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
While I am not a member of this committee I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute. I welcome Mr. Whooley and his team. For anybody in a coastal community and who has an interest in sea fisheries, this is an exciting time and there is much change. There is not a townland in this country that is more than 60 miles from the sea. For an island nation, a maritime country, sea fisheries is one of the least understood industries in this country and that is reflected in debates in this House. It is the Cinderella of our natural resources and that is regrettable because it has the greatest potential for economic activity in areas where it is difficult to attract economic activity as we understand it. That is why BIM and its presentation of its annual report is so critical. It speaks for the future of the industry as BIM sees it.
BIM is one of the few organisations that genuinely speaks for the industry. We have seen this in the sub-committee the Chairman has established to examine inshore fisheries. Who speaks for the fishing industry in Ireland? We have seen how many different organisations suddenly spring up. Based on geography, in a country such as Ireland the number of producer organisations does not make sense. Mr. Whooley is familiar with this. The producer organisations should be based on the industry segments. For example, there should be separate producer organisations for pelagic, demersal, aquaculture, inshore and shellfish. We are too small to have geographically based producer organisations that compete for membership when they should come forward with a strategic vision for how they see their segment of the industry. People do not understand that the pelagic segment is as different to the demersal as poultry is to tillage in the agriculture industry.
When one makes comparisons, people always ask why the fishing industry is not like the farming industry, which lobbies with one voice. The fishermen are competing against each other for a common resource. There are no boundaries, title documents, gates or areas where one can or cannot go. It is highly competitive, technical and very difficult. In that context I very much welcome BIM's enthusiasm to champion, add value to and progress what it sees as the future of fishing in this country.
I particularly welcome the recent announcements on safety. That is completely underestimated. There is nobody in a coastal area who does not know somebody affected. A family member of mine was lost at sea and was never recovered, albeit in a different generation. We must start embracing the technology available. BIM will take that so far. The grant aid it has announced will be welcome. I do not fully agree with the idea that one should 100% grant-aid anything. There is 60% grant aid for small vessels and 40% grant aid for larger vessels. We should give the industry the buy-in. It is a very modest amount, a couple of hundred euro. It is €75 to get the personal flotation device and the personal locator beacon. We should give the skippers the opportunity to buy into it. We must change the mindset. If 50% of fishermen are going to comply, we must see 100%. When the seatbelt legislation came in people said they would not wear them, but it has happened, by and large. People wear seatbelts now and I expect the fishing industry will comply. At least if we cannot save lives, we will recover people. We must examine the Icelandic experience. I have heard the Minister say in a country with a huge maritime fleet they have had only one loss of life in several years. They have the training, the compliance, the attitude and the vessels. They compete. Income is not an issue. Their compliance is laudable and we should attain that standard.
Aquaculture offers major potential for job creation in coastal communities.
I know of small rural areas where large multinational companies work offshore and members of 50 or 60 families have not emigrated because of a sustainable and clean aquaculture industry. It is not without its critics or problems, but on balance it is a lifeline for coastal communities. If the regulatory environment is robust, which I believe it is, there is no reason we cannot aspire to having an aquaculture industry equal to that in Scotland or Norway. We are starting from a very low base and I see huge potential. I entirely support the aspirations of BIM to bring economic activity to these areas in consultation with communities, which is very important. A large aquaculture industry means a critical mass which provides not only offshore jobs but also onshore jobs in processing which is the real benefit of an aquaculture industry. These may be seasonal, but it could be planned so the work needs to be done 12 months a year. This would help supplement agricultural incomes in these areas, which are challenged, and would provide a lifeline for communities where too many people must leave to go to Australia, Canada and elsewhere.
I hate the idea of levies, but with regard to funding, has an industry-led levy been considered? I accept it is such a fragmented industry it would be difficult to impose or manage such a levy. BIM is a flag bearer for adding value to the industry and marketing it, and it aspires to achieve more for seafood, but funding is always an issue and meetings such as this are always helpful because the issue gets an airing. It is also helpful that BIM's reports are published and bring the issue into the public eye. Unfortunately the media do not pick up on maritime issues as much as I would like.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate and I wish BIM the very best. I know it will not sit on its hands and will aspire to further technology and achievements and will have further consultation with the industry. All of us could do more to promote this natural resource. We do not need to look to the oil and gas industry for resources; we have a massive resource around our coast and it needs better co-ordination, promotion and information. The people of the country do not appreciate what we have. We are a tiny island off the west coast of the European Continent, which has its drawbacks, but most people who work along the coast do not see a barrier but a highway, a living and a resource, and this needs to be highlighted more and more.