Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Bord Iascaigh Mhara Annual Report 2011: Discussion
I thank Mr. Whooley for his presentation and welcome his team here. In his presentation, he mentioned the reduction in staff. I think he said BIM is down to 125 people. How has that affected the roll-out of its project across the State? Could he give us an indication of the overall budget BIM has to work with? Has there been a reduction in the overall budget?
I am looking at the macro-economic background. Mr. Whooley says exports have increased by 13%. He gave a number of figures relating to the current market focus, including a figure of 67% for Europe. I am interested in this figure. Are there any specific areas in Europe where there is a greater emphasis or demand from?
I met with a co-operative society very recently. The produce in question was Tralee Bay oysters. It was a critical meeting attended by BIM representatives. Very unfairly, some of the people present were very antagonistic towards BIM or its representatives there and focused on issues that differed completely from the subject matter of the meeting. In respect of people involved in inshore fishing, be it lobster, crayfish, oysters or inshore trawling, the peak season is from the end of June to September. One might get €23 to €24 per kilo for lobsters earlier in the year and from September onwards, one will get something similar, which is a good price. This would be replicated all along the coast. It is mind-boggling in the sense that the overall costs have increased and continue to increase, be they diesel, insurance, maintenance or safety. I know people who could be hauling 600 pots and crew members possibly earning €55 or €60 a day for that. To be honest, it is slavery. It would make sense if one had an integrated approach that would, hopefully, be driven by BIM where one could store one's produce so one would have a good income and develop new markets outside the usual ones. What kind of work has BIM done on that and what type of budget does it have for it? Let us take the example of someone with 80,000, 90,000 or 100,000 lobsters over a ten-day period during the height of the season. Their market value, at €8 or €9 per kilo, is three times less than they get during the off-peak season, which is €24 per kilo. There is huge potential there.
Another aspect is a brand market. People are landing fish in their respective areas and the fish is entering the market but there is no local brand. Is any work being done in producing or encouraging a local brand market? For example, we have Galway Bay or Tralee Bay oysters.
Another issue that came up at that meeting was the cost of gaining entry to more lucrative markets, although they complained about the distance and travel costs relating to getting products to market, including the cost of air transport. If little things like that could be addressed and there was a sizeable or even a marginal increase in the price one gets for produce, it would make a difference with regard to sustainability. Mr. Whooley mentioned sustainability in his presentation. He said 11,000 people were employed in the sector, which in macro terms is not huge, but it is huge income for coastal communities which are completely dependent on it. It has also helped to sustain local coastal communities so they can continue to survive.
Mr. Whooley mentioned the safety aspect, which I welcome in light of the tragic loss of the Bolger brothers recently. As a result of a presentation given by the IFO, attended by Caitlin Ni Aodha, whose husband was lost at sea, I have been arguing for a type of beacon or personal locator device. Would it not make sense if that was made mandatory and fully grant aided? Many people fishing at the moment, particularly onshore fisherman, are only getting by day by day and are cutting corners. When I looked at the boat on which those three brothers were lost, the size of the boat was the first issue while the second issue was the freeboard over the water line. It was absolute suicide. Not a foot and a half of that boat was over the water with three men on it plus pots. They had lifejackets and were not detected and apparently, as I am only going by reports, they died of exposure. If they had that type of beacon or personal locator, they would still be alive. There is an onus on the Government and by extension, Government agencies to make safety measures like that mandatory and fully grant aid them. I would like to hear Mr. Whooley's comments on that.
In respect of discards and the time factor regarding the discard directive, I welcome the fact that BIM are out of the blocks on it, particularly when one is talking about juvenile fishing. All of that has been staring us in the face for a considerable period of time. This must be driven politically to make sure that becomes the reality. I would appreciate a comment from Mr. Whooley on that.
I do not think anybody from a coastal or west of Ireland community has not heard some lobby regarding the BIM Galway project on salmon farming. Could Mr. Whooley give us an update on it? How advanced or serious has the conversation with the communities that will be on the front line been? What kind of conversation and dialogue has taken place, particularly with people who have been involved in the industry, albeit with no drift netting? What are the expectations or hopes that drift netting will again become part of an income? When the legislation banning drift netting was introduced, I argued that it would have a huge impact on other sectors, which it has had, and take a nice portion of the livelihood of people in coastal communities. Deputy Harrington's community and my own would know about it quite well. It has done irreparable damage to the sustainability of incomes for people from those areas.
I thank BIM for its presentation. Now, more than ever, we need that integration between BIM and coastal communities, not only the four or five the witnesses mentioned but such communities as Doonbeg in Clare, Fenit, and up along the coast from Rossaveal north into Achill. That connection needs to be there. There are areas where improvements can happen, whether through marketing, added value or whatever, that can make that difference of sustainability.