,670 consignments of seafood totalling 78,171 tonnes and 26 species were sent by 47 Irish exporters to 48 countries outside the EU.

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) launched its report on 'Protecting Seafood Trade 2022' today in Union Hall. Launching the report were: Paschal Hayes, Executive Chairperson, SFPA; Bernard O’Donovan, National Director Trade Compliance, SFPA and Diarmuid O’Donovan, CEO, Glenmar Shellfish. Photo: Andy GibsonThe Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) launched its report on 'Protecting Seafood Trade 2022' today in Union Hall. Launching the report were: Paschal Hayes, Executive Chairperson, SFPA; Bernard O’Donovan, National Director Trade Compliance, SFPA and Diarmuid O’Donovan, CEO, Glenmar Shellfish. Photo: Andy Gibson

The Executive Chairman of the SFPA, Paschal Hayes, says that, as fish is highly traded in international markets, illegal fishing is a significant threat and Ireland, “as a food exporting nation places significant emphasis on our position as a supplier of safe, traceable, sustainably produced high-quality food. Seafood is a valuable part of this offering. The SFPA as a regulator, is conscious of our role in ensuring the integrity of our seafood and strategically in terms of how Ireland’s reputation as a food exporter of choice is dependent on all links in the chain.

“Fish is highly traded in international markets. IUU (illegal) fishing is a significant threat to the future of fishing. It creates an uneven playing field and jeopardises the development of sustainable fisheries on which many coastal communities globally rely for their livelihoods, including in Ireland. As regulators, we are committed to utilising all the controls available to us to help detect and deter IUU fishing and fishery products within our jurisdiction.

“Regulation, including health certification, also underpins confidence in the safety of Irish seafood products, providing vital reassurance to retailers, hospitality businesses and consumers at home and abroad. Retaining Ireland’s growing reputation for producing superior seafood is essential, and the integrity of the supply chain will be all-important. Everyone in the supply chain has a role to play in protecting it. This includes importers and exporters who can ensure the goods they handle have the correct documentation. It may be difficult to distinguish between a legally and illegally obtained fish, however robust inspection processes and accurate paperwork will tell the tale.

“Protecting seafood trade by ensuring highly functioning levels of regulatory assurance is a critical element of SFPA’s role.”

Published in SFPA

EU Fisheries Control Agency officials recently met Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) counterparts to discuss “best practices” in fisheries conservation and control measures.

An EFCA delegation visited Killybegs, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork, along with SFPA headquarters in Clonakilty, and met seafood industry members.

The SFPA, Ireland’s authority for sea fisheries and seafood production, says the meeting was “part of overall efforts by EFCA to promote greater uniformity between member states”.

This is in relation to the implementation of control and conservation measures as part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, the SFPA says.

The discussion was said to be “wide-ranging and productive”. It included exchanges on practices in relation to the weighing of bulk pelagic and demersal landings, as well as methodologies associated with sampling plans.

“The visiting EFCA delegation was also appraised of the specific measures under Ireland’s sea-fisheries control and sampling plans, which enables Ireland to meet its obligations under the EU Common Fisheries Policy,” the SFPA says.

The plan, which came into effect on January 1st, provides a derogation under regulation which facilitates an exemption from weighing on landing for 95% of bulk pelagic landings and a proportion of demersal fish landings.

It enables weighing of fish after transport in permitted establishments, unless directed otherwise at landing by a sea-fisheries protection officer of the SFPA.

The SFPA recently noted a high level of compliance by the Irish seafood industry in its annual report.

The report stated that the SFPA monitored over 47,000 landings of commercially caught seafish, valued at over €435 million in 2021.

Published in Fishing

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) says there was a "low level of non-compliance" by the Irish fishing industry last year. 

Its annual report for 2021 records how it monitored over 47,000 landings of commercially caught sea fish, valued at over €435 million.

The report records that 1,345 vessel inspections were undertaken by SFPA officers last year, while 1,115 official control samples were taken.

The State regulator also says that a “significant operational plan was successfully activated to ensure regulatory alignment” following Britain’s departure from European Union.

As a result of Brexit, import controls undertaken by the SFPA rose from an annual average of 800 (pre-Brexit) to over 3,000, it says.

This rise was driven principally by pre-existing trade with Britain being reclassified as a “third country” outside the EU, it says.

The volume of catch certificates issued for export freight by the SFPA rose from approximately 200 to over 800 (with the UK accounting for 71%), while third-country landings (the majority originating in the UK) rose to over 600, it says.

A new port office for SFPA staff was opened in Greencastle, Donegal to “respond effectively and efficiently to the increased volume of activity”, it says.

The SFPA and the Naval Service, which works with the regulator as part of a service-level agreement, initiated 66 case files following the investigation of 95 incidents.

The SFPA says that a “low level of non-compliance reflects the adherence of the overwhelming majority of industry to the regulations and the robust inspection system in place to ensure compliance and detect non-compliance, where necessary”.

“The SFPA continued to deliver on its remit to ensure the enforcement of seafood safety law up to the point of retail. This included overseeing food safety compliance across 2,711 food business operators with 2,221 food safety inspections carried out,”it says.

The annual Shellfish Classification Sampling Programme oversaw the collection and analysis of over 1,500 shellfish samples from shellfish (bivalve mollusc) production areas - detecting out-of-range results in 52 areas (3.4% of the overall sampling).

“Ireland has a strong reputation for top quality seafood and an effective regulatory control system, promoting compliance with sea-fisheries and seafood safety law, underpins this,” SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said.

SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes Photo: Andy GibsonSFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes Photo: Andy Gibson

“2021 was a hugely challenging year for all in the sea-fisheries and seafood industry, including the SFPA,” he said.

“In particular, the control and compliance measures implemented to ensure regulatory alignment following the UK’s departure from the EU and the end of the Brexit transition period had a huge bearing on our activities,” he said.

He also identified as challenges “the revocation by the European Commission of Ireland’s sea-fisheries control plan in April 2021, due to ongoing concerns regarding the under-declaration of the amounts of fish landed in Ireland by operators”.

This was followed by the SFPA’s work to secure an interim control plan for both pelagic and demersal fishers, which “consumed significant amounts of the resources within the SFPA”, he says.

“While both of these events presented enormous operational and capacity challenges for the SFPA, a substantial programme of work was progressed and completed across all units of the regulator as part of its remit to maintain vibrant marine ecosystems and safeguard Ireland’s international reputation for safe, quality seafood,” he said.

“The launch of our new corporate strategy in 2021 was an extremely positive development for the organisation providing a clear roadmap to ensure that we continue to deliver on our regulatory remit in a highly effective and efficient manner,” he said.

He recorded progress in ensuring the organisation remained “agile, responsive and able to adapt quickly in a rapidly changing environment”.

“The work completed during 2021 is testament to the dedication, commitment and professionalism of SFPA staff in port offices across the country and in our headquarters in Clonakilty, who have worked tirelessly to fulfill our responsibilities as the competent regulatory authority tasked with safeguarding the sustainability of Ireland’s marine resources,” Hayes said.

The SFPA’s annual report is here

Published in Fishing
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