Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
Sustaining Viable Rural Communities: Discussion (Resumed)
I welcome Mr. Patrick Murphy, chief executive officer, Mr. John Sullivan, chairman, Mr. Greg Casey and Mr. Ronan Sheehy from the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, CLG. I also welcome Mr. Tom Kennedy from Daingean Uí Chúis fishermen's committee and Ms Nora Parke, project co-ordinator with Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation Limited. Tá fáilte romhaibh go léir agus gabhaim míle buíochas libh as an taisteal mór suas go dtí Teach Laighin inniu.
I wish to draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise them that their opening statements and any other documents they have submitted to the committee may be published on the committee's website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I now call on a representative of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation to address the committee.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for inviting us here today to give our views on what is important in rural Ireland. We represent the fishing industry and for us, there is no more rural industry in the country than fishing. It is on the periphery, outside of land and on the water. It provides jobs not only on the vessels, but onshore in processing factories, shops and at fish counters, as well as for lorry drivers, net handlers and repairers and so forth. The list goes on and on.
It is in parts of our country that do not see very much enterprise. It is also in our island communities and is a baseline for creating tourism opportunities. It brings life, work and resources into the areas and backs up the fabric of rural communities along our coastlines. The possibilities created by fish farms are endless. The fishing industry contributes €700 million annually and employs 11,000 people all around the coastline.
We believe the recently-proposed decommissioning scheme would be the death knell for many communities along our coastline. The scheme is targeted at vessels ranging from 12 m to 23 m. These are the boats one sees in small harbours and are usually family-owned businesses. They form the backbone of island communities. If one were to take these boats out of the fleet, it would cause irreparable damage that could not be reversed. Once these boats and the jobs they support are gone, they are gone. They cannot be brought back again. It is a decommissioning scheme.
The proposal is that 30 vessels would have to go to correct the imbalance that the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, STECF has said is in our fishing industry. We would lose 30 boats out of 176 vessels, that is, 20% of that fleet would have to go to correct the imbalance in our fleet. We consider that it is worth investigating to see if there are other solutions that we could find to stop this from happening. The Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation proposed that when the opportunity would arise in certain circumstances, we should look at all avenues. On foot of the uplift in the mackerel fishery, there was an increase of 10,000 tonnes and we asked for the additional quota to be allocated to the whitefish sector, that is, to the boats that have dual entitlements for whitefish and mackerel fishing. The mackerel fishermen would forego their whitefish entitlements and it could be given to others within the whitefish fleet. We conducted studies which showed at a minimum, it would mean a tonne of fish for every single licensed whitefish vessel operating in our coastal communities.
I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to make my opening address.
Mr. Tom Kennedy:
At present, Ireland has a mackerel quota of 85,000 tonnes. We have 27 boats in the south and 23 boats based in Killybegs fishing for mackerel. At present, 87% of the quota is distributed to the 23 boats in Killybegs in the north west and we in the south west get the remaining 13% of the quota.
I am one of the 27 fishermen with boats based in the south west. I have been fishing mackerel every year since 1984. I am not entitled to the same portion of the quota as the other boats based in Killybegs.
We are seeking to rectify the imbalance of the present quota with only 13% allocated to fishermen in the south west. We are willing to give up our whitefish entitlement to avail of the 14% increase of 10,000 tonnes. I think the way in which the quota has been distributed in the past number of years is unfair. We in the south west have been fishing as long as everybody else but have been disadvantaged by the imbalance in the distribution of the quota. There are factories in Rossaveal, Dingle, Castletown and Baltimore that process mackerel. Each of these factories employ 60 to 70 people every winter, but the mackerel fishing ended on 1 March 2017 and all the people in the factory had to be let go from their jobs. If we had extra quota, they would have got another three to four weeks' work. The share-out is very unfair.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee.
Ms Norah Parke:
I came to this meeting at very short notice and I was not aware the mackerel issue was going to be discussed. I will not go into the ins and outs of it because Sean O'Donoghue has already dealt with it very seriously and in great depth as part of the consultation process, so I will not go over all the whys and wherefores regarding how we arrived at this particular situation. There are very strong economic arguments to be made for not following through on what has been asked for. The processing plants finished on 1 March, but the same happens in Killybegs. The season finishes and that is the end of doing that particular lot of work. The economists would soon come up with the answer as to whether it was feasible to spread it out over more processing plants dealing with smaller quantities. I will not take up my ten minutes talking about something that has been very well dealt with already. We just do not have an answer as yet as to where things stand.
There are two ways of looking at the role of fishing in keeping a viable rural community going. We have the huge problems which have faced us in the very recent past, such as Brexit. This requires immediate attention because it is a very serious situation which faces not just the fishing industry, but the entire country. There are also the systemic and endemic issues that have held fishing back and have been part of the decline of fishing over a very long time. These issues need to be addressed with a more organic approach, changing the whole thinking and the whole way of integrating fishing into our communities.
We have infrastructural and educational problems. Fishing in rural communities outside the main centres such as Killybegs, Castletownbere, Ros a' Mhíl and those sorts of big hubs of fishing - in the small areas that rely on small boats fishing inshore - needs to be tackled in a very different way. I would hope that we could perhaps discuss that and come up with common solutions in a meeting such as this today.
I thank all the groups for being here today. The Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has been dealing with what it takes to sustain a viable rural community. We were coming close to the end of putting our programme together but we had not had representatives of the fishing industry before the committee. It is a very important industry. It is important to the fishermen and crews but also to communities around our country. I am delighted that the witnesses are here today. It is not an active day in the Dáil and still there are quite a lot of Deputies present, a lot more than we often have even on an active day in the Dáil. That demonstrates that all of the Deputies and Senators here have a huge amount of interest.
There are huge issues here, especially in respect of the smaller fishermen out there and the quotas the witnesses speak about. They spoke about 87% of a quota going to a certain sector of fishermen and 13% to the fishermen of the south west. That is a huge anomaly and must be addressed.
There are also other issues. Perhaps the witnesses can enlighten me as to why a huge gap such as between the 87% and the 13% has been allowed to develop. There is a review going on at present in which there is quite a lot of interest but very little is coming from it. My worry is that there are superpowers which have the finances to convince people to continue with this situation, making life a little bit more difficult for those that share the 13%. They would not have the finances available to counteract the big guns. We need to tease that out and discuss it here. I hope what we discuss here goes back to the Minister, Deputy Creed.
There are also other issues, such as those around crew members. I have been contacted by crew members. It is impossible for fishermen to get them in a way, because when the boat is parked up it is extremely difficult for people in this sector to access the social welfare system. A lot of people cannot do so.
As we know, fishermen cannot go out to fish because of poor weather for many months of the year. The crew will not get social welfare. On that basis, fishermen cannot get their crew. There are huge difficulties. The Department of Social Protection needs to recognise and respect those issues. It is difficult enough to get people to commit themselves to go out fishing because it is a tough, tough job. My mother brought me up to respect fishermen because of the difficulties that the job entails.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will not recognise courses provided by the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy. That is a huge issue for many fishermen from the south west. Many travel to Donegal to attend a recognised course. This costs them a couple of thousand euro while a course is being provided locally in Ringaskiddy but not recognised by the Department. This issue has been raised with me many times.
Quotas are a huge issue for ordinary fishermen. There are very poor landing facilities in some communities and poor pontoon facilities for the small inshore fisherman. These issues make fishermen’s lives far more difficult. Why should a man coming home with his catch for the day have to walk across several boats to bring the catch onshore? That is very unfair. There is no understanding of the way fishermen work. Some of them get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and work all day. They feel they are being disrespected when they come ashore.
I would like to work with the witnesses on these issues in the future. I want to see how members, as politicians, can help them and perhaps we can work together.
Mr. Greg Casey:
I will pull out a few strands from what has been addressed by all speakers. The EU published a paper in April in regard to what it calls the blue economy. The paper is based on studies conducted on inshore boats in the Mediterranean. It is intended to use the paper as a blueprint to look at the north-west waters, the Atlantic and the North Sea. It is clear from the paper that the number of knock-on jobs resulting from a small inshore fishery is approximately three to one, whereas for Atlantic and North Sea non-coastal, that is, seagoing fisheries, the figure is one to one or two to one. That is an enormous difference highlighted by the study.
According to the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, the EU will look at examining the blue economy and the inshore fishery along the Atlantic shoreline up to the North Sea. Ireland Inc. needs to get involved in that with the EU because of a rarely-mentioned quirk in how we deal with our fisheries in this country. When Ireland joined the EU in 1973, it was on the basis, as outlined in the Treaty of Accession of 1972, that it was signing up to the Common Fisheries Policy of 1970. That policy makes clear that Ireland was giving up to the EU the waters and fish in the waters on the seaward side of what is known as the baseline. That has been the position ever since. We have never given over jurisdiction for fish inside the baseline. On the east coast of Ireland, from Carlingford Lough to Carnsore Point, the baseline is the median high-water mark.
From Carnsore Point, down to Fastnet, out around Dursey Island and the Skelligs, up past the Blaskets, parallel to County Clare, going around the outside of the Aran Islands, out around Inishbofin, up around the top of Mayo and across Donegal Bay, technically speaking, all the waters inside that line are not within maritime jurisdiction at all. In fact, in accordance with the Treaty of Accession signed by Ireland, which has never been changed under any subsequent treaties, we have never given the fish within the baseline to the EU. It was retained within the ownership of Ireland.
Throughout Ireland's membership of the EU, however, it has become the practice that fish caught inside the baseline by Irish registered boats are not EU fish. These boats are generally small 30 ft. or 35 ft. boats such as half-deckers or small trawlers fishing inside the baseline all across Donegal Bay, Galway Bay and all along the south west coast, up towards Bantry Bay, Kenmare River and Dingle Bay. Over the years, the threat has been that if fishermen do not log the catch they will be prosecuted for failing to log it. The fact of the matter is this fish was never granted to the EU by Ireland. In the context of fisheries as we go forward, and especially with Brexit where there is an enormous threat coming down the tracks to Ireland's fishing industry, anything we can do alleviate pressure on fishermen and fisheries should be seriously examined.
The first thing this committee should do is examine whether or not it is as I have said, and that Ireland has never actually granted jurisdiction or responsibility for those fish to the EU.
Mr. Greg Casey:
With over 30 year's experience, I can tell the committee that in circumstances where the argument was ever raised - for example, as a defence where prosecutions were ever threatened - the general attitude of the State has been to back down, without ever wishing to formally have the situation recognised on the record. With no disrespect intended to anybody involved in fishing organisations or otherwise, I believe the situation whereby these fish resources are not EU fish resources has never been raised as a specific issue with the EU by the Government or by fishing organisations. Every kilo of fish caught inside the baseline comes off Ireland's quotas. If Ireland was to look seriously at the amount of fish taken from inside the baseline along Ireland's south-west and north-west coast over 30 years, Ireland would be entitled to an enormous rebate. That is hardly likely to happen, but I understand there is a basis for seeking and obtaining a rebate in respect of an over-declaration of fish landing, which is what Ireland has done. My best guess, in particular in what we would call the whitefish segment of the Irish fishing fleet where the most pressure is currently, from my own knowledge and from speaking with fishermen, is that approximately 25% of fish in the whitefish sector along the south and south-west coast is caught inside the baseline.
As Ms Parke can see, there is a superpower. Somebody has 87% of the market compared with the 13% owned by others. It is obvious that superpowers operate in the sea, and it is unfortunate that we are in that situation. As she heard a witness say, 60 or 70 people are working in towns around Castletownbere, Dingle and other places. Perhaps if we could increase the percentage owned by bodies which are not superpowers there could be some fair play and a bit of negotiation could be done. Sitting around a table resolves a lot of issues, as we have seen. If that happened in the fishing industry, perhaps the number of employees in Castletownbere could increase from 60 to 120, and 100 could be employed in Dingle. That means a lot to a rural community. When the fishing industry in areas such as Schull to collapsed, the town started to collapse around it. We are fighting for the survival of rural communities.
Ms Norah Parke:
The implication is that the superpower or superpowers grabbed everything through might and main and did not allow anybody else a look in. That is definitely not the case. It has all been documented. Has Deputy Collins read the submissions made by Sean O'Donoghue as part of the public consultation? I am sure he would be more than happy that he would-----
Can we try to speak through the Chair, if we can? We have the benefit of the knowledge and advice of Deputy Collins on a regular basis in the committee. It might be a better use of Ms Parke's time to answer his points. We will not have a chance to hear her input on this issue for a while.
Ms Norah Parke:
The main point is that the division of resources came about through a well-tested and long-standing process regarding how fisheries develop and quotas are allocated on a national basis. It goes back to the very start of pelagic fisheries before the 1970s. The boats then were relatively small and those based in the north west were those which put the most effort into the process. They increased the size of their vessels and, as a result, were able to catch more fish. In the early 1970s, when it became a quotas species, they had a track record and had built up Ireland's right to a share of the EU quota. It was not a case of them saying that they were having it all. Rather, that was the way things were done. A formula was applied, and that is what still stands there now.
I welcome the witnesses. It is good that we are meeting and that a review is taking place. I am sorry that, given the concerns and issues raised, the Minister is not present. I am sure he will vet what was said today, and it is very important that he does. As I see it, fishing in south-west Cork, Kerry, Dingle and the west is in trouble. From what we have heard, it seems that the quota has been divided and, sadly, the areas I mentioned are only getting 13% of the quota. It seems that in one area, 27 boats have to live off 13% of the quota, but in another 23 boats are living off 87%.
Every Deputy and public representative has to do his best to represent his own people. Fishermen in south-west Cork and Kerry are Irishmen as well and should be treated as such. A review is coming up and fishermen from the south west and Kerry are asking for 40% more, in return for which they will give back any whitefish quotas they have to be divvied up among those who want them. That is not an unreasonable request. The factory closed down in March and Norah Parke also said there were closures. We have to remember that self-employed people find it very hard to get social welfare, one of the things that is wrong with the social welfare system in our country.
Another serious matter to be contended with is Brexit. We are hearing that Britain has much of the waters around Ireland and will take them back. What will that mean for our poor fishermen here? Savage pressure will be put on by the Spaniards and other EU members who have savage equipment and can clean out the place in hours, resulting in our fishermen facing ruin and disaster. We have been talking about hard borders and soft borders but there will be no border here when this happens. England will definitely marshall her waters and what Ireland has left will be put under savage pressure.
The witnesses across the table from us are Irishmen as well. I am asking the Minister, who is not here but will read the Official Report, not to let down the people of Cork and Kerry who have nothing and have not been getting a fair share. That will have to change because they have families for which they have to put food on the table. They are entitled to live off our waters as much as anyone else. We are not discriminating against any people but asking for fair play.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
We have fishermen here who have fished mackerel since they were children. I do not want a them-and-us situation. We made a very solid proposal to the Minister based on the uplift. The Killybegs organisation will not lose one fish of what it had in the previous year. This was an increase our country got in the quota and we asked for that to be displaced, not for somebody else to get more fish but for everybody to get fish. It is a solid basis and we have proven it as it is backed up with over five years of figures. When a boat is given the opportunity to diversify from one fishery into another, it will do so. Some 30 boats were to be decommissioned from our fleet of 176, around 20% of the total, and a one-year pilot project was carried out to see if it was a reasonable way of moving forward.
The Killybegs organisation got increases in the December council in many other areas of fishing where our vessels will lose.
Therefore, they will increase their earnings in any event. They will not lose money. There seems to be an awful way of dispelling rumours in this context and I want to dispel one of them. Both sets of boats fish in the exact same way. There is no difference between the boats. The refrigerated sea water, RSW, boats can chill the fish to give them a better quality and fishermen can get a better price for their fish on the market. The polyvalent boats have the exact same way of carrying the fish. There are no differences between those two fleets, other than perhaps the size of some of the vessels.
To return to the point from which all this stems, and this is the only message that needs to go to the Minister, this issue is about the nearly 400 jobs involved. There are 30 boats with three people, on average, on each of those vessels, which numbers 90 people. As Mr. Greg Casey said, there are three jobs ashore for every person at sea and four times 90 works out at 360 jobs. We can apply that ratio across the country. There are boats up and down the coast between 12 m and 23 m in length and they are facing devastation.
I met Packie Bonner, who is from Burtonport, on my return from a meeting in Brussels and he said that the changes he has seen over the years are frightening. The industry is dying. The boats are leaving. The smaller boats, which are the ones I am talking about, are being wiped out.
Ms Norah Parke:
With respect to Mr. Patrick Murphy, I would also like to dispel some misinformation. For a start, Mr. Murphy based his proposal at the time, in all good faith, on there being an increase in the mackerel quota which was supposed to happen. However, there has not been an increase in the quota because the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, which advises the EU on what the quotas should be and whose advice is almost always taken to the letter, made a mistake. The scientists make a mistake in their calculation - a basic mistake that should not have happened. We need this committee to send a strong message about that to the Government which, in turn, needs to bring that message to the EU level, but that is a separate matter. Not alone was there not an increase in the quota but there was to be a decrease in it in the coming years to make up for the misinformation that was given at that time. It was not the case that the members of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation would not lose any fish quota but there was to be a substantial decrease in the quota that would be available.
There is most definitely a difference between the two types of vessels. A naval architect would be better employed here to give that type of information but there is definitely a substantial difference. It is not the case that everybody was working on the same level playing pitch before quotas were established in the 1970s. A considerably different approach was taken by the fishermen in the South who concentrated on white fish. They had great stocks of white fish in those days. They had no interest in becoming involved in the pelagic scene. The fishermen in the north west, who did not have the same opportunities to fish white fish stocks, concentrated on the pelagic fish stocks. They built up their fleet and market and adhered to and, in many cases, increased their quotas. They investigated new species and widened the whole repertoire, which was the basis for creating the strong processing sector in Killybegs.
Deputy Healy-Rae made the point that the number of employees in the processing plants could possibly be doubled but that does not follow. When the quantities of fish going through a processing plant are increased, almost invariably the mechanisation process is increased and there is a reduction in the number of jobs. In this context, one cannot say that one plus one equals two. It does not always work out as simplistically as that.
I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend this meeting. As I said earlier I am not a member of this committee. It was good of the Chairman to invite the Deputies representing Cork South-West and Kerry to attend this meeting.
They epitomise new politics agus, mar sin, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil duit.
I welcome all the witnesses but in particular Greg Casey, John O'Sullivan, Patrick Murphy and Ronan Sheehy from my beautiful constituency of Cork South-West.
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of fishing to places in my constituency such as Baltimore, Castletownbere, Kinsale and Schull. In many of those places, fishing is the only way of making a viable living and therefore the local economy is very dependent on fishing. It is vitally important that the fishing industry is looked after but I am not sure if the Minister, Deputy Creed, knows the extent to which parts of my constituency are dependent on fishing. For example, 95% of employment in the Beara Peninsula is directly or indirectly connected to fishing so the message about the huge importance of fishing in Cork South-West must go out from this meeting.
With regard to Brexit, the general election will take place in the United Kingdom, UK. We hope that the potential hard Brexit might become a soft Brexit but no one knows if that will happen. A hard Brexit would present a clear and present danger to the Irish fishing and seafood industries. Currently, there are strong trade links between countries. Seafood imports from the UK in recent years represented 65% of total imports into this country worth €148 million, while Irish seafood exports to the UK represented 13% or €71 million of the total.
The Government must make fishing a top priority in any future negotiations between the European Union and the UK. It is imperative that we safeguard Irish interests relating to access to fishing grounds and quota share, including the Hague preferences, while avoiding the erection of trade barriers. It is important also that any formal agreements must be part of any future Brexit negotiations. My party has called on the Government to appoint a spokesman on Brexit and I repeat that call now. Fishing is too important an issue not to have a one-stop-shop and one Minister responsible for Brexit.
With regard to the imbalance in the mackerel quota, I am here to fight for those in Cork South-West. Ms Parke made reference to the history in this regard and said that it all happened during the 1970s. People will have varying opinions on what happened then but it is very important that a sense of fairness is introduced for the future. In terms of the mackerel quota review, Cork South-West and Kerry need more of the quota because 14% is not fair. I call on the Minister, and I regret he is not here to listen to our views, to introduce a sense of fairness in that regard. It is not all take. The people involved in fishing in Cork South-West are willing to trade in other quotas. We do not want to grab anything. However, a sense of fairness must be introduced and I implore the Minister to introduce that with regard to the mackerel quota for Cork South-West.
Mr. Ronan Sheehy:
I would like to make some comments. I am from Baltimore, in west Cork, where my uncles operate one of these processing factories. The season is short. Seasonally, they have approximately 60 people working for them, and 25 full-time equivalent jobs, but 25 jobs in a place like Baltimore are vital. These factories are only hanging on, so to speak. That is the reality. Any increase in the mackerel quota to the polyvalent boats will help those factories but much of the commentary on this issue is to the effect that this fish somehow disappears and that it is not available to the processors in Killybegs. Some of the polyvalent boats land a portion of their fish there as well. Four of these 27 vessels are owned in Donegal. Some of them are owned by processing facilities there. This fish will not disappear. There was never more fish processed in Killybegs than there was this year.
There is 1 million tonnes of blue whiting on their doorstep. They get 91% of it and the polyvalent vessels get 9%. Every vessel of the 23 this year had 1,800 tonnes of blue whiting to catch. We had 400 tonnes for six boats of the 27. The idea that all this employment will somehow be shifted out of Killybegs town is just not accurate; it is misleading.
I heard Ms Parke commenting on track records created in the 1970s. Many whitefish track records were created by people sitting in this room and by many fishermen on the south-west coast. That is open season. Every boat on the coast has the same access to that as we have. I refer to the boats which created that track record. Therefore, the à la carteway of allocating quota is not right, balanced or fair. We can do a lot with it.
We operate whitefish vessels in Baltimore, Schull and such places. Last year we could not land a cod in October, November and December. Every one of them had to be thrown back into the sea. This proposal gives 2,500 tonnes of badly need whitefish quota. It has potential to give back 2,500 tonnes of whitefish quota to boats that are struggling. Coming up to Christmas, our guys on our whitefish boats struggle. There is no cod or haddock to land and in some cases there is two tonnes of hake. We want to improve these circumstances with this proposal. It is not fair to sit here and say the fish are disappearing out of Killybegs and we are all going to suffer. There are people suffering right now and we are trying to alleviate this problem with this proposal.
Ms Norah Parke:
It is not as simplistic as Mr. Sheehy would make out. For starters, if the Killybegs boats lose some of their quota, they will not be able to avail of any of the whitefish quota. A dedicated pelagic RSW vessel cannot do any other sort of fishing; it is all it can do unless the 70 m boat that is being built at enormous cost to catch these fish is to be scrapped. There is a danger that, if the fishermen are not catching the quota off their own coast, they will go somewhere else. Those boats will be sold out of the fleet. In the long run, it will have a significantly negative effect on the Irish fishing economy.
I come from a fishing background and I am acutely aware of the politicisation of the industry going right back to 1972 when the fishing constituencies in this country were sold out in the negotiation on entering the European Union, which was then the European Economic Community. From the figures, I note that €98.73 million went to the RSW sector last year and €24.056 million to the polyvalent sector. Twenty-three boats are sharing almost €99 million. It is estimated that this will rise to €110 million for 2017, again to be shared by 23 boats, with the smallest part of the cake being divided up between 27 boats.
The biggest argument anybody can make about sharing a natural asset like fish is how it is distributed, and that has to be for the common good. When we distribute to maintain communities and fishing villages throughout the country, whether at Fenit, Dingle, Killybegs, Burtonport, Howth or anywhere else, we as elected representatives must try to ensure those communities survive. In trying to ensure that, it is necessary to apply positive discrimination in favour of those most in need. What they are asking for in the south west and the Daingean Uí Chúis area is very small at 10,000 tonnes for the fleet while they are giving back 2,500 tonnes to the whitefish fleet. Every sector is gaining as a result of that proposal. What I find very difficult to understand is how a boat averaging more than 4 million a year in a constituency is disputing a share of that 10,000 tonnes of mackerel.
I was in Donegal only the day after Martin McGuinness was buried. I was right up the coast and down into Killybegs as well. There are areas of Donegal that are suffering too. Most areas in Donegal are suffering but there is one which is doing really well and that is the refrigerated sea water, RSW, area. I cannot understand for the life of me why people cannot have that generosity of heart in a negotiation to ensure the survival of the industry right across the island. Maybe I come from a different background from people like that, but I cannot understand it. We fished and applied quota in Tralee Bay for the oyster fishing with the result that we all came out equal and saved the industry which has prospered ever since and is still one of the best managed in the country. That is because we did it ourselves. I hope Ms Parke will use her influence in the sector she represents here to try to ensure all of us survive.
Mr. Murphy made a contribution on decommissioning, which I have been blue in the face from arguing against. Once boats are decommissioned, which is a policy driven by successive Governments, it takes an income away from the community in which the boat was decommissioned. It puts more people on the live register and ensures less money is circulating in that community. When that happens, there is a knock-on effect on small shopkeepers, local bar owners, oil suppliers and so on. They are gone as a consequence of that. It is necessary for us as legislators to ensure fairness in order that the weaker parts of our community which are most in need are facilitated to survive. I hope Ms. Parke will use her influence to ensure that comes about.
Ms Norah Parke:
I thank Deputy Ferris who has probably ascribed a great deal more influence to me than I could ever bring to bear. However, I will do my best. I take his point about fairness. He will probably not believe it but the pelagic fishermen in Killybegs reckon that they have managed the fishery very well also to make it the fishery and source of income to the country that it is. However, we will not argue over it on this occasion. As when I corrected the figures Mr. Murphy was using, I point out that the figures the Deputy was using are not what is going to happen in 2018 and 2019. Those figures are based on an erroneous prediction that had to be corrected. It was erroneous down to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, advice in 2016.
Two questions have come from the discussion so far. One is what the correct figures are. There is a clear difference of opinion on that. Rather than use the rest of the meeting for that, we as a committee will request the actual figures from the Department in an effort to get a better understanding. We could go back and forth on that issue until kingdom come and not make progress. We will research that. That is part of our job. Another issue is to tease out the Government response with regard to the baseline that Mr. Casey mentioned earlier on. I am going to allow Mr. Casey to respond to Deputy Martin Ferris's contribution.
Mr. Greg Casey:
I want to correct the record on a few issues. When Ireland joined the EU in 1972, we signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy of 1970, and Ireland's maritime jurisdiction at that point was 12 miles. In fact, it was six miles. We did not have 200 miles out into the Atlantic as we have now. That did not come until November 1976. From 1 January 1977, the EU set up a scheme whereby, over the following six years, 1977 to 1982, inclusive, all fishing interests - Irish, British, Dutch, French, whatever - would be enabled and entitled to go and fish within their own waters and in the waters of next-door neighbours, for example, Irish vessels by the west coast of Scotland, the British coming west of the English Channel, and the French and Spanish coming up.
Arising from that, the Common Fisheries Policy of 1983 arrived. The Common Fisheries Policy of 1983 was essentially based on the landing figures that were given by national governments for each of the countries for that six-year reference period. At that point, there was nothing to prevent and nothing to stop any boat in Ireland from fishing for mackerel. In fact, there was an enormous mackerel fishery in Berehaven at that stage, which was essentially a co-fishery between Lough Swilly and Berehaven for the winter months, where Russian factory ships came and took mackerel from all Irish boats. A large number of boats from the south west fished, caught and landed mackerel into those Russian factory ships. Those same factory ships were in Lough Swilly and boats in the north west landed fish in them. The first four so-called tank boats of the Irish fleet were bought at that stage by a number of people, including a gentleman from the Aran Islands, a gentleman from Donegal and a gentleman from Castletownbere. They formed the basis of the Killybegs fleet at that stage.
The split between the tank boat segment and what one would call the dry hold segment, the polyvalent segment, did not arise under the 1992 Common Fisheries Policy until the mid-1990s. The apartheid relating to the mackerel quota was then imposed, with the policy being formulated between 1992 and 1995 and then put in place. From then on, polyvalent boats were effectively shut out of the industry and those involved with them have only gradually managed to claw their way back in by pleading on their bended knees. People on those boats have been involved in fishing mackerel from their childhoods and landing fish into the factory ships in Berehaven. They are now established back at 13%, but what they want is a fair crack at the whip to be able to catch fish.
That is granted to Ireland by Europe, to be divided up by the Minister in accordance with rational, reasonable and logical criteria. There has never been any reasonable rationale, other than "what we have, we hold". It is very important to note that if one looks at the records from ten years ago, from 2006, 2007 and 2008, the total allowable catch, TAC, granted to Ireland for mackerel at that time was 63,000 tonnes per year, 65,000 tonnes per year and 67,000 tonnes per year, respectively. There was payback for an over-catch of about 10,000 to 12,00 tonnes taken from that but that was the TAC. The TAC granted to Ireland over the past three or four years has been significantly above that baseline level from ten years ago. Two or three years ago the amount granted to Ireland came to 107,000 tonnes. That was maintained at 13% to 87%. It dropped down this year to 85,000 tonnes. That apartheid simply cannot continue, on any rational basis.
I thank the witnesses for being here today. I am a Cavan-Monaghan Deputy and I am totally landlocked, so I have found this discussion very insightful.
We are all very aware that for a very long time there have been huge restrictions on fishermen right across the country. It is our job in this committee to focus on making rural communities viable. If we have to use positive discrimination, that is what we will do to ensure the survival of fishermen. There are very few supports for self-employed people, and we are aware of that across the board. We must do what we can to help businesses survive. Survival is the new success when we consider what people have gone through over the past number of years.
In terms of legislators, and with Brexit looming, what should we be doing? Are there opportunities in terms of the negotiations? I ask the witnesses to lay out any opportunities they see today because perhaps there is something positive that we can do.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
I attended a conference on inshore fishing this morning at Dublin Castle and I brought my ideas to a Commission representative. I have brought them to other Commission representatives, along with solutions to what I see are the problems going forward.
We have a very poor share out of fish quota, as Mr. Casey has outlined. To use Mr. Sean O'Donoghue's catchphrase, we never cashed the cheque. Between 1976 and 1983, we were allowed to input the results of what our fishing fleet had caught and our quota was set on the basis of those figures and those of all the other EU member states. I have a problem with that.
We are debating the mackerel issue, but we will step away from that for a moment. In 1980, our Taoiseach at the time went on national television and said that we were living beyond our means and had to tighten our belts. Credit for buying new boats and putting fishermen out to sea was stopped. My father was a fisherman in Howth and he told me a very simple story which explains it well. He went out on a boat from Howth and caught a lorry-load of fish. They sent it to the market in Dublin and he went out again for the next trip. When he came in with the fish from the next trip, somebody from the post office came down and told him that the fish he had landed and sent to the Dublin market was rotten and that they were not going to pay for it. We had monkfish and anglerfish. People at the time did not realise what it was and they were dumping it out over the side, so we never built up a quota.
The rules that were applied at the time were stacked against us. Again, we did not have a modern fleet and there were no incentives to modernise the fleet. We had a factory or a boatyard, where Mr. Sheehy comes from and BIM built boats but the enterprise went to the wall. Now there are fish in the waters and we have modernised our fleet yet we still do not have access.
I have been asked for a solution. Under the landing obligation, boats are not allowed to dump fish anymore. The provision will come in like a black curtain in 2019. It will mean that we will not be allowed to dump fish over the side of boats but we will be choked because our quotas are so small. As Mr. Sheehy said earlier, we could not land a cod fish for three months last year.
I will explain what will happen under the landing obligation. For three months, fishermen do not fish where cod swim because there is a danger they might catch some cod. We have no entitlements to catch the cod and one cannot prosecute any other fishery. Does the committee understand what I mean? Our boats get tied to the pier wall and they can fish for nothing. My organisation has the following suggestion. Under the landing obligation, one can bring in fish that one previously dumped, and the scientists have told us. I thought we surely should ask all the European countries to reveal how much fish they had been dumping before the landing obligation. The saved fish then could be put into a common resource in order that any country that needed to access that fish to stay fishing and avoid the choke species could do so. Under relative stability, however, that initiative will not be allowed because, as our Department has said, they will not give one fish. I ask members, as legislators, to urge the Minister and his Department to ask and not just accept that the other 27 member states will use their power to vote down our suggestion because we are a small country. As a country, we should highlight what will happen.
I will touch on the issue of Brexit, while staying away from discussing mackerel. The UK catches 350,000 tonnes of fish in its waters but 670,000 tonnes of fish is caught by other countries. When the UK takes back its fishing grounds it can easily double its fishing efforts. We have said that Ireland should link it to trade. Just like what was said earlier about the importance of trade, if I am in business - as I have been - and if I can go to a buyer and state I can drop the price of my product to two-thirds of the price of my counterpart because I have more of the product, from whom will that buyer buy? Linking it to the market is well and good as a concept but it is incorrect. Ireland needs to stand up in this case.
I will return to the mackerel sector. We, as a small nation in the EU, should not allow ourselves to be dictated to just because we are smaller. Again, I shall revert back to Mr. Sean O'Donoghue who has done fantastic work and produced a map that displays the fishing grounds of Europe post Brexit. Let us remember that England is a coastal state.
At present there is controversy in Norway about the snow crab. The European Union took Norway to court and won its case, which means European boats have a right to fish in the waters of Norway but its navy will not allow them in. As DG MARE stipulates, one may have been given the right to enter waters but if the country refuses then one must go to war to challenge them. This is the dilemma that we face in the white fisheries sector. I will quickly explain the situation using a scenario based on 1,000 tonnes. At present Ireland can land 100 tonnes, England takes 200 tonnes and the rest of Europe takes 700 tonnes. Let us say that after it leaves the Union, England increases its tonnage by 200 tonnes giving it a total of 400 tonnes. However, the scientific body called the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, has said one cannot go above the threshold of 1,000 tonnes. Let us remember that Ireland with 100 tonnes had 10% of the allocation. If England has taken 400 tonnes out of the pot, that will leave 600 tonnes. As Ireland has 10% under the relative stability mechanism, our allocation therefore would be reduced to 60 tonnes under the new scheme. The committee members, as legislators, must be aware of this fact.
Regardless of the displacement within our own waters, this will be the final death knell for the Irish whitefish fleet if it happens. At least that is now on the public record here. That is what, as legislators, this committee should be driving home.
Members may want to know what I have asked for in this instance. I have asked the Marine Institute to put together a model that shows the displacement that will happen. It is not only a loss of fish that we will suffer. There are between 500 and 600 EU vessels fishing in English waters. When they are told to get out, they will go somewhere else. The only waters they will be looking to go to are the waters in which there are fish, that is, Irish waters. What is that going to do to our nursery grounds, fishing grounds and our stocks, regardless of what we are allowed to catch? It will be devastating, as far as I am concerned, although I am not an expert. We should be demanding that our main scientific institution determines what the effect will be.
To go back to the issue of inshore fisheries, everything trickles down from the top. If one takes a section out and puts pressure on, it will apply right down the line to the others. I would give the example of two cows in a field. Two cows in a field will survive on the grass growing there but if four cows are put in, they will all starve. I will leave the committee with that concept.
Ms Norah Parke:
I wish to support what Mr. Murphy is saying. It is very important at this stage that the fishing industry, public representatives, the Department, the Marine Institute and anyone who has anything to add to the debate all pull together because Brexit is far more dangerous to us than where mackerel is allocated or, indeed, anything else. We all need to be the one team at this point in time.
One of the problems we have seen so far is that where resources are limited, there is division and competition over those resources. As I see it, both of the regions we are talking about are already suffering significantly for various other economic reasons, including a lack of infrastructure and so forth, so the opportunities for people are fewer than in other areas, such as the east coast of Ireland. That is a major difficulty.
I wish to pull the lens back a little to see what is happening. What is the health of the fish stocks off the coast of Ireland at the moment?
Mr. Greg Casey:
There is a fish stock that has been teeming off the south and west coasts of Ireland in recent years. It was a fish stock that was in trouble for many years but it has made a remarkable recovery, namely, the bluefin tuna. It has even been spotted as far north as the North Sea. There are two gentlemen here, Mr. Tom Kennedy and Mr. John O'Sullivan, who have fished for albacore tuna for almost 30 years and who are entitled to catch it. In terms of the bluefin tuna however, Ireland does not have any quota. There would have been good reasons for not having a quota for bluefin tuna 20 years ago because such tuna were not approaching our waters except on rare occasions. They are now teeming in our waters and the total stock has grown, as the figures will testify. However, as I understand it, fisherman asked the Department to make a submission to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, ICCAC, for Ireland to be given a quota to catch bluefin tuna in Irish waters - even a small quota to start with as a reference point. I was there-----
Mr. Greg Casey:
One moment please. I was there and could not believe what I heard and saw. The particular representative of the State who answered the question said that they were not even going to ask. We have been talking about squeezed resources but there is a fish stock that is now in our waters that was not there in the past. It is teeming in our waters and travelling further north all of the time but we are not even looking for a quota.
Mr. John D. Sullivan:
We have the richest fishing grounds in the world. One needs to see the fleet of boats in our waters as the number of French and Spanish boats is unreal and they are fishing for whitefish in the demersal zone. There are also the big factory ships and the Dutch super trawlers are wreaking havoc off our coast, especially in species such as horse mackerel and in mackerel as well.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
Let me use hake as an example. I am not talking about all the countries together but individual countries have around ten times our quota. I spoke to French members of fish producers organisations like ourselves at meetings in Brussels and all over. I put the proposal that I mentioned earlier about pooling our resources from the landing obligation. He told me that they had the same problem. They have producer organisations that cannot catch the fish they are allocated. We have a permanent swap situation. They are not able to catch all the fish. They would want more boats to catch what they are allowed.
Let me describe it in a simple way. Let us imagine a Spanish person, a French person and an Irish man sitting at the table and one puts food in front of each relative to the share-out of the fish. The Irish man is finished in five minutes, one cannot see the Spanish or French man because of the amount of food they have in front of them. Out comes the man from the kitchen and he brings out a teaspoon and puts a spoon of it onto the Irish man's plate. He goes back into the kitchen and gets a shovel to try to put it on top of what the other two have. That is the reality of the share-out. I was told by the head of the Sea-fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, that more than one third, one in every three fish that is landed in Europe is caught in Irish waters. We have around 10% because we have a good share out in fairness of the mackerel and the pelagic fish. I was never trying to make a case about a them and us. It was about saving 30 boats in the whitefish sector.
This meeting has been very informative. It would be very helpful if the paper that was submitted this morning was given to each member in respect of the further debate we will have with the Minister and his officials.
My information from people fishing out of Fenit is that they have never seen so much spurdog there. I raised this with the officials from the Department, Dr. Cecil Beamish and Ms Josephine Kelly and somebody from the science section of the Department. They said they would conduct trials. It has gone nowhere. Are the producer organisations putting on pressure in order to get some type of that fishery reopened, as it would be of some help, to inshore fishermen in particular?
In regard to sea bass, up until last year, boats from outside Ireland were able to fish for bass and Irish fishermen were not allowed to fish for it in our own waters. This is the hypocrisy of the representation by successive Governments.
Ms Norah Parke:
As far as I know the National Inshore Fisheries Forum has been making quite a lot of representation about the spurdogs. I just am not sure if any headway has been made.
There is a quota of 53 tonnes to avoid somebody being criminalised for accidentally catching them. I cannot remember what headway the National Inland Fisheries Forum made on it, but I know it has been making representations on the issue.
It has been an extremely informative discussion for all of us. In fairness, seeing as there are politicians from each side here, which was clearly recognised, I think we should write to the Minister and give our view. An overwhelming majority was in favour of the Minister giving more serious attention to the serious issue of the 87% to 13% division of the quota. That needs to be addressed going forward. That is the overwhelming position from my reading of the meeting here today.
I also mentioned some other issues earlier on. I know they are side issues to a degree, but they are very important to many fishermen. Why does the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine not recognise courses given by the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy? Many fishermen find that very difficult when trying to do courses. They have to travel up to the North to have these courses recognised. They can be recognised here but the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is refusing to recognise them.
Perhaps this is down to us as politicians, but why is the social welfare system so unfair to the crewmen when boats are parked up? We have not really touched on that issue but it is something we need to look at.
I am also very grateful for the education that I have received here today from the witnesses. I thank them very much for being so informative and being so well up on what is happening and what is not happening.
Regarding Mr. Greg Casey's argument about fishing inside the baseline, I would also be of the opinion that anyone fishing inside the baseline should not be criminalised because he is in his own property. Europe should not be consulted on that matter at all. It should be up to our Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure we hold whatever fish are inside the baseline and let local fishermen be allowed fish away within it.
I am very concerned about the culling of 30 out of 176 vessels. I should have said at the very start that is 20%. We all know what culling means. It means getting rid of them. I am not in favour of that and we must all join together to ensure that does not happen.
On the review that is taking place, again I say to the Minister that we have to get more fair play. The fishermen of south-west Cork, Dingle and Fenit must be given the 14% increase in the amount of tonnes they are looking for, because it is only fair play.
We will all have to work together on the bigger problem of Brexit. This is more than work for one man, this is team work for many people. There will have to be a team effort from the Minister and his team to ensure that if England does take back her waters, the Irish fishing fleet will not be put under undue pressure by fishermen from other countries. We mentioned the Spanish because they are the most dominant, but we will have to ensure the survival of our fishermen is our priority. We will have to look after them 100%.
I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee.
I thank the witnesses for a very informative discussion and for their deep insight into the industry. It is perhaps an issue for another day and another committee, but I agree with Deputy Michael Collins that the crewmen need to be better looked after when their boats are tied up, often through no fault of their own. We must remember that these people have families who depend on their working. As Ms Parke said, it is important that we are all on the one hymn sheet with regard to Brexit.
Will the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, be informed of what has been discussed here today, particularly in respect of fairness regarding the mackerel quota and so on?
We will collect our thoughts on Deputy Collins's proposal and compose a letter to be delivered to the Minister.
The presentations made by witnesses today will form part of two reports on which the committee is currently working. The first report concerns how to develop viable rural communities. The second will look at how Brexit will affect regional Ireland. Those two aspects of today's presentations are key to the reports.
Mr. Greg Casey:
I mentioned one fundamental issue regarding the operation of the Common Fisheries Policy, namely, that of the baseline which sometimes goes as far as 20 miles out to sea along the west and south-west coast and our inland waters inside it. There is a second and more fundamental issue which the committee should consider and possibly seek legal advice on. That issue is whether Ireland ever agreed to the 200 mile exclusive fishery limits of the State, whether by signing up to an EU treaty, voting on it or otherwise. Many people think the damage was done in 1972. In fact, a statutory instrument extended our fishing rights out to 200 miles from the baseline in November 1976. That was six years before the 1982 signing of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which extended the exclusive fishery limits of states out to 200 miles. Ireland did not ratify that convention until the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. In the context of the various treaties Ireland has signed during its membership of the EU, did it ever agree to give the EU the waters between the then six-mile limit and the 200-mile limit under the Common Fisheries Policy? There is a very strong argument that it never did.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
I want to highlight the issue of social welfare. It is important to look into it not because a boat is tied up, but because fishermen are forced to sea during bad weather. There are single operators in inshore fisheries and local communities. I remember two such colleagues who lost their lives. It is very hard when one has to press one's reset button. Every week fishermen go to sea, they do so to earn their next week's wages. There is nothing in the bank. Fishermen have to get their wage every week so there is a very strong direction that they have to follow in bad weather. In the inshore sector, their gear is outside and they have to go out and look after it. That means they take risks. If a social welfare system were set up to minimise their being forced to go out and do this, it would be beneficial and probably save lives.
Ms Norah Parke:
I would like to finish up with a couple of points. I came to this meeting today, which was under the heading What it Takes to Sustain a Viable Rural Community. Until I met my colleagues at the door I had no idea that I was coming to a discussion about mackerel. I would have come with a completely different mindset and differently prepared. I would also have made sure that if Deputies or other public representatives from the north west had been invited that they would have attended, or at least given me a good reason why they were not going to attend. I wanted to make these points clear.
I appeal to the committee to perhaps temper its decision with some of the reasoning behind how the existing mackerel allocation has come about. With Sean O'Donoghue's permission I will get some of the documents he submitted to the public consultation, not yet published, and I will make them available.
Mr. John D. Sullivan:
With regard to what Ms Parke has said, it is not the north versus the south with mackerel fishing. That is not the scenario at all. Reference was made to the 27 vessels and these boats are from Greencastle, Killybegs, Rossaveal, Dingle, Castletownbere, Baltimore, Kinsale and Crosshaven. The situation pertains all around the coast, it is not just a north or south scenario. We are not at all totally against any of the Killybegs fishermen.
I thank all the representatives for coming here today. In my political view, how this country has given away our fishing resources and how we have made ourselves a tiny minority in our own waters is one of our biggest disgraces. It is clear that all of the communities we are dealing with in this respect are communities that are living on the edge.
This discussion has been very educational for the committee. As I have said, all of the content of the witnesses' engagement with the committee will find its way to the Minister, either through a letter or through the two reports we are writing. Go raibh míle maith agaibh as teacht anseo inniu agus slán abhaile.
We shall suspend the meeting for short while but I encourage all committee members to remain here because our next guest has also made a journey to meet with us. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.