Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 and Fish Quotas: Discussion
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are completely turned off as they affect the broadcasting system.
We are meeting to discuss the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 and domestic aspects of the fish quotas allocation within the Irish fishing industry. I welcome the witnesses and thank them for coming before the committee to discuss the Bill, which is currently on Committee Stage in the Seanad. The committee would like to hear their views and comments on domestic aspects of fish quotas allocation within the fishing industry. From the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, KFO, I welcome Mr. Seán O’Donoghue, CEO, and Mr. Pauric Conneely, director; from the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, Mr. Francis O'Donnell, CEO, Mr. Michael Flannery, deputy chair, Mr. Dermot Conway, solicitor, Ms Cara Rawdon, director, and Mr. Niall Connolly, director; from the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation, ISEFPO, Mr. Hugo Boyle, CEO; from the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, ISWFPO, Mr. John D. Sullivan, chair, Mr. Patrick Murphy, CEO, and Mr. Greg Casey; and from the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, Mr. Alex Crowley, chair, Ms Trudy McIntyre, member, and Mr. Richard Guildea, member.
I wish to bring to the attention of witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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 or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. 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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. O'Donoghue to deliver his opening statement.
Mr. Seán O'Donoghue:
I thank the Chairman, committee members and other members of the Oireachtas, for the opportunity to address them here today. We are the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation but we do not just represent fishermen from Killybegs or Donegal and one of my board members, Pauric Conneely, is from the Aran Islands. We do not just represent pelagic fishermen, covering mackerel and herring, but also have whitefish and shellfish members.
This debate is a timely one since there are a number of issues. We were asked to address the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 and quota allocation. At the outset, I wish to make it clear that the KFO was not consulted in advance of the publication, on 9 February, of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 and had no input whatsoever into its content.
The KFO does not support the Bill in its present form, for a number of pertinent reasons. First, no size limit is included in the Bill. It was our understanding that the voisinageagreement had a size limitation and we would strongly advocate one if the Bill goes ahead, though we see no reason for that at this moment. We note that a size limit has already been proposed by a number of Senators on Committee Stage and that there have been some amendments in that regard.
The second reason we are opposed to the Bill concerns the provisions relating to people resident in Northern Ireland. The wording is "sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland" but a coach and four could be driven through this. Multinational and other entities could claim to come under such a definition and it is contrary to what was envisaged in the 1965 voisinageagreement, which clearly states that only boats owned and operated by fishermen permanently resident in the Six Counties will be permitted to fish within the new limits. There is a huge issue with this.
Third, and most important, prior to the UK election the UK Government, through the media and supported by the UK industry, indicated that it intended to withdraw from the London convention of 1964. This is highly likely and the voisinageagreement, which was under that convention, would cease to exist in such a case. A new agreement, if so desired, would have to be negotiated with the 27 member states of the EU. In light of this likely UK withdrawal from the London convention, the KFO considers the proposed Bill should not now proceed.
The next critical issue for us is the allocation of fish quotas, which brings me to the elephant in the room. The mackerel review, initiated earlier this year by the Minister, Deputy Creed, is wholly unprecedented, ill-advised and bitterly divisive.
In a nutshell, the industry in the north west will be deprived of more than €10 million of mackerel catch this year if this review goes ahead as planned. If our current share of the quota is cut, it will ultimately lead to the loss of jobs at sea in Donegal as well as employment ashore in the highly developed pelagic industry in the wider north west. While we accept that no decision has been reached, we in the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation believe that the course of action being adopted is fundamentally flawed and that its activation will penalise the refrigerated seawater, RSW, sector in a disproportionate and unfair manner.
What is more, we had a review in 2009, copper-fastened in 2010, which made changes to the sharing arrangements. It is important to note that Deputy Creed's predecessor as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, also rejected numerous requests to take quota from the RSW sector and allocate it to the 27 polyvalent vessels with mackerel entitlements. A letter dated 23 May 2014 from the Minister's private secretary to the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation stated that, "The Minister considers that the percentage based allocation between the segments can properly deal with year on year fluctuations in national quota in a fair, transparent and balanced way," and formally rejected the organisation's lobbying to take quota from the RSW sector. A copy of this letter is attached to my opening statement for those who wish to read it in full.
It is important to note that in 2014, Ireland had the highest mackerel quota in this history of the State. We now have 18,500 tonnes less than we did then. What circumstances have changed with this review, given such a huge reduction in the share? In 2016, we were also hit by a 15% cut in the mackerel quota. When there was suddenly a supposed increase in the quota last autumn, the Minister appeared open to the idea of making it available to the 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector which have a mackerel entitlement for nothing other than purely parochial reasons. This is something we cannot and will not stand idly by and accept. We cannot countenance a situation in which the south is taking from the north west, from families who have spent generations building up businesses and borrowing to invest in their vessels, and from the many businesses which rely on this.
Moreover, since the public consultation exercises started last January and February, it has come to light that the scientific advice used to calculate the 2017 total allowable catch was erroneous, representing a sizeable cut of 13% in the 2016 catches rather than the 14% increase previously advised. Aside from the obvious embarrassment caused by this mistake by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in calculating stock size, it has created huge uncertainty for our members who are trying to run businesses and provide valuable employment. We could now be easily facing a 20% reduction next year, given that the new advice will not be fully taken into account until then.
Unemployment is running very high in a county like Donegal and is far above the national average. Only last month, 765 people were on the live register in a relatively small town like Killybegs. Our economy in Killybegs is built around fishing. Our town, our region and our livelihoods depend on pelagic fishing. With the banks monitoring their exposure to industries like ours, we cannot live with the risk of someone trying to undermine our bottom line. We cannot be victim to any change in the current arrangements which might jeopardise this vital industry.
The review also ignores the fact that the 27 polyvalent vessels which stand to benefit have already been boosted by a 750% increase in mackerel tonnage since 2000. The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation has gone on record numerous times stating that it has no wish to be the cause of job cuts in Donegal. While the sentiment expressed is noble, if the ISWFPO gets its way and deprives us of 100% of the additional quota, there will be redundancies in the north west. I should also point out that not all the 27 vessel owners agree with the ISWFPO request to take 100% of the allocation. This was communicated by them in writing during the review process and can be read on the Department's website. That in itself is a damning indictment of what is going on here. Producer organisations which previously stood shoulder to shoulder and built up valuable relationships are now divided. The industry as a whole has lost focus at a very important time as Brexit looms on the horizon.
The Irish RSW sector has invested heavily in specialised vessels and has played a major role in developing the mackerel fishery in this country. Prior to the introduction of the total allowable catch, TAC, and quota systems in 1983, it established a credible track record in catching mackerel. Without this excellent track record, Ireland’s current 21.2% share of the western mackerel TAC would probably only be somewhere between of 1% and 2%.
When no one else wanted to invest in a fleet capable of fishing mackerel, not least our colleagues in the south and west, the entrepreneurial, skilled and committed fishermen of the north west did just that. When no one was interested in fishing mackerel, KFO members identified an opportunity, rose to the challenge and developed a fishery that is now the envy of many others. Is it in any way just that a change in quota sharing arrangements would now seek to take the metaphorical fish from our table?
I will give the committee the example of one our skippers. Marc Gallagher is 38 years of age has worked on a pelagic vessel since he left school after the leaving certificate. He has huge monthly repayments in excess of €80,000 a month. If we lose out on this, not only Mr. Gallagher's boat but many other pelagic vessels will become unviable. We will then be left with the huge problem of losing jobs in Killybegs, both at sea and ashore.
Mr. Seán O'Donoghue:
Yes. The last thing I will say about mackerel is that there is a perception that giving up the whitefish entitlements will be of benefit to other 1,400 vessels involved in the whitefish industry. That is not the case. We strongly urge the committee to look at the submissions about this on the website.
I want to deal another issue around the allocation of quota, namely, Brexit. This is a major issue for us and we are asking that it become a Government priority. It is critical that we do not separate fisheries from trade negotiations.
A UK Minister has already indicated extra hundreds of tonnes of fish will be landed there. We really need the Government on side on this. We hope the Chairman will look at our opening statement in some detail.
Mr. Francis O'Donnell:
I am accompanied by Dermot Conway, our solicitor and by Michael Flannery from Dingle and Niall Connolly from Clogerhead, both vessel skippers. I thank the committee for the opportunity to present our reasons the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 should not proceed further. The Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, is the longest established fish producer organisation, representing all fishing segments from large RSW, refrigerated seawater, fishing vessels to small under 10 m inshore vessels that fish for crab and lobster.
On 30 November 2016, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, indicated in a parliamentary question that he would introduce legislation in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Barlow case. The Supreme Court found that the previous voisinageagreement had no basis in law but that the Government could put such an agreement or a similar agreement on a proper legal footing. The Supreme Court did not direct that this should be done.
The voisinageagreement was an agreement by way of the exchange of letters between senior civil servants from Northern Ireland and Dublin. In that correspondence between J.V. Bateman and E. O’Sullivan in late 1965, it was agreed that vessels not exceeding 75 ft, owned and operated by persons permanently resident in Northern Ireland, could fish in accordance with a licence issued under the 1952 Fisheries Act or the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1959. An extract from the note of 25 August 1964 from the Commonwealth relations officer stated that Her Majesty’s Government propose to leave unchanged the arrangement under which vessels from the Republic of Ireland are permitted to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the British Islands adjoining Northern Ireland and that this arrangement would stay in place as long as the authorities of the Republic of Ireland continue to accord to Northern Irish vessels the same treatment as they accord to vessels of the Republic of Ireland in the waters around the coast of the Republic.
On 9 December 2016, I wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, expressing my grave reservations and, in particular, that such legislation may extend or increase access to Ireland’s exclusive fisheries limits by foreign vessels beyond that agreed at the London Fisheries Convention. I was also concerned that by making provision to allow one of the contracting parties of the London Fisheries Convention, namely, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to alter this agreement, that all other 11 countries may avail of any new agreement.
On 9 February 2017, the draft Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill was published. This raised serious concerns with my organisation and across the Irish fishing industry in general. In the first instance, there was no stakeholder engagement on what was an attempt to allow vessels owned or operated in Northern Ireland to enter and fish between zero and six nautical miles measured from the base line.
On 2 March 2017, I took the unprecedented step of asking Dermot Conway, our solicitor, to write to Máire Whelan, the then Attorney General, on the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017, and in particular to raise our concerns on the potential difficulties around the definitions and obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy and the preferential treatment of a class of person. That document is before the committee. I also wrote to the committee in March of this year for the first time in six years asking that I present my concerns on this Bill to its members. I am doing that here today.
If this Bill is passed, any vessel registered in the UK, whether owned by an individual or conglomerate from any EU member state, can avail of access inside our exclusive six-mile limit. The Bill, as presented, is devoid of any safeguards. There are no length or engine power restrictions. This proposed legislation clearly exceeds the scope of what was agreed in 1965. It was not a blank cheque in 1965 but this legislation is. The Minister in presenting the Bill to the Seanad on 8 March 2017 indicated other measures will have to be put in place. However, the Bill as drafted, contains none such. The Seanad was correct to reject the Bill as it is fraught with uncertainties and lacks the preciseness required to avoid future legal challenges or abuses by those availing of it.
This Bill is an open back door for all EU operators. Ireland fishes approximately 40% of its fisheries quota in UK waters and retaining that access will be critical. Both the Common Fisheries Policy and the London Fisheries Convention are under threat from the UK triggering Article 50. The UK fishing industry is lobbying for a withdrawal from the 1964 convention. It is illogical to progress at this time with the Bill in light of the clear lack of legal certainty that now exists. One may very well wish to promote good all-Ireland relations. The Supreme Court, however, has clearly held that we are talking about natural resources belonging to the State. Good relations may be a goal of the State but it ought not to be at any cost. In the Seanad, the Minister relied on the fact Article 50 had not been triggered. It has now. The Minister knew in March that it was coming and argued that he could only deal what was before him. Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017.
National self-interest is an important concept. The UK is promoting its own agenda to put Britain first. As a state, it is more than entitled to do so. It is equally the case for Ireland. To pass this Bill would be politically naive to say the least. More importantly, Ireland would be giving away its poker chips before the game even commenced. There is simply no justification for bringing this Bill forward. The UK is leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and is likely to leave the London Fisheries Convention. Ireland and other EU member states may be excluded from accessing much needed fishing opportunities in UK waters in just a couple of years. This, if it happens, will have massive economic consequences for Irish coastal communities and businesses.
The outcome of the Supreme Court case is an opportunity for Ireland as vessels from Northern Ireland and the UK will require access inside our six-mile exclusive zone. This should be part of a future negotiation strategy by the Government in terms of maintaining our access to UK waters in the future. Any future legislation on this issue should be presented in detail to impacted stakeholders under a proper transparent public stakeholder review process. The opposite has been done to date. This I found to be alarming and without proper reason or justification.
One member of this committee posed a question during the Seanad debate on this Bill on 8 March. His view was that bringing this Bill forward was a mendacious reaction to the State losing the Supreme Court case.
The demersal quota system is managed well through a committee process. We make recommendations to the Minister on a monthly basis and quotas are allocated on the shares given under the Common Fisheries Policy.
The sharing arrangements for pelagic stocks are managed differently. The 23 RSW vessels, six of which are members of the IFPO, have access to pelagic stocks only. Four of those vessels are based in Killybegs and two in Castletownbere. We also have polyvalent vessels that fall under a mixture of pelagic and demersal quota management regimes. Some are limited to demersal species only; others have access to demersal and pelagic stocks. For example, 11.7% of the share out of Ireland’s horse mackerel quota is given to six polyvalent vessels from the south exclusively. The rest of the polyvalent fleet does not get a specific allocation. RSW vessels have been excluded from the pelagic Celtic Sea herring fishery. There are also RSW vessels that do not enjoy a specific entitlement in the boarfish fishery while some polyvalent vessels do. There is much history attached to track record and ambiguity around how some of the policies were finally settled. A large number of RSW vessels do not have access to pelagic fish when they are dedicated pelagic vessels.
At our annual general meeting last December, the IFPO took a decision not to support any change in the sharing arrangements for mackerel. We did have a minority position in the organisation with several members wanting to see some changes allowing polyvalent members having access to mackerel. Our position, however, is clear. We do not support it. There has been much trouble settling this in the past and much political capital expended on it. The majority of the IFPO members stated there was no merit in this review.
Mr. Hugo Boyle:
I reiterate the fact that we, as part of the industry, were not consulted before the publication of this Bill. It would be normal practice for that to have happened. We represent members from County Louth, County Down, all around the south coast, up to Galway.We have a wide membership base that would be affected by the Bill.
My submission is short. The Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation object to the introduction of the above Bill in its present form. I do not intend to go into the legal technicalities but will rather concentrate and confine my comments to the practical fishing issues that would impact on our fishermen should the Bill be passed in to law.
We see this Bill as giving open unfettered access to Northern Ireland vessels of any size and power to fish in our 0-6 mile exclusive Zone. This could result in extreme over fishing in this vulnerable zone, over which we currently have exclusive control. Examples of this would be where our vessels are constrained by national measures such as quotas, restrictions on access etc., but under the proposed Bill we would have no control over Northern Ireland registered vessels in this same area. This would allow said vessels to fish indiscriminately for non-quota species and also target quota species during periods and areas that are closed to our national vessels. This would present a totally unfair situation.
Access would also be a problem. We have a restriction on access in certain areas around our coast for our national vessels whereby vessels over a certain size may not fish inside our 12 mile limit. Northern Ireland vessels would not be subject to such restrictions under the Bill. These vessels could enter and fish in areas closed to our national fleet such as the Dunmore Box - a very famous herring fishing box - which is closed completely to herring fishing for all Irish registered vessels of over 17 m, and which is closed for more than 40 weeks per year to all smaller vessels targeting herring.That is the sentinel fleet consisting of vessels of 8 m, 9 m, 10 m and 12 m. This would be an outrageous situation to find ourselves in.
At present a vessel from anywhere in the UK could register in Northern Ireland at short notice thereby complying with the Bill’s stated objective in Section 1(a). In theory, UK super scallopers - big, big vessels with a lot of dredges aside - could be given open access to grounds which are off limits to our own similar vessels. I do not have to point out the resulting damage to our stocks but this will also have a major environmental impact due to the use of very heavy fishing dredges being used on delicate inshore grounds traditionally fished by our smaller vessels with static gear, for lobsters, whelks, crabs, etc.
Control would also be a problem for our control authorities. Smaller vessels are not subject to vessel monitoring systems, VMS or to electronic reporting. There is no facility under the Bill to make this a requirement. As a result we would not have accurate data on quantities of fish taken out of this zone or of the number of vessels engaged in fishing there. The same problem of policing these vessels would apply where they may enter our internal waters. This is the zone to the landward side of our baselines, the areas into the bays. The baselines normally go from headland to headland tor rock to rock.
The reciprocal rights issue that the Minister so eloquently promoted at every opportunity is dead in the water, as pointed out by Senator Mac Lochlainn during the Seanad debate on the matter. These reciprocal rights would entail trading an area of 84% of an all Ireland zone for a 16% zone of indeterminate value. While it is laudable that all fishermen from the island of Ireland could in theory fish right around the coast, and while this would be in line with the Good Friday Agreement, we seem to be intent on introducing legislation with no indication of parallel legislation being introduced by the Northern Ireland Administration. Even if the will were there to legislate and afford us reciprocal rights I believe this could not be done in the context of Brexit. It would not be practical to pre-empt Brexit by now introducing an open border at sea while we do not yet know the outcome of Brexit negotiations regarding an open border on land.
Fishing at sea has changed dramatically in the 50 plus years since the 1965voisinage arrangement. All vessels - even small vessels - have multiples of the power that vessels had in those days and modern vessels can operate with much heavier and much more efficient gear, which can decimate a fishery in a very short period of time. Giving legal status that old arrangement could never result in the outcome that was envisaged then. As such, we cannot introduce a Bill giving free-for-all access in our 0 to 6 mile zone to what would in effect be UK fishing vessels. It would be irresponsible and reckless in the extreme.
I will now turn to the issue of quota sharing. As the two previous speakers have indicated, we have a monthly quota management advisory committee at which we allocate quotas on a monthly basis. We advise the Department on allocations of quotas on a monthly basis, ready to keep fish at sea and hang on to it - making sure that quotas are not eaten up early in the year and that boats can stay at sea for the year.
The committee specifically wanted to address the mackerel situation. It is our position in the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation that any review of the mackerel allocation policy should not be limited to a partial review that would limit the scope to cover any increase in 2017 over that of 2016. To that end we wrote to the Minister. As per our letter to the Minister on 23 December 2016, it is our stated position that any review of mackerel policy should be a wider ranging full review and our request is that in such a review 5% of the national mackerel quota should be set aside for demersal swaps. Demersal swaps refer to whitefish swaps. This would in some small way partially rectify the imbalance where over a number of reviews the pelagic entitlements of a large section of our polyvalent fleet was eroded and lost to those vessels. Originally these entitlements allowed them to target pelagic species. All our vessels would have had entitlements to fish pelagic species in previous years.
In the event that this review is limited for 2017 to the figure quoted by the Minister of 10,617 tonnes, our position is that 4,000 tonnes of that figure - which would equate to approximately 5% of the national mackerel quota for this year - should be set aside for demersal swaps.
Should the Minister accede to the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation request by dividing the remainder of the increase between tier 1 and tier 2 equally in 2017, those vessels benefitting from this share of mackerel should surrender their whitefish entitlements for 2017. It is a fact that some of our members who are in that sector have indicated to me that if they did not get any share from the 300 tonnes to 350 tonnes of mackerel increase, then they would not surrender their share out. That would give lie to the figures for whitefish that would be returned to the whitefish fleet. They have said there were other members of other organisations who would feel the same way in that regard.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
I thank the committee for asking us here to discuss these important issues. I would like to introduce Mr. John D. O'Suliivan, our chairman from Castletownbere, and Mr. Greg Casey, an adviser. Mr. John Nolan and Mr. Ronan Sheehy are also in the Gallery. Ronan Sheehy is a young fisherman with a deep and vested interest in what goes on in the fishing industry because he sees his future in it. The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisations of the four producers organisations in the Republic represents the greatest number of fishing vessels in Ireland’s fishing fleet including a diverse selection of members who fish in every segment of our fishing industry. They operate every type of fishing method, inshore and offshore, are currently concentrate primarily on Irish and UK waters.
I come from a fishing background. My family has a proud tradition of earning our living from our coastal waters. I am told that I come from ten generations of islanders, so we have a long tradition of trying to secure our livelihood from the sea. I started off in a very small boat, worked in different sectors of the industry to gain knowledge and ended up diversifying into aquaculture. I was then offered this position in the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation. I see that we have great difficulties in our industry. I am coming to this with fresh eyes, perhaps, because what is being portrayed here today is that it is a case of one taking fish from the other and that it is one section of the country against the other section of the country. That was never the intention of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation.
We were presented with a problem in 2016. Sections of our white fish fleet, under the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, STECF, were in a situation of imbalance. This meant that there was not enough fish to go around. When we were presented with the opportunity of looking at other ways of diversifying, we decided to present that to the Minister and that it would be investigated to see if there was merit in it. We have since put forward those papers to the Minister to show that there is room to investigate this.
To fast forward, the Department forwarded us information on the different fish that have been caught by the 27 vessels in 2016. They include cod, haddock, hake, ling, megrim, monkfish, nephrops, plaice, pollock, skates and rays, sole, whiting and saithe. The value of the fish that has been landed by these 27 vessels adds up to €9 million, which is a substantial amount. In fact, it is 7% of the white fish quota that Ireland is allowed to catch. That could be returned to the other vessels if, and only if, as my colleague Mr. Hugo Boyle pointed out, enough mackerel was presented and an opportunity was given to the other boats to diversify from the white fish sector into the pelagic sector, which they currently operate as well.
I do not want to make out that this is a case of us versus them, so I would like to revert back to the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill and speak about that first. With regard to this new legislation, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation feels that what is meant by certain sections in the Bill is not clear. We would like to table some questions to the committee to seek further clarification from the Minister and his Department. We are cognisant that the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, has said he is only legalising a previous agreement to honour our countries commitment under the voisinage agreement.As an organisation, we feel that it is important to retain and build on the important relationships with our fellow fishermen across the Border and that the Minister's intentions in terms of this legislation are important. To this end, we seek clarification from our Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on aspects of the legislation that concern us.
On vessels owned and operated in Northern Ireland, we want to know if anyone can register a fishing company in Northern Ireland, buy a boat there and fish in the Republic because they know how a company up there and the boat is owned and operated within the Six Counties. There is no mention of the code of practice that our vessels must comply with. What Government body, North or South, will regulate ownership, operation and safety concerns? Regarding the fish that these vessels will catch, who or what will decide to place limits, if any, on the amount or the species and how this will be recorded by these vessels? We operate a monthly quota management advisory committee based on the quota given to us for our vessels fishing in areas where they have specific rights detailed on their licences and authorisation. This is done to ensure we remain within the amounts decided at the December Council in Brussels to ensure the stability and sustainability of the stocks. Will the fish these vessels catch and land be included in the figures for the Republic of Ireland and deducted from Ireland’s quotas, granted to us each December following the EU Council Meetings? If the answer to this is "Yes", will reciprocal access also include reciprocal amounts of fish? For example, if ten tonne of hake is caught by one of these Northern Ireland vessels, will we be allowed to catch that once Brexit is formalised? Will we be able to access that in their waters regardless of whether it is in just the Six Counties or UK waters? These are some of the questions that concern us and our members and we advocate that they are examined closer.
I would like to address some of the issues and the elephants that were mentioned as being in the room. It is important to note that the committee would understand that in Ireland we do not operate individual TACs and quotas. This means that the fish that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, fought so hard for in Brussels on behalf of Ireland is simply explained: All fish quotas allocated to Ireland belong to the Irish State and not individuals, companies or groupings. These quotas are then allocated by the Minister of the day. The only guidance from a legal point of view is that he or she allocates the quota "for the greater good". On that basis, we have looked at previous landings of our vessels that have both white fish entitlements and pelagic entitlements. These boats have a clear track record. When they get an increase in the pelagic entitlements or the fish that they are allowed to catch, they automatically reduce their effort in the demersal and the white fish fleet. It is proven and it has been shown. We have demonstrated here with this paper from the Department all the different amounts of fish.
It has been discussed here that every month we allocate quotas. All the industry sits down in a room together, including the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and the Department with responsibility for the Marine, and look back over three years of data and the fishing records of that particular month. We use our own knowledge within the producer organisations of our own vessels' activity to try to share out the crumbs - the fish that Ireland is given. We have 3% of the European quota to share out while 30% of the landings of Europe come from Irish waters. Instead of us doing battle or trying to pick holes with each other, I severely advocate that we come together and look at the bigger problem, which is that there is an imbalance in the fleet and we do not have enough quota to address it.
With the landing obligation, that will be a serious concern. Already in certain areas that we fish in, we can no longer catch species such as haddock and cod. We got a notification from the Department that these areas are closed. Under the landing obligation with haddock, we really do not have any access into that ground. We have a by-catch of 400 kg for the boat for the month to go into that area and catch other species. The committee will see from the figures that there was 53.7 tonne of haddock, which would be returned, caught in an area. That would keep that place open for perhaps two or three more months. It would address the issue. There was cod in area V of 3.7 tonnes. Imagine there is only 16 tonnes of a quota there for the whole country for the year, so 3.7 tonnes of it is quite a significant amount to be caught by 27 vessels that would be giving it back. In monkfish, which is a very important fishery for us, there was 445 tonnes of fish caught by these vessels. We land 3,700 tonnes of fish. Therefore, more than 10% of that stock would be returned to the white fish sector. As I said, these facts and figures come from the Department. We have the values on the side. In the tier 1 values, they have caught €3,659,990 worth of fish. The tier 2 boats that have dual entitlement have caught €5,530,030.
That adds up to almost €9,190,000. It is a substantial amount of fish to return to a sector that has suffered an imbalance.
We were told these boats had to be decommissioned in order to bring our fleet back into line, and all this after two previous decommissioning schemes. I am very passionate about this matter because I have seen how decommissioning wiped out my own community. As other people seated around the room can confirm, fishing boats ranging in size between 12 m and 23 m can no longer be found in Baltimore and Schull ports because they have been put out of business. As many as 73 boats were decommissioned so €48.4 million was paid to the fishermen to leave the industry, which had the knock-on effect of 700 jobs being lost. Now we have been told that 30 more vessels ranging between 12 m and 23 m must be decommissioned. These small boats work in the small harbours dotted around the coastline. It is not simply an issue that affects the North or the South. The decommissioning of such boats will have a detrimental affect that will be felt for many generations. The measure makes no sense because it will wipe out more ports and villages around our coastline.
We, as an organisation, have spent a lot of time putting forward this presentation. We did so because we were told that the refrigerated sea water, RSW, fleet would not lose any fish. They managed not to lose jobs the previous year on the same quota. We have only asked for the uplift to be dished out. The same fish that the RSW had the previous year they were going to retain for the following year. Not only that, they secured an increase in blue whiting, which meant 600 tonnes per vessel. Whereas the RSW boats, as Mr. O'Donnell pointed out, shared it among them. Six boats participated in that fishery the previous year at 400 tonnes per boat and this year it is ten boats at 388 tonnes per boat. Anyone can see it is unfair when one examines the facts. I urge the committee to look at the merits. It is not about taking fish off one guy to give it to another. We want a certain amount of fish given back to 1,436 vessels that are located all around the coastline. If the Minister sees the value in that then this industry has a chance and, therefore, we might stop vessels and boats being decommissioned.
There are no individual transferable quotas, ITQs, in Ireland. The former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, made sure that the fish that swim in our waters, the quotas and the fish that we get from Brussels belong to everybody. It is up to the current Minister to decide how fair and how best that fish can be allocated around the coastline, not just for individuals but communities. I refer to people whose lives depend on the industry and have children growing up in the areas. Jobs have already been lost. Previous decommissioning schemes have had a huge detrimental affect on communities. If people want to look into the matter then that is where they should start.
We are not going to debate the matter now but witnesses can return to the matter in a few minutes. I call Mr. Crowley to comment. I suggest that we take two questions at a time from members before returning to the witnesses. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Alex Crowley:
I thank the committee for the invitation to attend today. As this is our first attendance here I feel it is a significant one. It further underpins the role of National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and the regional forums as credible stakeholders. NIFF has engaged with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and his predecessor, Deputy Coveney, on several occasions. Personally, I feel it is important that we engage with public representatives from right across the political spectrum when and wherever necessary. Today's meeting allows us an opportunity to do so.
With respect to the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017, NIFF has no formal position on this difficult topic at present. To explain why that is the case I must explain how the inshore fisheries forums operate. On policy and legislative issues such as this the national forum takes its direction from the six Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums, RIFFS. NIFF tries to form consensus based on the views expressed by each individual regional forum. The topic was discussed by several of the RIFFs but only one, the south-east RIFF, requested that the issue be progressed to the NIFF agenda. In doing so serious concerns were raised regarding the issue. These concerns were acknowledged and agreed with by all those on the NIFF. No views to the contrary were expressed at that particular meeting. However, for NIFF to form a solid policy position on the issue ideally we would receive some further direction from the other five RIFFs but that has yet to happen. I can offer my own considered opinion on the subject and it is an opinion supported by my NIFF colleagues. My following comments on the subject need to be taken in that context.
The issue is a complex one for the inshore sector and I will try to outline why. First, there are a number of inshore vessels registered in Northern Ireland that are genuinely owned and operated by inshore fishermen in the Republic of Ireland. The recent Supreme Court ruling had the implication that virtually overnight these vessels could no longer operate within the Republic's 12 mile limit. These operators now find themselves in a serious predicament in that their business effectively can no longer operate. These operators are a minority but the views of a minority need to be taken into account.
On the other side of the coin, so to speak, the majority of inshore vessels operating within the Republic's inshore waters are registered in the Republic. Many of the operators of these vessels invested significant amounts of capital to purchase Republic of Ireland replacement capacity in order to obtain Republic of Ireland fishing licences. The cost would have been significantly higher than that incurred by their counterparts who were able to register in Northern Ireland. Many of the Republic of Ireland registered operators would be more empathetic than sympathetic towards the plight of their counterparts who are registered in Northern Ireland. Many of the Republic of Ireland registered operators would feel that their Northern registered counterparts exploited a loophole of sorts. Many of them would feel that the Supreme Court ruling effectively closed that loophole and levelled the playing field.
In a broader context, the Bill is essentially about access to resources in our inshore waters. This is a very serious subject as many coastal communities depend greatly on these resources for their survival. The management of these resources is a priority of the inshore fisheries forums.
I appreciate the genuine intentions of the voisinageagreement, which is an arrangement dates back to the 1960s it not earlier. I also appreciate what I feel were genuine intentions on the part of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to introduce a Bill to give this well-meaning and long-standing arrangement standing in Irish law. Having said that, one must understand that we live in a very different world from that of the 1960s. We live in a world of multinational fishing companies. They tend to be purely profit driven and exploit fishing resources when and where they can find them. History has proven that they will do this irrespective of the impact the practice has on the coastal communities that lie in close proximity to these resources. Technological creep now means that boats are far more efficient than ones of equivalent size 20 years ago.Large vessels can now fish right up to our shorelines and quite often, after short periods of intensive fishing, leave inshore fisheries so depleted that smaller inshore boats struggle to stay viable.
The long-standing voisinageagreement allowed these companies, when registered in Northern Ireland, access to valuable resources within our inshore waters. The result has had severe negative implications on our mussel fishery. We have heard reports of where the actions of these operators had a negative impact on other inshore fisheries. One such example is the whelk fishery where spatial conflict between Northern Ireland registered mussel vessels and Republic of Ireland registered whelk vessels that operate mobile and static gear, respectively, was an issue. I do not claim to be an expert on what happened in the mussel fishery and I will not elaborate on the issue. However, it is fair to say that there is a significant level of discontent within our inshore sector about the issue and a fear that similar could happen in other fisheries. This fear is compounded by the fact that most other EU member states have up to date restrictive technical and fleet management measures in place in their inshore waters. These measures are restrictive in terms of what size and horsepower of vessels and the type and size of fishing gear they can operate in the inshore waters of that particular member state. In comparison, we in Ireland have not reviewed our own such restrictions in many decades. For example, the existing measures are so arcane that the legislation is written in terms of feet and inches.
There is a feeling within our inshore sector and, indeed, in NIFF that the arrangement while well-meaning and relevant in the 1960s is no longer fit for purpose and no longer has our inshore sector's best interests at heart. There also is a feeling that the current Minister rushed into introducing this Bill, that provides for this arrangement to be recognised in Irish Law, without taking that feeling into account. I appreciate that we may only be a small piece of a bigger picture, a picture of Anglo-Irish relations and cross-Border co-operation. I appreciate that this may be an ever increasing important picture now with Brexit looming. This big picture is of little consolation to those in our coastal communities who are dependent on the resources in our inshore waters.There is also a fear within NIFF that with our counterparts in the UK lobbying for as hard a Brexit as possible, including a campaign that would see the UK withdraw from the agreement of the London Fisheries Convention of 1964, that these arrangements could result in no longer being reciprocal but favourable only to the UK.
The fact is that recognised stakeholders raised concerns prior to the introduction of this Bill. It may be matter of opinion whether or not these concerns were justified but it is a fact that they exist. It is also a fact that there was no stakeholder consultation prior to the introduction of this Bill. It may be matter of opinion whether there should have been stakeholder consultation or not. It is my opinion that when genuine concerns are raised by recognised stakeholders there should be consultation. Such consultation should allow the complexities of the issue to be teased out in full while addressing stakeholders' concerns.
On the issue of quota allocation within Ireland, I will break the subject into three parts. First, on whitefish and prawns or nephrops, it is acknowledged that Ireland’s share of EU quotas in comparison with the resource within our waters is poor. Whitefish and prawn quotas are allocated by the Minister on a monthly basis. The Minister bases his decisions on advice from quota management advisory committee, of which the NIFF is a member. We would see the system as a fair one which essentially makes the best of a bad lot. All vessels with polyvalent licences are allocated quota on a monthly bases. Vessels over 55 ft. in length are allocated double the quota of those that are less than 55 ft. Quota that is allocated but uncaught effectively goes back into a pot to be reallocated to all vessels again the following month. This arrangement continues until the annual quota for a given species in a given area is exhausted or the year comes to an end. Despite its criticisms it is a system that works well considering the constraints, the main one being that we simply do not have enough quota. The success of this system is in no small part due to the expertise of both my colleagues in the producer organisations and that of a dedicated unit within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
On pelagic quota we have a different system on which we would have a very different view. Pelagic quota is allocated under specific ministerial policy. In these policies, the vast majority of that quota is allocated to a very small number of operators. Quota tends to be allocated on the basis of historical track record in the fishery. We would feel that these policies are very unfavourable to the inshore fleet. The inshore fleet represents the majority of the Irish fleet in terms of number and employment. Vessels under 12 m in length account for approximately 82% of the fleet in number and represent approximately 53% of direct employment in the fleet. A case example of this is north west herring. We have not had a commercial north west herring fishery for a number of years due to the poor state of the stock. The existing policy was set down in 2009. The policy allocates 95% of the quota to 57 vessels that are deemed to have a track record. That is only 57 vessels out of the Irish fleet which stands in excess of 2000 vessels. To be considered to have a track record vessels had to have landed a certain amount of fish over a given reference period. We have a centuries old tradition which outlines a track record in inshore herring fisheries. In north west herring this tradition is particularly strong in Donegal but also extends as far south along the western seaboard as the fishery extends geographically, to the mouth of the river Shannon. Despite this, only eight vessels of less than 15 m, including just four that are under 12 m are deemed to have a track record under this particular ministerial policy. The rest of the inshore fleet is given the option to share the remaining 5% - if it is considered economically viable to do so, which in reality it is not - with any larger boats that are not deemed to have a track record either. I appreciate that some pelagic stocks are outside the reach of inshore vessels and that they are found too far offshore to be of any practical use but that is not the case with herring. In fact, the results of the 2016 north west herring scientific fishery demonstrate that the heaviest aggregations of herring were found very close inshore. In fact so close in were they, and in water so shallow, that difficulties were experienced in estimating the size of these aggregations. To put it plainly the herring were found to be most plentiful on the doorsteps and around the boots of the inshore fishermen.
Similar could be said for Celtic Sea herring in which the inshore sector fares a little better in that 11% of the quota is put aside for a dedicated inshore sentinel fishery. It is the view of the NIFF that this percentage for the sentinel fishery needs to be increased. The benefits of this sentinel fishery are visible in Dunmore East, County Waterford which becomes a hive of inshore activity for the duration of this valuable winter fishery. The fishery is restricted geographically to the Dunmore box off our south-east coast and fishing vessels greater than 17 m in length are prohibited from taking part in this sentinel fishery or from fishing herring inside the Dunmore box. Dunmore East, the main landing port for the fishery becomes hive of activity for the duration of the fishery, which is in stark contrast to many of the other small fishing communities around our coast, many of which resemble ghost towns at this time of year. This fishery provides a lifeline to inshore vessels from all over Ireland who travel to participate in this winter fishery. Some even travel from as far away as County Donegal, presumably because they have little or no other opportunities available to them closer to home. The fact that these operators must travel the length of the country in small vessels in the middle of the winter is indicative of the lack of fishing opportunities available to our inshore sector in general.
I fully appreciate that our pelagic catching sector, both the RSW and polyvalent tier one and two and the related on-shore processing sector they support, are in a great part the result of the bold vision and investment of the operators involved. I fully appreciate that Ireland would not have its current share of EU’s pelagic quota were it not for that vision and investment. I also fully appreciate that Ireland’s inshore fleet could come nowhere close to catching all of Ireland's pelagic quota. What we all need to realise, however, is that Ireland’s quota is a public resource and not a private one. It would be our view that some pelagic quota in general needs to be reallocated to the inshore fleet. This could present a vital lifeline in diversification opportunities to a currently beleaguered sector of the industry. The inshore sector has seen the opportunities available to it dwindle over the past couple of decades. We are not looking for the sun, moon and stars here, just modest increases that could make huge differences to a large amount of vessels and the families and communities they support. Reasonably small amounts of quota tend to go a long way when it comes to smaller inshore vessels.
Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, states that member states are required to use:
...transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The criteria to be used may include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment, the history of compliance, the contribution to the local economy and historic catch levels. Within the fishing opportunities allocated to them, Member States shall endeavour to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, such as reduced energy consumption or habitat damage.
One does not need a degree in economics or environmental science to see that allocating some more pelagic quota to Ireland’s small scale fleet would be in line with this article of the CFP.
Finally and specifically on the recent and pending review of mackerel quota allocation, the NIFF has made a submission on this issue as part of the public consultation process. That submission has been published on the Department's website and is attached as appendix to this submission. Three of the regional forums have made submissions which are similar to that of the NIFF. The NIFF supports the proposal put forward by the Irish south and west producer organisations but we feel that the potential increase in white fish quota available - some of which may theoretically benefit the inshore sector - which the proposal promises is not sufficient to warrant that support. To that end, our support is conditional on a modest increase in mackerel quota for the inshore sector. Our submission has been criticised by some in the inshore sector for not being ambitious enough. Perhaps that criticism is justified as we seem to live in a world where no one claims to have enough and everyone seems to want more that. However, I stand over our submission. I feel it is fair and realistic and as long as I Chair the NIFF, I will endeavour to keep our policy grounded in the principles fairness and realism.
I appreciate the importance of this specific issue to those involved, those who stand to gain or lose the most, namely the RSW fleet segment, the polyvalent fleet segment that have pelagic entitlements and the elements of the processing industry that depend highly on them. However, in the bigger scheme of things I feel this specific issue has become overly high profile and is distracting from the bigger picture that concerns the wider Irish seafood industry. As a colleague of mine aptly put it, “the issue has become a distractive squabble between the two millionaire’s clubs of Irish fishing - the club of 22 and the club of 27 - with little or no consideration being given to the club of 2000 plus”.
If I could deliver any message to this committee today it would be to implore its members, when giving consideration to any fisheries matters, to always give consideration to the club of 2000 plus. That concludes my presentation and again I thank the committee for the opportunity to deliver it.
Thank you Mr. Crowley. I thank members for their patience. We have been give a lot of information in the last hour. We will now take two questions each from members. Deputy McConalogue was the first to indicate.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance today and for their very comprehensive presentations. I will deal first with the voisinageissue. There has been quite a bit of concentration by all of the presenters on what the reinstatement of the agreement would mean. I ask the witnesses to elaborate further on their experience of what it has meant until now, in terms of its practical application. A number of witnesses made reference to the residency issue and pointed out that the terminology used in the proposed legislation is different to what was in the voisinagepreviously. I accept that point. If it was retained, as was the case before, would that in any way change their position? On the 75 ft. issue, my understanding is that when that was put to the Minister, his response was that there was no 75 ft. restriction in the previous voisinage.
I would ask them to come back on that and on where that 75 ft. restriction comes from, and in the event that it was and this proposal the Minister came forward with restricted it to within 75 ft., whether that would change their view on it.
The part of the country I come from is probably where there is a number of fishermen most affected by the implication of the Supreme Court decision where a number of people would be operating with Northern Irish licences and as a result, have been inhibited from fishing. I might address this matter in relation to inshore fishermen to Mr. Crowley. Certainly the thrust of his presentation is that there is in some way not a lot of sympathy for those who operate off Northern Irish or UK-based licences. I ask Mr. Crowley to elaborate on the position of those fishermen if the voisinageagreement is not reinstated. Overall, what is their understanding of the position in the event of the UK withdrawing entirely from the London fisheries agreement? Am I right in saying that would mean that any agreement that we would reinstate with them now would fall in that situation or would that potentially continue? I suppose my overall question there is the point that many are putting with regard to the scope of the Minister's proposal and the dangers involved in that in relation to vessels coming in, and their experience of how the scope of that tallies with the experience so far. There were particular issues on the impact on the mussel sector which led to this particular case and any comments on that as well would be welcome.
To move on to the issue of the mackerel quota, I understand the case being made by those in the whitefish fleet sector. Having said that, there is tradition here and the mackerel quota has been built up as a result of people having invested in and put hard work into this. Certainly, from the point of view of my own county of Donegal, the importance of the employment there to the county cannot be understated either. For those who are pushing this particular proposal, I would like them to comment further on how that would impact on the investors and the employment there because of the structure that is in place. I could not emphasise more the importance of that to my own county.
On the 27 vessels that are being mentioned in the context of the reallocating of the quota, I note the proposal to reallocate that whitefish to other smaller vessels. What is the commitment regarding those and can the witnesses elaborate on the disagreement among those 27 boats as to the proposals that Mr. Crowley is putting forward and their rationale for that?
It was useful, to say the least, to have all the various organisations here today and to have all the perspectives put in front of us. I will start with voisinageand the Bill that the Minister has introduced.
It is alarming that there is a piece of legislation introduced by the Minister on the back of a Supreme Court decision and every single organisation here today has said that it was not consulted on it. That has profound implications for sectors of the fishing communities around the coast. Even if one looks at the questions from the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, that list of questions is entirely pertinent. Why did nobody in the Department of the Agriculture, Food and the Marine think about those questions before the Minister introduced the legislation? I am genuinely stunned the more I learn about the implications of how this has been implemented over the years and that is why the question from Deputy McConalogue is an important one. Obviously, they have come here today and made a submission based on their experience of how this has operated. I am conscious that a number of families and businesses were forced to go to the Supreme Court. That is the only reason this is now being reviewed. I want to get their perspective because this is an opportunity for a frank exchange here today. What is their perspective on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that introduced this legislation? Is this a unique scenario or is this now a cultural issue with the Department? Are they drafting legislation that is in the interests of fishing communities across the State?
I was alarmed when this came before the Seanad, the more I learned about it. I am shocked today at what every fishing organisation that has presented here has said and what its thoughts are about this Bill. What was said to us in the Seanad was that we needed to reinstate good faith before the Brexit negotiations took place and almost in tandem with that we had an announcement from the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, that the UK was pulling out of the London fisheries convention. What the hell is going on that we have the top people in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine so completely out of touch with our own fishing community and with our fishing organisations? It is humiliating that there was legislation that we are discussing here today put before the Seanad that will have such a detrimental impact and that these organisations were not consulted.
I accept it is an extremely loaded question, but how can I avoid it based on the evidence given to this committee today? I would like to get the thoughts of everyone present on the state of affairs and what sort of job the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is doing on behalf of our people. It has serious implications, based on today's meeting. In terms of the quota issues, my colleague, Deputy Martin Ferris, will deal with them and put questions to the organisations. However, it is clear what the organisations think of the Bill. All of them think the Bill should be put aside at this time. How did we get to this situation? How did we get to a situation where there is legislation that is so poorly drafted with such serious implications? Am I too judgmental or correct in my assessment of their evidence today?
Mr. Francis O'Donnell:
I suppose I will start with Deputy McConalogue's questions. I will come back to Senator Mac Lochlainn's afterwards.
In relation to the new Bill, I suppose our vessels at present do not really fish inside the six mile limit in Northern Ireland and we do not need that reciprocal arrangement. The 75 ft. rule was in place, but that was dispensed with at some point along the line by the Department. In the original agreement, which is now found to be unlawful, there were parameters. Those parameters were dispensed with. The 75 ft. rule was the first one, but was only for fishing vessels and aquaculture vessels. Large dredgers were then allowed in under the so-called "voisinage" agreement. That was really an abuse. It was an agreement. I suppose the Department thought that it had a legal standing and they dispensed with that as it suited themselves. That would be the first two issues.
It is being abused at present. It was initially only supposed to be for those permanently resident in Northern Ireland. There are persons permanently resident in Galway, in Cork and in Kerry who were fishing under this agreement which now has fallen, and to be honest, they had an easier system of getting their vessels licensed. They would not have to pay the same amount for kilowatts and tonnage and they had put themselves at an advantage. It was a loophole within the system. If the State believed that agreement existed and was lawful, it should have enforced that but it did not.
On that basis, I would not have supported the old agreement and I certainly would not support putting something similar in place.
There was no consultation on this issue at all. It is a new Bill. It is very wide-ranging. Owned and operated in Northern Ireland means that anyone in the EU with a vessel or number of vessels, a conglomerate, could technically set up a company in Northern Ireland and have full access to our six-mile limit. One must remember that our own pelagic vessels are excluded, they have to stay out at 12 miles. There are vessels in the north west, for example, that fish under the cod recovery system. They have a track record between 2005 and 2008, and only they can fish when they leave the pier at Greencastle, for example. This Bill, as currently drafted, would allow vessels from Northern Ireland that do not have that track record to fish in the Irish Sea and in area 6A, putting most of our fleet at a disadvantage. We are talking about Brexit here. Brexit is under way. We need access to UK waters, at least 40% of our quota is fished there. That is a lot of our quota. We cannot start giving away our poker chips in advance, we need something to negotiate with. That is an important area of water. There are some vessels from Northern Ireland that want to fish prawns in Dundalk Bay, for example. They will want that. I do not mind if Ireland gives it to them two years out from now, with consultation and with proper strategic thinking around why we are doing it. We need to get something for this. We are either talking about stakeholders and the national interest or about political interest. I am only interested in the former.
Senator Mac Lochlainn's was a loaded question and a difficult one. This meeting is publicly broadcast. Going back a couple of years, we had a penalty points system for fishing vessels as part of EU legislation, a control regulation. Technically it was something similar to the penalty points system for driving offences. It was very pernicious in that one was awarded the points before going to court. The way the legislation was drafted, one still retained the points even if one was exonerated by one's peers in court. That was bad enough but after the structural instrument was struck down and they came up with another structural instrument which was more or less the same thing again. They did not learn from what happened the first time. As an industry, myself and my colleagues were psychologically very deflated that our own State would impose such legislation on us. They had to have a penalty points system and I would accept that if it was after one had been tried and convicted. Penalty points are coming back on the agenda. I have heard whispers that there will be a political engagement process. What is happening around this Bill has probably run a flag up a pole in this regard and the Department and maybe a Minister or two are thinking that they need to engage. I would not go so far as to say that everything is deliberate but there has been a lack of engagement with us. It might be a recommendation from this committee that when a Bill is being drafted, while the Attorney General is involved as is the Department and they have a drafting committee, it would be an idea if at least somebody from the industry with expertise could go on to that committee to say when things do not make sense or will not work. There are probably a lot more experts on the outside that have to deal with the issues than there are on the inside creating them for us.
Mr. Patrick Murphy:
To respond to Deputy McConalogue on the voisinageagreement, the easiest way to put this in context is to look to the people behind the Deputy in the Public Gallery who brought this case to the High Court. I myself am involved in the aquaculture business, in mussels, but we do not dredge our seed, we collect them naturally with spat collectors. If we collect the seed outside in the bay, we can bring it back in to another part of the bay where it is licensed and one can continue to grow the seed. We pay for the rights of that area of water whereas with the wild seed, it is on the bottom and people can go in and dredge it. They then take that seed into an inner bay and relay it and when it gets bigger, to marketable size, they come back and harvest it. What was happening was that foreign boats, under a foreign flag, were coming in and taking the seed. The amounts they took were deemed to be enough so that when the Irish vessels came in, there was no seed for them. It basically put them out of business. In reciprocal rights, this seed was then taken to another jurisdiction and was put down in an area of the sea bed, but suddenly it was no longer reciprocal so the Irish boats could not go back up at a later date when the seed was big enough and, like their counterparts, take the seed, harvest it and take it to market. I hope that explains the context of how this started.
If we fast forward to today, huge changes are coming down the line due to Brexit, and the UK wants to pull out of the London convention of 1994 where all these agreements were made because it wants to take back ownership of its fishing water and the UK will take control of the access. The UK has also flagged that it will increase the amount of fish that it will catch in its own waters. That will change the balance of fish caught across the European Union. At the moment, UK vessels catch 548,000 tonnes per annum, of which 350,000 is caught within its own waters and around 200,000 is caught outside its waters, whereas Ireland catches only 200,000 tonnes, of which nearly 50% is caught in UK waters. I was given one estimate that 70% of the fish caught by UK vessels outside of its own waters are caught in Irish waters, so that would be around 140,000 tonnes versus our 100,000 tonnes. If we had a reciprocal arrangements on that quota, not having to deal through the EU, we would have no problem. Unfortunately that is not the case. We do not negotiate, Europe negotiates on our behalf. After Brexit and after the London convention has been torn up and scrapped, when these boats would be allowed to come in to the zero to six mile zone, the UK would not be obliged to pay it back for any fish they catch as it is no longer the European quota. Who pays it back then? Does Ireland have to take that off its own allocation from the December Council?
It has been pointed out earlier, we do not fish in the UK waters so they have a huge advantage coming down. We should be cognisant of the vessels that have been operating around the shoreline, and I have sympathy for these vessels. They are caught in a situation that was deemed legal by the Department until very recently when it was found that there was no legal basis for this arrangement. We asked another question of the Department, namely when we bring in this legislation, we assume that there has not been the same implementation of legislation to allow us to go back up there, that their arrangement was never legal either. We asked how we will decide which vessels will be allowed access into our waters and we were told that it would be decided on the size of the vessels that we ourselves deemed would be allowed to fish within our waters. That is the way that we would control the foreign boats coming in. For instance, if we said that only 15 m boats and under would fish in the six mile zone, then that would then apply to Northern Ireland. To turn that on its head, we do not know what size they will set for their shoreline. They could decide it was 5 m for their vessels and then only 5 m vessels and under for Irish vessels could go back up there. This arrangement needs to be discussed. As evident from the discussion here today, no one consulted with the industry to highlight these issues. The Deputy is asking why no one in the Department asked us. That is something that he will have to ask them. We would have considerable reservations ourselves about why that has not happened. It was not the case that the topic was not raised. It has been raised several times.
On the mackerel, the Deputy asked what it would mean for boats that had invested. I thought that question might come up so I brought some pictures.
I brought some pictures not of RSW vessels but of polyvalent vessels in the pelagic sector. It is hard to tell them apart. The same investment made by the RSW fleet has also been made by these vessels. RSW is a means of improving the quality of fish; it is not a means of catching them. I spoke to a fish buyer who used to bring mackerel to the Russian ships off the south-west coast about the history of who built up the quotas. Everybody built them up. Later, it was discovered that larger vessels had to compete with the international fleet and, therefore, had to invest. When at that stage, there was nobody else to come in, the RSW vessels knew that if they were to compete, even with only 13% of the fishery versus 87%, they would have to take that risk. They decommissioned two or three boats for themselves. The diagram outlines the earnings for ten years by the two fleet segments. A total of €670 million was earned over the past ten years by the RSW segment versus €97 million by the mackerel fishery. That is a ratio of 7:1. We were asked about the differences in the 27 vessels and why there is disagreement among them. One would have to investigate who owns the 27 vessels. Are any of the 27 owned by the owners of the 23? Do they own both vessels?
I have 16 signed declarations and two submissions in our office that state if they get enough fish, they will give up their entitlements. Mr. Boyle set the figure at 350 tonnes, which means that 20 by 350 is 7,000 tonnes. The increase is 14,000 tonnes and the members can do the maths to see if it is possible. We did not want to set out what should be done; we only wanted this to be investigated. Senator Mac Lochlainn mentioned the Department. We visited the Department on 4 October with our colleagues. We presented officials with a proposal. We did not give facts and figures but we requested that this be investigated to see if it is possible. That is all we asked for. When we did not secure the investigation we sought, we had to conduct the investigation ourselves and these are the figures that resulted. With regard to the blue whiting species, there is 9% for the polyvalent sector and 91% for the 23. In that section this year, only ten polyvalent vessels can fish whereas they can all fish for blue whiting. There is a difference in the sharing of the mackerel within the RSW sector with different ratios applying. Some boats get double others and they manage to operate on a year-to-year basis. There is more to this tale than what has been outlined at this hearing but it is not for me to pick one section of our fishing industry and pit it against the other. That was never the intention. It was about stopping our white fish fleet between 12 m and 24 m being decimated again. We put forward these proposals to our colleagues in the industry. I explained the figures to them and, thankfully, the NIFF looked at it. It has its own way of looking at it and perhaps the fish should be distributed in a fairer way, but account has to be taken of which vessels can access the fishery as well.
Mr. Seán O'Donoghue:
I will address the voisinagequestion first raised by both Deputy McConalogue and Senator Mac Lochlainn. The key issue now is that legally the UK will more than likely withdraw from the London convention because if it withdraws, it will take full control of its zone between area 6 and area 12. If the UK leaves the Union but not the convention, it will be unable to stop the access available at the moment. Our clear understanding is that the neighbourhood agreements are included as part of the convention. Even if a new Bill is agreed and passes through the Oireachtas, it will be defunct once the UK leaves the convention. There will be a two-year period for this to happen. Why is the Government introducing something new that will have to be renegotiated? However, because we are still a member of the EU, the voisinageagreement cannot be negotiated as a bilateral with the UK. It would have to be negotiated with the EU27 and that is the telling point about this issue.
Senator Mac Lochlainn asked about the Department. I do not know why it did not consult people but I presume the Attorney General advised on the wording of the legislation. I have a huge problem with the wording because it does not reflect what was in the original voisinageagreement, which was found to be unlawful by the Supreme Court because it had not gone through the Oireachtas. I can only respond to the Senator's question by saying they surely got legal advice. They should have consulted the industry on this. This will all become irrelevant if the UK pulls out of the London convention. If it does so, why are we bothering to do something that will be defunct in two years anyway?
On the entitlements issue, fact needs to be separated from fiction. Our track record on mackerel was built up in the 1970s. We had a huge "Klondyke-ing" fleet in Ireland from the beginning to the middle of the 1980s but the RSW fleet built up our track record in this regard in the 1970s. There seems to be much confusion about the transfer of the 14% quota from the RSW sector to the 27 polyvalent vessels. There is no discussion about the other 1,400 vessels. The fact that they gave up quota entitlements can be checked at any quota management meeting. The way we operate our white fish quota management system is we sit down on a monthly basis and we allocate fish to vessels under and over 55 ft.. For example, last year we caught 3,500 tonnes of hake. We sat down every month and we issued approximately 16 tonnes for the over 55 ft. vessels and 8 tonnes for the under 55 ft. vessels. We halved that as the season went on. If the other 1,400 vessels caught the average quota of 5 tonnes per month, they would catch almost twice the quota in one month alone.
In our system, the fact that 27 vessels give up something will mean nothing to the others. We also need to be clear that, on the blue whiting, the polyvalent vessels had no track record whatsoever for this and still got 9% of it. Similarly, with the horse mackerel, they ended up with 11.3%. We have a situation where the polyvalent sector has gained almost 13,500 tonnes of pelagic fish from 2000 to 2014.
Mr. Alex Crowley:
I will answer Deputy McConalogue's question, since I think it was directed to me.
I understand that the implications for fishermen from the Republic of Ireland engaged in inshore fishing near Northern Ireland have been very severe, and they have basically been stopped from fishing. I have talked to my colleagues from right around the coast about this. I have been told about young men with families who have been told they cannot go fishing any more. That is serious and I do not think any genuine operator within the inshore sector, whether registered in the North or South, wants to see that happen to anybody.
On the lack of sympathy, to put it in real terms, in the north of the country, there could be a situation where there could be two inshore fishermen fishing from the same pier. They might be good friends and both may have paid for the right to go fishing and the right for replacement capacity to get a licence. One has probably paid a multiple of what the other paid, because the person who registered in Northern Ireland had a different price. That leads to resentment. It is a trait of human nature, and maybe it is not one of the prettiest traits we have.
It comes down to the lack of consultation. One would think, in an ideal world, that if we had consultation, we could come to a newer, up-to-date arrangement that would address everybody's concerns, if Brexit allowed that to happen. We are talking about an arrangement made in the 1960s and we live in a very different world. Much of this is my own opinion, but I would like to see an arrangement that would be favourable for everybody. With consultation and under the constraints of whatever Brexit is going to bring, one would like to think that might be possible.
Mr. Hugo Boyle:
On the question on whether we would be happy if the Bill represented the old agreement, I would say "No" in our case. There are a number of reasons for that. As Mr. Crowley pointed out, it is a different world now. Vessels under 75 ft. in 1965 would probably have the same horsepower. Our vessels of 12 m now would have more horsepower than the vessels of 75 ft. in 1965. They are towing much heavier gear and have increased environmental impact on the grounds, and there is the issue of getting room on the grounds.
The other issue is control. How would we control the vessels that would come in? We have no vessel monitoring system, VMS, or reporting in. On a national basis, as far as we are concerned, our vessels - we are mostly talking about small vessels here - are under control. They have quotas that we cannot apply to vessels from outside the Twenty-six Counties. That is unfortunate, because I do not see why any fisherman from anywhere in Ireland should be excluded from any of the waters around Ireland, but that is just life as it is at the moment. The old agreement has gone out the window, as far as I am concerned.
The Bill is open-ended. I think Mr. Seán O'Donoghue pointed that out earlier. He said one could drive a coach and horses through it. I do not know how it was drafted and I am not going to blame anyone for drafting it, but as a layperson, and without the help of our legal colleagues here, one can see that one could almost do what he or she wanted with it. In the old arrangement, as Mr. Patrick Murphy alluded to, on the matter of mussels, the agreement was never fully applied to many vessels. One is talking about the zero to six mile limit. That does not cover all the water from the shore out or all the water in the bays. There is a baseline, and the baseline is normally run from headland to headland. It can run from island to island. We have internal waters inside that baseline, as per section 86 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. Inside those baselines, those vessels were not entitled to ever go in. They were only entitled to enter in the zero to six mile limit. We are introducing that again in this Bill. There is a vague area there.
On Senator Mac Lochlainn's question, as he said, all the organisations here at the moment were opposed to the voisinage, and he asked why nobody in the Department took cognisance of that. We were never consulted. In all developments, as far as the fishing industry is concerned, the Department is beholden to consult the industry. It seemed to railroad that particular Bill through. I am not going into the mackerel question, because I do not think it was asked by either of the two speakers.
I thank the witnesses for their submissions today. The two issues we are discussing here would probably both justify a meeting to discuss each equally. There are many implications in them.
On the voisinage agreement, I think the situation that has arisen through the Supreme Court case - in that the Department has never regulated properly for inshore fisheries at any stage over the past 50 years, which has led to a situation where people have had to go to court to get their rights vindicated - is a signal of how the Department has traditionally dealt with fisheries and fishermen right across the board. Everybody here representing the organisations could point to situations where a proper intervention and intervention in a regulated manner would have dealt with many problems. Mr. Francis O'Donnell outlined the situation with the penalty points earlier. If that had been handled properly in the first place, we would never have had a situation where fishermen had to go to the High Court and the Supreme Court to get justice from our own Department.
It has led to the problem where some inshore fishermen, as a result of the cost of entry into fishing in this State, with the Department having manufactured a market for kilowatts and tonnage, go to the Six Counties and get a licence there where it is much cheaper and the barriers to entry are not the same. Then, due to the lack of regulations, they are able to come to live and work here and fish with their vessels. That is the mess that has been created by the Government not looking at the voisinage agreement that was implemented in 1965, regulating it and having a proper system of regulation. It makes one wonder why the Government ever governs at all, when these situations are allowed to happen.
I agree with what the witness from the IFPO said. Perhaps something could be done - a trade-off, for example - regarding the voisinage arrangements as part of a future negotiation, but if the UK leaves, we will not be able to make a bilateral agreement with it. The EU 27 would have to do it, which means that it probably will not happen. Mr. Conway, the solicitor, might be able to answer my next question, but it is open to all of the organisations. If the Minister insists on proceeding with this legislation, would an amendment be possible whereby, if the UK withdraws from the London agreement, the legislation will fall or the system under it will cease to be?
Some of my questions have already been answered, so I am going through my list to see what has been missed. My point is about agreeing voisinage. If the UK withdraws from the London agreement, it will make continuing with the legislation a waste of time and we should not be pursuing it.
Mr. Murphy of the ISWFPO stated that the mackerel share-out was pitched as being for the uplift that took place in 2016. Given the fact that the uplift was not an actual uplift and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, has stated that it got its figures wrong, in that it made a mistake in calculating for an increase in the mackerel quota and that this will more than likely be clawed back next year with a 20% to 25% decrease, does it not remove the rationale for seeking the share-out in the first place? Is the real intention for requesting a review to change the ratio in the share-out? The €9.6 million in whitefish that it is claimed polyvalent vessels will forgo is almost equivalent to the value of mackerel that will be gained. Is this being done purely on the basis of looking after the vessels that only fish for whitefish?
Regarding the potential impact of the review on Killybegs, everyone working there depends on the fish factory for a livelihood. Any reduction would not only have an impact on fishermen, but on people's ability to live and work locally. This should be given significant consideration in the review.
It was mentioned that the refrigerated sea water, RSW, sector lands better quality fish. Surely that means better quality for the whole fleet and a higher value for the export market and it should be maintained. There has been a significant emphasis on improving quality in recent years so as to maximise markets, including export markets.
I have a question for the NIFF. Mr. Crowley mentioned that it could not take a view on the Bill because of the structure of the original forum. I read in one of the fisheries newspapers in recent weeks that an inshore fishermen's organisation was being set up because the NIFF could not take a view as a result of being a part of the Government, in that it is a part of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM. Does the fact that this is departmental policy have an impact on whether the NIFF takes, for example, a contrary view on it?
I thank the groups for attending and giving expansive and comprehensive presentations. Being from the midlands, which are inland, this has been educational. My first exposure to this matter was the discussion on the Supreme Court case with Mr. Kelly, his colleagues and their legal adviser. It was instructive. I have been against the Bill from early on for a number of reasons, but it would be prudent and wise for the Minister now to withdraw it and go back to the drawing board. It is legally infirm on its face, not least because of its level of uncertainty. It is vague and, as a barrister, I can see a large number of issues. This is even without turning to the UK's membership of the London convention.
The reason that the Minister gave for introducing the Bill with considerable speed was to show goodwill to our neighbours in the Brexit negotiations. Contemporaneously, the UK indicated that it would withdraw from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention. The reciprocal arrangements would fall, as would the whole edifice, and the UK would resume full control. From that perspective, the Minister's likely suggestion will be that he can remedy some of the issues that have been raised about the restrictive parameters by way of secondary legislation, such as statutory instruments, but the Bill is so defective that doing so would be farcical, given that the statutory instruments would be larger than the Bill itself. Normally, primary legislation should be clear in its objectives, but there is ambiguity in this regard. Prevailing would be difficult were the legislation attacked on these grounds. Perhaps the Minister should take the prudent course as regards these issues. As some of the witnesses have stated, the legislation may not be required in a couple of years' time anyway.
I listened with interest to the organisations' pitch. It is all about quotas, of course. I come from an area where, years ago, sheep and milk quotas were the real beef, as they say. All of my colleagues present are from along the coast and know far more about fisheries than I do. I was jotting down points and may well have them wrong, so forgive me if they are. I expect the witnesses to correct me.
It was stated that there were no ITQs in Ireland. That is national policy. My colleague, Deputy Gallagher, would have been involved in that. ITQs have never been in place. There was an opportunity to change the policy in 2013, but it was not taken by the then Minister, Deputy Coveney. This distinguishes us from other member states where ITQs prevail. I undertook some legal research on this matter as best I could, although I could have misinterpreted the situation because I am not familiar with the fisheries industry. I am surprised that there are so many diverse views. In a natural resource industry that was argued for trenchantly in the Supreme Court by Mr. Kelly and his colleagues, it is important that some degree of uniformity of approach be achieved.
Surely the argument being made is that the 11,000 additional tonnes in mackerel that will become available from the EU for distribution are the subject of the review. Am I correct in saying that 87% has been allocated to 23 boats and 13% has been allocated to 27 boats? Maybe I am wrong. Surely the issue of the 11,000 tonnes could be examined in that regard. If the Minister will be in control of the quotas, surely he or she will be able to make a decision in that regard. It was made in 2003 in terms of albacore tuna. That quota was built up and distributed across a large number of boats. Perhaps I misread the information and there are no parallels, but it strikes me as having some significance. There must be an opportunity to take quota in the fishing industry, thereby spreading the objectives.
Surely a solution can be found that recognises the significant investment made by many of those who depend on fishing to pay their bills, while also achieving some uptake for those at the bottom of the food chain. Is this not what we seek to achieve by allocating quotas in other areas? As I have always argued for this approach, I do not propose to be two-faced and hypocritical in this regard. Having seen small farmers crushed and larger farmers do very well, I must take a consistent line in the area of fishing. Nevertheless, I also recognise special factors such as the investment made by individuals who should not be denied the opportunity of making repayments in difficult circumstances. I hope all parties' objectives can be met in a reasonable manner that ensures this important natural resource, which provides significant employment in coastal towns and counties, will continue to progress. I genuinely hope this outcome can be achieved.
While I may well have misconstrued some of the comments made, I was struck by the points made by Mr. Crowley of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum. I may have gravitated towards his contribution as I am from an inland area but it was clear and cogent and struck a chord with me. Moreover, it was instructive and illuminating that it seemed to steer a middle course.
I thank all the parties for their comprehensive presentations. This has been a worthwhile exercise. As Deputy Pringle stated, a meeting with each of the organisations represented would have been warranted.
I appreciate that and apologise to the witnesses for missing the earlier part of the meeting. I was chairing the Dáil earlier and I must resume the Chair shortly. However, I speed read their presentations.
On the voisinagearrangements, at the time the legislation was published, I presumed its purpose was to provide a legal basis for the Lemass-O'Neill agreement reached in the 1960s. Having listened to members and the debate in the Seanad, it is clear that serious concerns arise in this regard. Mr. Boyle stated we should introduce some mechanism to deal with the old arrangement with which he does not agree. I anticipate that something could be introduced to provide a legal basis for what was in place previously.
We could easily decide to withdraw from the London convention when Brexit takes place in two or three years. In the meantime, genuine fishermen have had to tie up their boats. Let me be selfish on this issue, the people I represent in Donegal have small vessels of less than 50 ft. in length. These vessels did not decimate the fisheries off our coast. It was for this reason that I suggested the measures apply to vessels of 15 m or less. The Minister must do something in the interim period because these boats are tied up and some of the fishermen have lost their jobs. Some form of compensation should be paid to them or we should find a way to cater for small vessels. We should introduce a legal basis for the old arrangement. It is too simplistic to suggest pulling out of the London convention and then negotiating with the 27 member states.
On the allocation of mackerel quotas, as a Minister of State in the Department for a number of years, I had delegated responsibilities for marine. I believe this allocation contravenes the explicit commitment given in a ministerial policy decision taken in 2009, which was reviewed and confirmed and 2010. Many times over the years, the industry and others, including me, argued that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, is not always correct. This year, it admitted that instead of giving an increase of 14%, the allocation would decrease of 9%. This was in place and the quotas were divvied out. Next year, we will have a double whammy when the mackerel quota is significantly reduced. We hoped the reduction of the 14% would have been implemented this year but it must be done on a Europe-wide basis. The inaccuracy of ICES is disgraceful and despicable.
The 15% reduction in the refrigerated seawater or RSW fleet last year was not raised. Was there a outcry last year arguing that others should suffer as a result of that reduction? I passionately believe that the reason we have a quota of 21.2% of the western tack is the historical performance of the RSW fleet. Now, however, some would like to piggy-back on that. While I am aware that RSW vessels are not equipped to fish for whitefish, if they were able to adapt to fish for whitefish, it would not be acceptable to those involved in the polyvalent and demersal sectors. Following his request for submissions, I made a submission to the Minister pointing out that the polyvalent-pelagic fleet had secured an increase of 750% in mackerel quota since 2000. Politicians like to be all things to all people but we must also be honest with ourselves and realistic. I make no apologies for calling on the Minister in the Dáil, following the faux pas by ICES, to shelve it but it will go on and on. We must be pragmatic, which means the decision will have to be taken sooner rather than later.
I do not have to tell anyone in the polyvalent or RSW sector that fishermen make substantial investments in their boats. I shudder to think what would happen if the waters off the north west coast of Scotland were to be shut off to Irish vessels. Irish fishermen would still catch fish in the Irish Sea but they would catch poorer quality fish at the end of the season when prices are at their lowest.
I do not want to take advantage of the Chairman's generosity but I wanted to make those points rather than ask questions. I hope we can sort out the voisinagearrangements and the small fishermen who are affected. Some degree of realism is also needed in the debate on mackerel quotas.
Mr. John D. Sullivan:
I have been fishing for 47 years and have been pelagic fishing for most of my life. Seán O'Donoghue is wrong to state that RSW 23 seemed to take over all the quotas. The RSW 23 vessels that emerged in 1995 evolved out of the pelagic sector but they were not the only boats pelagic fishing in the polyvalent sector. Between 30 and 60 other boats were pelagic fishing in the polyvalent sector. A rule was then introduced under which polyvalent vessels could not chill fish in tanks. Similar rules applied to farmers, with one farmer allowed to chill milk in a tank, while another farmer bringing his milk to the creamery could not chill his milk.
As far as I am concerned, it is completely wrong to claim that track record creates quotas. Fishermen go out to catch fish and we will catch any fish. In the 1990s, for example, we fished for tuna. We make a living out of fishing and it is wrong that we do not get a fair share of the quota afterwards. The tuna quota allocated to 17 or 18 polyvalent vessels - I believe there were 26 vessels in that fishery in the period from 1988 to 2002 when drift netting was stopped - has built up to 2,600 tonnes.
However, in 2001, the then Minister of State at the Deputy of the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr. Hugh Byrne, said:
Since the drift net ban and a four year phase out period were agreed by the Council in 1998, 18 vessels owned by 14 fishermen were licensed to fish by drift net. They caught more tuna in each year of the phase out period than in any year prior to the agreement. These owners are beneficiaries of the 18 licences granted to prosecute the annual £7 million fishery. The increased numbers of licences for other fishing methods will mean that 50 vessels will participate in future fishing.
The then Minister of State increased the number of licences from 18 to 50. He said that "the benefits of this lucrative fishery will be spread more widely throughout the fishing community" but he did not take into account the track record of the men who put the tuna quota in place. We were cast aside.
I do not know what they are saying about scad. Every polyvalent boat was entitled to catch scad, horse mackerel and blue whiting up to 2007 or 2008 when the policies came in. It was a case of here we go again. The cards were dealt and RSW got 91%, 97% and 95%. That is what happened. We were treated like second-class citizens. Speakers have mentioned investment. I invested €7 million in a vessel in 2004 but the vessel in Castletownbere was tied to the pier for four months and my partner vessel was tied up for six months because they did not want us to put fish into tanks. It was anti-competitive. There was a policy to stop us going ahead. There was a policy that we would have second-class fish in the market and we would not get the price for it. There was a policy to tie us up and put us and out of business. Many other polyvalent boats were tied up over shortage of capacity.
On the other side, in 1997 or 1998, there were seven boats within the RSW sector that were newly built and had huge capacity to carry fish on temporary licences. They came in under the safety tonnage provision. In 2002, they had to buy tonnage out of the polyvalent sector. They were allowed to buy tonnage out of the polyvalent sector to rectify that but in the meantime, if many other polyvalent boats were short 1 kW or one tonne, they would be tied to the pier. In the interim, they were saying they could not allow this type of capacity. In 2001, a massive new vessel - the Atlantic Dawn- came to Ireland. It was 14,400 gross tons, GTs, and a new international segment was created for it. This 14,400 GTs came out of thin air. When the boat was sold to the Dutch in 2007, that tonnage was then brought into the RSW sector. Why was it not brought into every sector? It did not belong to the RSW sector. This was a completely separate sector. There was no consultation with the industry. The rest of the RSW boats are allowed to buy this tonnage and get bigger and bigger while polyvalent boats have been treated as second-class vessels.
I am chairman of the Castletownbere Fishermen's Co-Operative Society limited. We depend on mackerel fishing for jobs there, as do the factories in Baltimore, Rossaveal, Dingle and many smaller factories in Killybegs, but we cannot get access to 87% of the quota. They flay over 80% of that quota because the factories own the boats. Boats own factories in Killybegs and more luck to them. I think Mr. O'Donoghue is wrong to think that there were only 23 vessels fishing pelagic species back in 1995 and that they were extracted. There was no industry consultation. I attended at an sea fisheries liaison group, SFLG, meeting in the south west at that time - Jason Whooley was there - and I asked Cecil Beamish what the criteria to join this club were because I was involved in pelagic fishing as well. I am still waiting for it. There were no public criteria setting out how one could get into this sector. I will leave it at that.
Mr. Seán O'Donoghue:
I disagree completely with what was said. We are getting distorted facts and are rewriting history. The bottom line is that in 1983, the quota for the total allowable catch for mackerel was set at an EU level. The historical record between 1976 and 1979 decided on the percentage share we got. I am not the only one talking about the RSW. I refer specifically to the Department's memorandum on the review where it says that the 23 dedicated RSW pelagic boats historically fished about 98% of Ireland's total mackerel catch. It said that up to 2000, less than 1,000 tonnes were fished by the polyvalent boats. We have now gone from 1,000 tonnes up to almost 8,000 or 9,000 so anybody telling me that I am distorting the facts is absolutely wrong. I can stand over my figures and they have been proven. I know people in front of me are shaking their heads but I can show these figures. It is not just me. The Department produced these figures as well.
While I have the floor, I would like to address Deputy Penrose's question about the extra 14%. The Department has not allocated the extra amount of fish so it is not just a matter of taking the tonnage and splitting it. If the review goes ahead, instead of the 27 RSW vessels having 13%, they will end up with 27%. That is basically robbing Peter to pay Paul and will have a huge effect. I can understand where the Deputy is coming from. One could think that it is only 14,000 tonnes but that is not the case. It is the percentage share that matters. What I am saying, which I said in my submission, is that if this happens, it will ultimately lead to job losses in Donegal both at sea and ashore.
Mr. Francis O'Donnell:
I will address the question posed by Deputy Pringle. He is right. We cannot do a bilateral agreement with the UK once it leaves the Common Fisheries Policy and the London Fisheries Convention. However, the EU can negotiate on our behalf and that of other member states in terms of access and use our unique situation, which has been created by the vacuum that now exists from the Supreme Court ruling, as a piece of muscle. I appreciate that there needs to be humanity around this. Unless one is permanently resident in Northern Ireland, they were not supposed to have a vessel registered under voisinage. If vessels find that they are no longer legally allowed to fish, they have registered their vessels with the Irish State, bought their kilowatts and tonnage and have got on with it. Some of them have spent a significant amount of money. We cannot have a two-tier system. It just does not work.
I want to allow other members to speak. We will give the witnesses an opportunity to reply in a few minutes. We have had a good discussion. We are not going to have a row between both of the witnesses here. Does Mr. Crowley want to respond to those questions before we move on?
Mr. Alex Crowley:
I want to respond to Deputy Pringle's question because it was pretty much directed at me. The reason the NIFF does not have a clear policy position on the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 is because we did not get a clear mandate from the regional forums and that is just how we operate. The NIFF does not involve 12 people making stuff up as they go along. We act and operate based on a mandate from the regional inland fisheries forums, so it is really about credibility. That is just how we operate and that is the way things are. I do not know why the regional inland fisheries forums did not give us a clear mandate but if I had to hazard a guess, I think it was because it is such a complex issue. It is also quite a divisive issue. A couple of people could be fishing out of the same little harbour who are affected by this in very different ways. Was there departmental interference in this? Did the Department put a gagging order on the regional inland fisheries forums? The answer is "No". It is my opinion that this did not happen. The NIFF and the regional inland fisheries forums are quite free to say whatever they want.
Nothing has happened there.
On the new fisherman's association that Deputy Pringle mentioned, I am uniquely qualified to comment on that in that I am the chairman of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and I am also the company secretary of the NIFF ACLG. Mr. Richard Guildea is the chairman of that. It was set up was to help those of us in the inshore forums to do a little bit more. The committee might wonder why we would want that. I will use today's hearing as an example. I and my two colleagues are here in a voluntary capacity today. Our travelling expenses will be covered and we will also get what is called a labour replacement cost of €200 a day. We are giving up our day jobs to be here. The last train to Kerry is at 7 o'clock, so it looks like I will be giving up my day job tomorrow as well. That is how we operate. It helps to get us a little bit of extra help if we need it. When I got the invitation to today's hearing, the clerk wanted to know if anyone would be assisting us today. At first I started laughing and then I felt like crying. Unless we pay for ourselves, we do not get any help. The idea of a new organisation is to create a legal entity to help us help ourselves. We hope that in future it will put us on a platform like the IFPO and the ISWFPO and we can buy in our independent outside advisers if we want to. I was quite flattered by Deputy Penrose's comment that he found our statement helpful or useful. That was put together by me and my two colleagues in our spare time. The new fishermen's association is about putting us on a platform which means we can help ourselves. There are times in life when we have to do things by ourselves.
There was no departmental interference or anything like that. It is a complex, divisive issue, and the only way we can get to the bottom of it and arrive at a solution that will suit everyone, depending on what Brexit will allow, is through some kind of formal consultation process.
I will be very brief. I acknowledge the Chair and his courtesy towards me. I have been in and out of this meeting today.
This has been a very useful debate on the issue of the mackerel quota itself and where we are going. It has shed light on the issue itself. Without doubt there is a conflict of ideals between some organisations about where we should be going with the industry. From the presentations I have read, the actual quotas are historical to a degree. They have been gathered up over time.
The year 1983 was mentioned. That was the exact time that milk quotas were brought in. We have had that debate on another industry regarding share of quota and who had it, what producers had it, and the movement of the quota. It is a very divisive topic. It was very important for the agricultural and dairy industry that it was freed up and made more flexible to improve the industry and allow it to move forward. I am not saying we should free up the quota itself. We cannot do that because of environmental issues, but the flexibility between who produced the quota on the agricultural side of things was helpful in the long run for the industry itself.
Today we have a debacle between the north and the south, to be frank about it. How do we deal with that? From the agricultural point of view, we have seen monopolies, such as that in the beef industry, which have been unhelpful. We have seen these issues materialise over the years. Are we in a situation where we might create another monopoly in the fishing sector? How best can the sector be developed on that scale of operation? Should it be based on one or two manufacturers or with one or two entities from either north or south? We are looking at another issue, that of single farm payments and how they were increased in recent years. That has been the kind of move that has been made on the agricultural side of things in a European context. I am concerned that if we do not have the same movement on the fishery side of things, we will end up with a monopoly similar to that which we had in the beef industry. That is a major worry. I want to ask the witnesses for their ideas as to how we can avoid that monopoly, or a large entity controlling the entire quota itself, and what is best for the industry going forward.
I thank all the witnesses for their presentations and contributions. It is an indication of why the fishing sector is where it is and why the fishing community is where it is.
I grew up in a fishing community, as many of the witnesses will know, and worked as a commercial fisherman for a while. I have seen communities decimated and destroyed with the advent of the EEC and the way the then Government gave away what would have been one of the best industries in the country if it had been developed and nurtured properly, which did not happen. In the past 12 months I have travelled to almost every port in the country and have seen at first hand how badly affected coastal communities are as a consequence of the way the fishing sector operates.
Senator Lombard made a point. I am not a member of this committee now, but I have been on this committee since 2002. I have argued from the first day I came here that a system such as the single farm payment, where certain people are getting €400,000, €500,000 or €600,000 a year on single farm payments and others €5,000 or €6,000 a year, is grotesque. It is greed at its worst. I have argued that here, and the only person ever to recognise my point was Deputy Coveney. I said that the single farm payment should be capped at €100,000 and then reduced to €50,000 over a four-year plan in order that people who had big investments would be able to make their payments.
I am looking at figures here which have not been contradicted. There was €670 million from 2007 to 2016 for the mackerel quota for the RSW boats. The polyvalent sector came to €97.5 million. When other species are included, such as blue whiting, horse mackerel, herring, Scandinavian herring and albacore, it is alarming. Other people in other sectors go out to make a living and are try to ensure their crew and their families are able to make a living and they cannot do that. I sat in this forum when the decommissioning of 73 boats was applauded as if it was a great thing. Their tonnage and megawatt allocation were then allocated to other sectors.
I am not going to be popular when I say this, but I think this is wrong. It is wrong that there are a couple of sectors that control most of the income of an industry. I applaud the work that has been done to build up the industry, but there should be a spirit of generosity and honesty to try to protect communities rather than individuals. In 2013, the RSW was at €54.55 million and €8.15 million for the polyvalent sector. In 2014 it jumped from €54 million to €127 million, and from €8 million to €16.4 million.
Last year, the figures were €62 million and €9.3 million, respectively. These are huge figures and huge money. I understand there is huge investment but we must look at the bigger picture and what is for the common good, not the individual good. There is an onus of responsibility on all the representatives of the fishing sector here today to do the right thing for the common good, not the individual good. That must be done.
Most of the people I grew up with who were involved in the sector have left it. There are only two people trawling out of Fenit, my home port, whereas 20 years ago there were 15 or 16. They have left. That is only one port, and that has happened all along the coast. Decommissioning became Government policy. What is the way ahead? Perhaps the people who oppose it would explain what is wrong with taking it from one sector and giving something to the weaker sectors. The National Inland Fisheries Forum has said it is prepared to accept the ISWFPO proposal because it puts 9.3 million back into the whitefish sector. There must be give and take here, and there is a responsibility on everyone who is in a position of authority in the various sectors to show that sense of leadership and generosity. That is the only way. Consider that 20 years from now there might be many fewer than the 23 or the 27, and the 2,000 or so other people will be almost gone. Is that what the representatives want, to see hundreds of people going?
There are probably a couple of hundred people leaving it every year at present because there is nothing there for them. Consider the crews on parts of the south coast and the terrible tragedy that occurred at Union Hall when Caitlin Uí Aodha's husband and his crew were lost. There was one Irish crew member. Why is that? No one is going into the sector because they cannot make a living, yet the witnesses can say €670 million and €97.6 million over ten years. It is up to the representatives to sort it out. They will not sort it out by bickering and saying they want this and someone else has to have something else. It is up to themselves, but what will happen at the end of the day will be on their shoulders.
Some of the presentations referred to the whitefish quota and how it is allocated. The general view in the monthly meetings in the Department is that it works quite well. There is an EU research paper for the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee in the EU which states that after Brexit, relative stability will be up for renegotiation. What are the representatives' views on that? Does it present any positive or negative possibilities?
Mr. Francis O'Donnell:
I will reply to Deputy Pringle. At present, I believe the most important issue for the industry, and some of my colleagues agree, is maintaining access to UK waters post Brexit. In addition to that, we must examine a national strategy for when it comes to renegotiating relative stability keys. Our organisation would like to consider employing a barrister, perhaps, to examine that and to see the potential, whether there would be conflicts with existing treaties and so forth.
Mr. Greg Casey:
With regard to the history, the period of six years during which there was a race to build up quota were the six years between 1 January 1977 and 31 December 1982. Those six years were the period on foot of which the 1983 Common Fisheries Policy, grounded on the concept of relative stability, was founded. As I understand it, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has lost the records on catches for those six years. I also believe that in that period, far from there being 23 RSW tank boats engaged in fishing for mackerel in the Klondikers, the Russian factory ships, in Berehaven or in north Donegal, there was a maximum of five. I can give the committee the names of the people who owned them, but I will not say it in an open forum. One of them was in the Aran Islands, one was from Berehaven and one was from north-west Mayo. I will not go further than that.
The balance of the 23 gradually acquired that type of fishing vessel between the coming into force of the 1983 Common Fisheries Policy and the operation of the multi-annual guidance programmes, MAGP, under the 1992 Common Fisheries Policy which directed that the fleets be segmented. Segmentation occurred in private in the mid-1990s. Segmentation of the fleet and the requirement to have it were abolished by the EU in a Council regulation of December 2002. While that was taking place, Ireland was conducting a licensing review or consultation with the industry. That started in the summer of 2001 and it finished in November 2002. Policy directives were issued from the beginning of 2003 in accordance with the Fisheries Act. Issues surrounding the abolition of segmentation at EU level were not allowed to be considered by that review, even though Europe was getting rid of this tank boat, polyvalent, pelagic, beamer or whatever segment one wishes to call it. Europe had decided by that stage that segmentation should have been abolished following 1 January 2003. Ireland has never done that. Not alone has it not done it, it has sat into it and imposed a system of apartheid between segments which has caused or allowed a buildup of enormous imbalance between those who have the entitlement to the 87% of the mackerel quota and the 27 boats that have the 13%.
Mr. Seán O'Donoghue:
I will respond to Deputy Ferris. The issue we are discussing here is between two segments. It is between 23 vessels and 27 vessels. That is forgotten here. We are not talking about the other 1,400 vessels. I can stand over all the statistics I have given the committee and they show there is no basis, other than parochial, for this review. I ask the committee to take that on board.
Mr. Hugo Boyle:
Boats that are registered in Northern Ireland have a distinct advantage. I refer to Deputy Gallagher's statement about people in his constituency.
It is a distinct advantage, both financial and otherwise, to have extra quotas. Control is possibly not as good. As far as regulations of boats is concerned, I use the analogy of NCTs.
On the Common Fisheries Policy, I concur with Mr. O'Donnell that hopefully we will have a strategy with the four fish producers' organisations and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and the whole industry to prepare ourselves for when negotiations start in 2020 and conclude in 2022, which hopefully will be after Brexit.