Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Annual Report of Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority: Discussion
From the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, I welcome Dr. Susan Steele, chairperson, and Mr. Andrew Kinneen and Mr. Micheál O'Mahony, authority members. I thank them for coming before the joint committee to brief members on the SFPA's annual report for 2015. I bring to their attention that witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an 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 Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Dr. Steele to make her opening statement. When she has concluded, I will ask members to put their questions.
Dr. Susan Steele:
I thank the joint committee for the invitation. I will begin by addressing the late submission of our annual report for 2015. In the past the SFPA has been cited as the reason for our failure to meet the statutory deadline for the submission of annual reports. We have taken this matter seriously and are committed to, and have demonstrated, an improvement in our performance in areas under our control in meeting annual report submission deadlines
With regard to the work of the SFPA, Ireland is surrounded by the richest fishing grounds in Europe. The SFPA acts as the guardian of these marine resources around Ireland. To this end, we maintain an inspectorate, with 61 sea fishery protection officers operating from seven regional port offices up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our primary statutory role is as the regulatory agency for Irish sea fishing and seafood production. Our strategy aims for an industry built on compliance with fair, effective and independent regulation. We aim to have systems that give robust confidence in Ireland’s reputation worldwide as a source of high-quality fishery products and systems ensuring sustainability in order that there will be fishing for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I refer to the highlights in the 2015 report, of which we have circulated a hard copy. With regard to sea fishery conservation work, 2015 saw the introduction of the most significant element of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, CFP - the landing obligation. The first phase of the introduction of this very significant regulation to reduce and eliminate unwanted discarding of fish at sea included measures to be applied in pelagic fisheries. Since 2015 implementation of these regulations has advanced to include other fisheries, including the requirement to land fish from demersal fisheries. The application of the regulations presents a very real challenge to regulators and the industry.
We work closely with the Naval Service and the Air Corps which carry out all inspections at sea, as well as the national fishery monitoring centre under a service level agreement with us. In 2015 the SFPA was responsible for 2,500 direct fisheries conservation inspections, of which 1,000 were carried out at sea by the Naval Service under the service level agreement. The 1,500 inspections carried out by the SFPA were generally of landings by fishing vessels in ports, including 150 at sea-inshore fisheries inspections. This area of inspection activity has been well supported by our consultative committee in order that illegal and unlicensed operators are not let compete with legitimate inshore fishermen. The inspection programme generated 35 legal case files related to apparent infringements of the CFP. The SFPA attributed points for serious infringements to seven fishing vessels in 2015. The points legislation was subsequently challenged in the courts and following direction, it was revised.
It can be difficult to measure how good a job a regulator is doing as inspection statistics only tell part of the story. For the first time the authority included examples of the types of case we bring to court and the issues associated with these cases in the annual report for 2015. We refer the committee to two fisheries-related cases, in particular. In the first the apparent high-grading of fish by a large-scale pelagic freezer vessel operating within the Irish EZ was detected in 2013 after an SFPA-Naval Service investigation. The operator was brought to court and convicted in 2015. High-grading occurs where a fisher illegally selects the most valuable fish by size, discards the rest overboard and records only the fish kept on board. The case illustrated the importance of carrying out controls on fishing vessels that fish in Irish waters but never land in Irish ports and how equipment could be used to grade fish illegally on an industrial scale.
The second case involved close co-operation between the authority and Legal Metrology Ireland, NSAI, to detect and prosecute an apparent case of tampering with approved weighing equipment at a pelagic processing factory. The court found the defendant guilty earlier this year. The case followed the discovery of a switch on the wall that could be used to interfere with the proper operation of weighing equipment, with the potential for undeclared fish to be caught, processed and sold. The evasion of fishery management rules has a direct consequence for all who are dependent on the sea for their livelihoods.
With regard to seafood safety work, as an official agency of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, we are responsible for the control of the food safety systems for all seafood from production by fishermen or farmers throughout the production chain as far as but not including retail. We maintain Ireland’s shellfish classification system which classifies production areas according to water quality in line with European food regulations and has ramifications for how shellfish may be placed on the market. We also validate labelling and traceability systems, including DNA checks of fish species.
During 2015 the SFPA carried out 1,700 seafood safety inspections, with 1,600 shellfish production samples. By way of example of this work, fishing vessels were found to be harvesting razor clams outside a classified production area and as a result were producing shellfish with a potential risk to public health. Traceability checks conducted by the authority confirmed that some of the shellfish harvested had been exported. The export market closed access to Irish shellfish on a precautionary basis. Thankfully, the importing authorities were persuaded by the effectiveness of the control systems in place in Ireland and reopened the market shortly afterwards. However, this incident illustrates how irresponsible operators can damage the reputation of the entire Irish industry and put public health at risk.
Seafood can be traded freely within the European Union when produced from SFPA approved establishments. Seafood consignments exported outside the European Union generally must be certified as being compliant with the standards of the importing third country. We are responsible for providing health certificates detailing origin and traceability for every consignment of fish and fish products manufactured, processed or packaged in Ireland for export to an increasing number of third countries. During 2015 the SFPA issued 6,100 export certificates, involving 50,000 tonnes of seafood exported to 35 countries outside the European Uknion. An example of our work in this area is the export of live crabs to China where the importing authorities had concerns about specific criteria for imported crabs. The authority, with the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, engaged directly with the Chinese authorities. Taking into account the wider picture of food exports to China, we temporarily suspended certification of crabs exported to China. Following sustained dialogue with the Chinese authorities, the matter was resolved earlier this year.
In 2015 the SFPA commenced access to the European Maritime Fisheries Fund, EMFF. It will fund the development of systems that support Ireland in meeting its CFP responsibilities.
The implications of Brexit in fisheries will be both unique and profound. As regulator, the SFPA is concerned about the prospect of significant additional demands related to possible Brexit outcomes. It is not possible at this time to calculate the size of the burden that will emerge, but we are sure that to support the trade of fish and fishery products from Ireland in a post-Brexit world additional resources will be required. The key issues are fishing access rights, fishing opportunity rights and the trading of fish and fishery products.
Our annual report for 2015 informs on specific changes to our scallop control systems. The changes arose from our attempt to meet the requirements of EU control systems for the protection of public health. While Ireland is happy that its systems protect public health, the Commission is taking infringement proceedings against it in this matter.
Under the CFP, we also play a substantial coastal state role in the case of non-Irish registered vessels operating in waters under the control of the Irish jurisdiction. More than 80% of the wild fish taken from Irish waters are taken by vessels from other member states. The SFPA is proud to announce to the committee that we will shortly put in place a coastal state unit. The unit will focus on fishing vessels that fish in Irish waters but which rarely, if ever, land in Irish ports to ensure they will operate on the same level playing field as Irish fishing vessels.
I thank members for their time and look forward to their questions.
I thank Dr. Steele and her colleagues for attending. The fishing community is aggrieved because its members believe they have been criminalised under legislation. There have been stand-offs at various ports between fishing communities and SFPA officials. Perhaps the problem is with the legislators, given that the authority is simply enforcing the legislation.
I refer to super trawlers. Those of us who live in coastal communities regularly hear that fishermen are expected to jump through hoops, dot the i's and cross the t's, while super trawlers can operate in Irish waters. Dr. Steele mentioned the new coastal state unit.
The FV Margirisis the second largest super trawler in the world, capable of processing 250 tonnes a day. It was operating off the coast of Donegal quite recently. It is banned from Australian waters but is out there, off our coast. What is the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA doing about this? Will the authority ensure officers will be on board these super trawlers while they are fishing in Irish waters? We need an assurance. I am sure all the witnesses watched the documentary "Atlantic". I found it very powerful to see Gerry Earley, a fisherman out in his wee boat off the Donegal islands, being brought to court again for alleged fishing offences while out behind him was what he described as a city of super trawlers and lights. That to me is offensive and embarrassing to our State and to our people.
I want a cast-iron assurance given to this committee today over what the SFPA is doing to ensure these super trawlers are not taking a single fish more than what they are entitled to under the quota laws. What guarantees can the authority give me here today as a Member of the Oireachtas and to the fishing communities concerned? They have alleged to us that there are double standards in the ways that laws are enforced on their communities and limited livelihood because of the Common Fisheries Policy versus the super trawlers. Given also that the FV Margirisis banned from Australian waters, why is it not banned from our waters? What is the difference between the Australian policymakers and ours? I would like cast-iron assurances today on the issue of super trawlers and on the sense that our seas are being hoovered up by them while our own small-scale fishermen operating out of piers and harbours around the coast are being made jump through hoops to comply with standards. We have to be able to assure people that these standards apply to everyone equally, and that Irish fishermen have a fair opportunity. I do not believe that is the case at the moment.
I thank the SFPA for the presentation. I have a question on the issue of penalty point applications. I know this has been an ongoing issue. There has been a lot of anger from fisherman about the fact that, when penalty points are applied, they are applied immediately. Even if the fishermen in question are eventually acquitted in any subsequent court case, the penalty points still stand. I would like to know the authority's current position on this matter and whether it has engaged with the Department and the Minister on it.
With regard to the landing obligations, it strikes me that the SFPA has long-established operations around the landing of fish. There is an issue, however, around ensuring vessels retain all the fish they catch. The witnesses referred to the high grading of fish. Having to throw away perfectly good fish was something fishermen always resented, and the public also found it abhorrent. This has now been turned on its head and the new requirement is to ensure all fish are kept on the vessel. This is much more difficult to monitor. What steps are being taken to ensure there is no wastage, particularly in the case of the larger vessels? There is, no doubt, an incentive to carry out that high grading. What steps is the SFPA taking to ensure this is policed? Taking into account the fact that policing of this nature would be more difficult and labour-intensive, does the authority have sufficient capacity to do so?
I again welcome the witnesses to the committee. I too would like to bring up the issue of the very large capacity vessels, or super trawlers as they are known. I understand that rather than simply discarding dead fish, these super trawlers mince the fish before pumping them back out. This means they will not be seen. Does the SFPA have the powers and ability to board these vessels easily and frequently to check that such practices are not taking place? Speaking to fishermen and fishing organisations around the coast, they are strongly of the view that if Europe or the global community in general are serious about conservation, they have to be serious about taking on the large vessels. They are the problem. Small fishermen around the country, most of whom are sailing very risky vessels and finding it very hard to make a living, often end going out fishing on their own because they cannot afford to bring a second person with them. That is very dangerous. The livelihood of these fishermen is under extreme strain, and yet they can see these huge vessels hoovering up all the fish and disappearing off over the horizon with them. If the authority does not have the power or ability to board these vessels, can it put an officer on board to monitor them full-time?
I support Deputy McConalogue's question about penalty points. There were suggestions that something might be done to change the current system in order that penalty points would not stand if the person was exonerated. Has there been any movement on that?
I also have questions about the super trawlers. It is very easy for any regulatory body to produce figures and be judged on its achievements. What number of super trawlers have got away? We could be capturing 10% of them without realising that the other 90% have got away. If a large number of them are getting away, is this down to a question of resources? How does the authority feel about the resources available to it?
Brexit was mentioned. In the potential worst-case scenario of a hard Brexit, what additional resources does the authority envisage requiring over and above what it has at the moment?
What triggers an SFPA inspection or invigilation? What proportion of small vessels to big vessels are inspected? It is very easy for supervisory invigilations to catch the small person engaging in minimal offences. According to some of my colleagues here who are quite expert in this area, the larger vessel can escape and do far more damage. Senator Daly is correct in his comments on Brexit and the possibility of inspections and invigilations, protection amendment Bills, voisinageagreements and London agreements and so forth. Has the authority given any consideration to all this? What kind of impact can we expect from the result of the recent Supreme Court case? The legislation, which is currently in abeyance, may well have to be delayed as we wait to see how the situation around Brexit crystalises. It would be premature and foolish to proceed with it when no one knows how Brexit will play out until two or three years down the line. Does the authority need additional resources to ensure the protection of what has been defined in the Supreme Court as a natural resource? Has the authority made a submission to the Government for these resources? They will be needed to protect the Irish fishery base, which is very important around the coast in terms of employment and income-generating capacity.
Dr. Susan Steele:
A number of very interesting questions were asked there.
The first issue I will come to - if the Chairman does not mind, I will not address the questions in straight order - is the points legislation because there were two separate questions on it. There is legislation on the Statute Book. This is in suspense at present as we are awaiting the appointment of an adjudicator by the Minister and awaiting nominees to the determination panel, by the Office of the Attorney General and by the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence. The points legislation is in suspense at present. That is in answer to those two.
To come back to the questions on super trawlers, Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the "Atlantic" documentary and the issues that were raised there and sought cast-iron assurances that not one fish more than the entitlement is taken. We are completely dedicated to having sustainable fisheries. When we inspect fishing vessels, we will target on at a risk basis. It can be difficult to inspect large super trawlers at sea due both to the size of them and, if the weather is rough, to the difficulty for the Naval Service in boarding. In addition, as was mentioned, it can be technically difficult because these are large vessels and we need to have trained fisheries officers. We have the numbers of inspections that we have carried out. They have been increasing. We have been looking at that. We have been working with other authorities to ensure that we are working on the risk-based work on that. We are setting up and putting resources in. As a number of members identified, there is a lot of pull on resources in the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority but we have made a strategic decision to set up a coastal state unit for the sole purpose of looking at the 80% of fish that is caught in Irish waters but not landed in Irish ports. We believe that it is paramount that we put significant resources into looking at that and ensuring that we work on a risk basis. We have superb relationships both with the Air Corps and the Naval Service for carrying out inspections but also with the flag states of vessels where the vessels are inspected on landing.
I will hand over to my colleague, Micheál O'Mahony, who runs the control side of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, who will go into more detail on the number of questions that we have had on what we call "large-scale freezer vessels" rather than "super trawlers".
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
I will deal with the large-scale pelagic freezer trawlers. The questions reflect a lot of what was put to us.
Senator Mac Lochlainn, in particular, was looking for cast-iron assurances. In my own notes, I have the phrases, "double standards" and "opinion on a ban". This may be the starting point. In general terms, the presence of these vessels in the Irish EZ is generally legal. It is perfectly legal within the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. I am not sure which words the Senator used. It might be perceived as an affront or something like that, but it is generally legal within the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy for them to be present, for a starting point.
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
I will try to work through the answers on that.
We are the regulator. We implement policy. We enforce what is on the Statute Book. It is allowable for those, including the vessel the Senator named, to be here. There is a fleet of them. We see them as one homogenous entity but they all are different vessels, generally owned by Dutch multinationals. They fish in various waters, including the Irish EZ
We consistently hear the same message as the Senator hears, that these should be inspected and these pose particular risks. We agree. They should be inspected and they pose particular risks. We absolutely agree on that. There is no push-back whatsoever on that. We absolutely agree on that.
Our obligation is to have risk-based inspection frequencies which goes towards the question of what is our trigger. Our trigger is the risk of non-compliance. Where we perceive a risk of non-compliance, we are duty bound to act. We are duty bound to devote our resources to those areas where there may be a risk of non-compliance. We see particular risk with these vessels and we devote resource to these vessels. These are among a group of vessels that fish in the Irish EZ but almost never land in Irish ports.
Landing gives us, as controllers, a particular insight into what has been caught at sea, in particular, what has been retained on board. It is a good point at which to get a good idea of what actually is there. These vessels do not land and we do not have that particular window for these vessels. That is a particular issue for us. Because of that, we are setting up this coastal state unit to deal with the information we have as opposed to trying to pontificate about the information we do not have. We try to deal with the information we have and make the best of that to do the job that is before us.
The Senator was emphatically looking for cast-iron assurances of various things, one of which was the presence of officers on board. We arrange for inspections. We have a service level agreement with both the Naval Service and the Air Corps. An inspection involves a discrete event of going on board, verifying what is on board and then coming off. It does not involve staying on. The European control regulation sets a general limit of four hours for an inspection and that is the framework under which we work. It would be abnormal for inspections to take any longer than that.
Deputy Martin Kenny asked more or less the same question - have we the power to place staff on board. Control observers are, within the European regulations, a matter for the flag state, not the coastal state per se. As a coastal state, our role is one of inspections which is discrete - a sort of event where, one might say, it is happening now and now it is stopped. That should directly answer the direct question on that.
In 2016, we carried out 13 inspections of these vessels. In 2017 to date, we have carried out 15 inspections of these vessels. Those are the raw numbers of inspections to date for those vessels.
Deputy Martin Kenny mentioned the mincing of fish. One of the prohibitions for all vessels, including these vessels, is the prohibition to have infrastructure on board that would allow the return of fish to sea post grading. That would include whether or not they are minced. Mincing is not something we see on these vessels. There was one highly publicised scientific trial which was mentioned in the media quite frequently. That was - I do not have a date in my head - roughly towards the middle of 2015, when there was one vessel in the Irish EZ conducting a mincing trial. That is not what we find on board these vessels. Any return of graded fish to sea would be an offence with which we certainly would deal. What we find in our inspections is that is not the norm. I think that answers the questions that were asked.
Mr. Andrew Kinneen:
To add to my colleague's remarks on the super trawler question, Deputy Penrose is quite right in so much as the risk associated with such large vessels of environmental damage is great. If they misbehave, they do a hell of a lot of damage. We are very much aware of that.
At present, we have remote sensing equipment and we can tell exactly where the fishing vessel is, its speed and direction. We can infer from that whether or not it is fishing, maybe not to the extent of legal proof but certainly from the point of view of guesstimating what the vessel is up to out at sea.
No doubt it is difficult at times to get aboard these vessels at sea. It is a serious challenge to be deployed from a Naval Service patrol vessel in a small inflatable, get over beside the boat - I myself have done this job a long time ago - , get up along the side of the boat and get over. One can be climbing vertically 10 m or 15 m. It is a difficult job in the best of weather. It is an impossible job in the conditions prevailing in the Atlantic Ocean a lot of the time.
There is a serious problem here. As Mr. O'Mahony stated, we can be sure if the vessels operating inside our fishing waters are fishing or not. We can also be sure if they have a legal entitlement to be there. We are not so sure what they may or may not be doing with regard to high grading or misbehaving with regard to their fish-catching entitlement. It requires going aboard those vessels to verify that.
We are very concerned about this and some years ago, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, took the initiative to get control experts from all over Europe on this particular question to look at what measures might be brought in place to make a more level playing field.
The other fishing vessels over which we have control, the pelagic fishing vessels, come into our ports every one or two days. As stated by Mr. O'Mahony, we have a good platform in place for them in terms of controls. They are not foolproof but they are better than what they were. The super trawlers can work away for a number of weeks and then exit our waters without direct control by us. We do have powers to direct these fishing vessels to port, but only with good cause. As is the case of the other fishing vessels we board, we cannot interfere with the normal operation of these fishing vessels without good cause. There are questions to be answered. There is an implicit inequality in the way they operate shoulder to shoulder with an equivalent smaller fishing vessel. We have had anecdotal reports from demersal ground fishermen of large-scale discarding of pelagic species at sea, but we do not know if they come from these large super trawlers or from other pelagic vessels.
We are conscious that there is a problem to be addressed. We have some good technical leads from the remote sensing equipment, and we hope to develop real capacity with it in conjunction with the coastal state unit. We are also researching techniques such as the last haul analysis, which involves a detailed examination of what a trawler brings on board in terms of average sizes to determine whether they are different from previous hauls recorded by the fishing vessel and thereby infer whether there has been abuse of the system. Again, there is a gap between doing that and getting proof of the level required. Reference was made to the criminal law. The standard of proof in terms of bringing cases to court is very high.
My apologies to Mr. O'Mahony for interrupting him during his presentation. Mr. Kinneen has answered my question. I welcome his advice to the committee in regard to his concerns. It is very helpful because the view has been that we do not have the capacity in this State to give a cast-iron guarantee that there is full monitoring of vessels. The FV Margirisoperates under a Lithuanian flag.
It was mentioned that a vessel is ultimately the responsibility of the flag state. I note from a previous discussion that the Naval Service boarded the FV Margirisin November 2016. I am focusing on this vessel only because it is the second largest vessel in the world and it gives rise to great concern when it is off our coast. It was said earlier that, under European regulations, SFPA officers cannot be on board a vessel for longer than four hours and that the authority has the power to call a vessel to port, but to do that it must demonstrate reasonable cause. Do the witnesses believe that there is need for strengthening of legislation at European level to give the authority the powers to be on board those trawlers when they are in Irish waters given their capacity to do damage? From my perspective, it is outrageous that there is a four-hour limit in terms of on-board inspections.
My understanding, based on what the SFPA said in its evidence, is that it is impossible to give a cast-iron guarantee in regard to the operations of these super trawlers because of the difficulty in accessing them, particularly in adverse weather conditions, and because the SFPA does not have the power to bring them into an Irish port unless it can demonstrate reasonable cause. I believe there needs to be an amendment of the legislation or regulations at European level such that when these trawlers enter Irish waters, legally under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, it is possible to have people on board for much longer than four hours. I would argue that our officers should be permitted to remain on board for the duration of the time they are in Irish waters. I would welcome the witnesses' opinion. If they do not agree with my proposition perhaps they would outline their ideas in this regard. I note the witnesses' remarks in regard to technology, but I believe to ensure proper monitoring, we need people on board vessels while they are in Irish waters. That has to be the quid pro quofor these vessels being given access to our waters.
Dr. Susan Steele:
It is wonderful to hear the Senator's passion on this issue. As we said earlier in regard to fish stocks, this is for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Everyone in the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority does the job for that reason. We work as regulators, but there is not one person in the organisation who does not have that passion both for the fish and the coastal communities around Ireland. We welcome the Senator's passion.
In regard to having observers on board a vessel, there is a lot work to be done on this issue. The policy needs to work. As regulators, we do not get involved in policy but it needs to be carefully examined and benchmarked with what could work and will work. In regard to the Senator's suggestion of an observer programme, we would be interested in anything that would assist us. Is it the only way of dealing with the high risk in this scenario? No, it is not. There are records on when fish are landed and when they are sold. There is also a last haul size grade analysis and many other things that can be looked at. The assumption here is that the vessels are coming in to work against the Common Fisheries Policy. Perhaps, they are not. All these issues need to be addressed. There is no simple solution. The only cast-iron guarantee we can give the committee is that strategically we are putting significant resources into this area. At the highest levels possible, we are examining the risks and how they can be addressed within the current legislative framework.
In regard to future policy, that is a matter for the committee to raise with policymakers rather than with us. We welcome the Senator's passion on this issue. We are putting resources into this area. I wish I could give him the guarantee he seeks, but unfortunately regulators can never give that. I will ask Mr. O'Mahony and Mr. Kinneen to comment further because I believe they may add value to what I have been saying.
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
I, too, am heartened by the Senator's passion, which we share. We believe we do more in this area than many people. We spend our days and nights on it. We do not have 100% control over this area. We have only risk-based controls. We are not on the deck of any fleet every day of the week. We have defined windows of insight into what happens. We do not have 100% control. That is not how the European regulations are set up. Starting from that point, we do the best we can with what we have. We cannot offer cast-iron guarantees.
In regard to the Senator's proposal, what would be required in terms of staff is six fisheries officers, with two officers on board over three shifts to deal with daily catches which are processed during the night. As mentioned earlier, we have 61 officers to cover the entire Irish EZ and all our food safety controls.
I have just used up 10% of them without any kind of downtime for them on one vessel in the past five minutes while I have been speaking. This is an immense resource draw. There are various things we could do to tighten the loop here but that is a jump towards 100% control or total control, depending on the phrase one picks. That is not how the control regulation is set up, which is around risk-based controls. I am not pushing it back, I am just contextualising it as to where it sits.
Mr. Andrew Kinneen:
We have looked at additional measures. As Dr. Steele correctly said, it is a policy matter. They included, for example, more discreet marking of frozen catches on board because one carton can look very like another carton. If there was legislation there that insisted they were colour coded or more amenable to inspection that would be helpful. We know that there are CCTV systems that are very effective in identifying production lines and what is happening on them to try to eliminate risks of illegal discarding and high-grading. Again, that is a policy matter. I know from hearing people in the fishing industry that they do not necessarily welcome the imposition of these technologies on boats. It is a one-size-fits-all in the way it is set up at the moment for the larger fishing vessels. There is no clear demarcation between vessels that freeze their fish or catch it and land it fresh. The technologies are a factor. A range of measures could be considered by the policy makers - and that includes the observer schemes as well - but that might not necessarily be welcomed by all sectors of the industry.
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
We could come up with various things that might help here. Haul-by-haul analysis is another example. At the moment we get what the vessels have caught during the day and that might be several hauls. Haul-by-haul analysis is something that we feel would be particularly useful here. Access to their entire fishing trip information is another one. To clarify, when they arrive, they may have been fishing for three weeks before they arrive in the Irish EZ. When we go on board how do we tell the difference between what they caught in the Irish EZ and what they did not catch in the Irish Sea EZ? Even that information would be useful. There are various things we can do to step towards a better picture for the coastal state. The reality is that the CFP sets up a shared responsibility between the coastal state, in this instance us, the flag state - reference was made to a particular case in that regard - and the port state, where the catch lands. To join the dots between those is a challenge we face every day of the week.
Thank you for your patience, Chairman. I appreciate it. I will be very brief. Could I propose that the SFPA would make a submission to our committee outlining ways or ideas it has for strengthening its ability, including the need for additional resources? We can then put that submission to the Minister. Is that a reasonable request?
Could I propose then that the SFPA would do as suggested? Could I also propose that the committee would write to the Minister asking him from a policy perspective to address the issues that we have raised here today? Most if not all of us have raised concerns about super trawlers.
In terms of the specific issues here, could I ask that the committee will write to the Minister asking for assurances? In fairness to the SFPA, the witnesses have said they are limited to a policy perspective.
Dr. Susan Steele:
Under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act which governs the setting up of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, we cannot question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government, or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy.
The SFPA carried out 2,500 fishing vessel inspections last year. A total of 80% of the fish caught in Irish waters is landed in other countries. Are the type of ships to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred all in the category that catch the 80%? It was indicated that 12 to 15 inspections were carried out last year and this year on super trawlers. What proportion of the catch is caught by super trawlers? I understand how difficult it is to get access to them but the number of inspections carried out on them strikes me as quite a small number given their size and capacity to catch fish.
Could the witnesses elaborate a bit more on what would normally happen to the vessels at the landing port and in terms of the flag state of the vessel? Are inspections carried out on them and how much co-operation and communication is there between the SFPA, the port state where the catch lands and the flag state?
I accept we are short on time but could the witnesses provide a short explanation of what the coastal state unit will involve and how that will work?
Dr. Susan Steele:
I apologise as we do not have the information in front of us but out of the 80% there are a large number of vessels, not just large-scale pelagic freezer vessels, landing into ports that are outside Ireland catching fish that are not freezing on board, that would not come into the category of the large-scale pelagic freezer vessels but I do not have the breakdown with me. Those inspections were just on what is referred to here as the super trawlers, what we call the large-scale pelagic freezer vessels. There were 1,000 inspections at sea of all different vessels, some that are landing into Irish ports and some that are landing outside. I am afraid I do not have the breakdown with me but we can look into that and come back to the committee with the information.
I will pass some of the more detailed operational questions to Mr. O'Mahony, but in relation to what is the coastal state unit going to look at, it is going to look specifically at what the Deputy outlined, namely, where the vessels are landing, the links with the port states and flag states of the vessels and what risks there are in that regard. It will have links with member states to look at their risk listings of vessels. If we have vessels here at the moment we do have information from other member states coming in, but just to make sure that we are seeing if there is high risk vessels from other countries that are fishing here, we are very aware of that and use it as part of our risk listings. There is a very descriptive project plan around the work that is going to be done by this unit, but it will have a very significant and important role in making sure that we are identifying and acting on all of the risks that are potentially there for Irish fish stocks. I invite Mr. O'Mahony to respond to the questions on operational areas.
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
I can see why the figures I quoted look small in the overall context. The general pattern of such vessels is to come, stay for quite some time and fish heavily while they are here, weather permitting. A total of 15 inspections in the year to date is a relatively high proportion of the fishing trips. If we go on board a vessel that has been in Irish waters for three weeks, that is an index of what it has been doing for three weeks, which might be compared, for example, to a lot of other vessels that might fish for two or three days and then land and we would inspect them then. Each of those landing inspections is an index of three days fishing activity whereas an inspection of a super trawler is an index of three weeks fishing activity. It is not really a case of comparing apples with apples. The figures I have given are in our view a useful percentage of the number of trips of those vessels but I accept they do not look big in the overall context.
We do not have the figure for the proportion of the Irish Box that is taken by these vessels. They fish particular species - pelagic species - and generally target horse mackerel within the Irish EZ. It would be their main reason for coming to the Irish EZ. Many other fish are caught in the Irish EZ.
The Deputy asked about follow through to the landing state. We have worked hard to make as good a relationship as we can with our equivalents in the Netherlands or Lithuania. There are really three states. There is a coastal state - us - the flag state and the landing state, which we call the port state. In some instances, our analysis of the data available to us might indicate that a potential risk of non-compliance. We would highlight that to the flag state, which would highlight it to the port state. On some occasions, although not very often, we have gone to view the inspection of the landing in the port state as well. These are frozen boxes of fish so it is a box count and a pallet count. Essentially, they are placed on pallets before they come off so they are really giant freezers. The boxes are relatively amenable to being counted. There is the issue of making sure a pallet of 30 kg boxes is a pallet of 30 kg boxes and not a pallet of 35 kg boxes. There are issues there with having to tow boxes of fish to make sure a pallet of 30 kg boxes of horse mackerel is not a pallet of 30 kg boxes of mackerel. We have a good relationship and liaison which we invoke on a risk basis when we perceive issues here. I hope that answers the question.
Mr. Micheál O'Mahony:
In general terms, my experience is that they do act on that. We do not invoke those things every day of the week. My general experience is that there is a good level of responsiveness from the landing state. By way of context, it could take two or three days to unload one of these vessels. That is on a 24-hour shift basis. These are very large vessels so a lot can happen in two or three days of craning off pallets. It is not a ten-minute job. This is a significant undertaking of the landing state. The landing state has its own obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy. It must inspect a certain proportion of these vessels on a risk basis so it must be there in any event regardless of whether we knock on its door or not. The answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". I would generally expect a good response and generally receive one along with good feedback from the landing state.
Dr. Susan Steele:
I hope I have not missed anything but the final questions that are outstanding relate to Brexit. As everybody in the room is aware and as we are seeing everywhere in the discussions, the implications of Brexit for fisheries will be profound. As regulators, we are very concerned about the huge extra demands that will come from the extra sea area that will have to be patrolled and possibly from displacement. There are so many possibilities regarding what could happen. As the committee will have seen when we spoke about the annual report, last year we signed 6,100 health certificates which were for export to countries outside Europe. This is a huge responsibility for the SFPA. Again, we can see more work in that area in the future. As everyone is watching what will happen with negotiations and the outcome, we are looking at the possibilities and what resources will be required in order for us to be able to ensure both seafood safety, trade and the fisheries control side of our work. We have been discussing with our parent Department. We have not yet put in a formal submission because we do not yet know where we will be with it. That is our answer with regard to Brexit.
Mr. Andrew Kinneen:
The Deputy raised the issue of landing obligations. There are challenges for us, as regulators in this area, because monitoring and getting the assurance in place that everybody is not dumping unwanted fish at sea are very challenging. Again, there may be technical solutions to that. We are trying to encourage fishermen not to catch the fish in the first place. If they develop more selective catch methods, they avoid the problem of having unwanted catches of fish for which they have no commercial use that they must manage when they come ashore. If they cannot manage to be more selective in their catches, we will have a lot of problems. We will have problems managing the catch that has been brought ashore. We have been trying to encourage fishermen to record discards so that we have an idea of what is being dealt with. We cannot say this has been a success despite our efforts at persuasion. There have been port meetings held by the SFPA and our parent Department to try to explain this quite complex regulation to the fishermen. I would say that there is a lot of work to be done in this area. We could not claim that this is an area of high compliance at the moment. We see this regulation as something that is of great benefit to fishermen if they can take it on board and take control of it themselves - not seeing it as a cat-and-mouse issue but one where they use their intelligence to catch the fish they want to keep. Our strategy in this area is to be persuasive.