Thursday, 9 December 2021
Seafood Taskforce Final Report: Statements
I am sharing time with Deputies Carthy and Conway-Walsh. The report of the seafood task force is presented as the future of the Irish fishing industry and a blueprint for creating vibrant coastal communities. While there are some good measures in it and, of course, welcome funding, we must face the hard reality. The report, if implemented, will further reduce the Irish fishing fleet and, by consequence, the Irish fishing industry.
Ireland has approximately 20% of Europe's northern and western fishing waters. A total of 30% of all fish landed in Europe is produced in Irish waters, yet we have some of the smallest fishing quotas for species in all of Europe. Since we joined the European Economic Community, EEC, in 1973, Governments have made mistake after mistake in building a vibrant and sustainable Irish fishing industry. It is arguable whether we want to build or have an industry at all at this point. It seems that, when this or previous Governments have had to negotiate to fight for our fishermen, the default position has been to raise the white flag. The Irish fishing industry has always been the sacrificial lamb.
Ireland has taken part in two EU-funded decommissioning schemes that dramatically reduced the Irish fleet, and now there is another decommissioning proposal to get rid of a further 60 boats. In 2006, there were 280 boats of more than 18 m in the Irish fleet fishing offshore. After this latest scheme, that fleet will be reduced to one third of what it was 15 years ago. What a damning indictment of Government policy and failure over the past 15 years. While we tear apart our fishing communities, countries such as France and Belgium are investing in the upgrading of their fleets. This is no surprise when we consider the percentage of the fish they take from our Irish waters compared with what is allocated to our own fishing fleet under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. I reiterate only 15%, or even less, of the total value of the catch from Irish waters, the exclusive economic zone under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, is allocated to the Irish fishing fleet. This is utterly shameful. In contrast, 75% of the fish in British waters is allocated to their fishing fleet.
We have long called for a full review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Is there an appetite among the Government or the Civil Service to go to Europe and fight for such a review? A partial review is to commence in January but we need a full review, with everything on the table. We need to find and build solidarity and alliances with other European partners and truly reopen the Common Fisheries Policy, once and for all. The unfairness must end and what better opportunity than now when Brexit has changed so much? It is the profound unfairness and injustice, above everything else, that sticks in the craw of the Irish fishing community.
For decades, Irish fishermen have watched European fishing vessels come into Irish waters and fish away at huge quotas compared with those for Irish boats, then watched them unload their uninspected catch into frozen container trucks and go home to their own countries. Meanwhile, Irish vessels are chased from pillar to post by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service with much lower quotas, and have recently been forced to unload their iced catch on the harbours, de-ice it for inspection and only then send it to the factory for processing. It would be laughable were it not so serious.
Let us take just one example to prove this. This goes to the heart of so-called relative stability, which has been, and continues to be, a complete and utter disaster for Irish fishing. During the formative years of 1977 to 1982, the Irish system did not record its catches in any accurate manner. Let us take the example of monkfish. The French currently have an allocation of 50% of the monkfish in Irish waters, while Ireland has 5%. Is that fair? Something has to give, things have to change and the Minister and his Department must lead that.
This year, when the flotilla of fishing boats sailed up to the River Lee and into Cork city, and then up the River Liffey and into Dublin city, it marked a sea change. The fishing industry had united in protest and opposition to the disastrous policies of the Minister's Government and those who preceded it. No more would they accept weak negotiation on their behalf, no more white flags or jelly bellies. The year 2021 has seen pelagic and polyvalent quotas reduced by 30%, demersal quotas by 20% and the inshore fleet reduced to targeting non-quota shellfish. Our industry is dying and, as far as it is concerned, the State is assisting in its dying. As I said earlier, the French and Belgian states are sponsoring the building of new vessels, while we in Ireland are proposing the decommissioning of a further 30% of our offshore fleet of over 18 m, or 60 of our boats. When you step back and think about it, this is worse than bonkers; it is self-destruction.
Where do we start? Burden-sharing must be reopened in these upcoming December talks. The reality is there has been none. The burden of Brexit on the European fishing fleet may as well have been undertaken unilaterally by the Irish industry. That must be the starting position. Negotiations are always tough, but now is the time to show steel. Once and for all, Ireland needs the Minister with responsibility for the marine and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to stand up for Irish interests. At the very least, he needs to go to Brussels with a minimum levelling-up approach imprinted in his thinking. This would take account of at least some small element of the historical loss and unfairness we have suffered. It would also set a marker for the upcoming review of the CFP at European level.
Gone are the days when we were the best boys and girls in class, when we would say, "Yes sir, no sir" and take what we were given in terms of quotas. It is time to defend our industry, be proud of our immense natural resource and outline to Europe what we want and need in order to build our proud industry. We want our fair share of what is ours and will not stand any more for being stamped on and told to put up with everything.
Representatives of various fish producer organisations attended yesterday's Oireachtas committee meeting. They did not enthusiastically endorse the report and they certainly did not enthusiastically endorse decommissioning. They did so with a heavy heart. They have fishermen on their books who have no future, through no fault of their own but through that of Government after Government. They do not believe things will change and they will avail of this scheme with a very heavy heart.
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is being negotiated between Britain and Europe.
The Minister and the Taoiseach need to insist that we have access to those negotiations because they will have an enormous impact on our fortunes at the Council. The Minister will have a limited engagement in the days ahead while these negotiations continue.
The island communities have real concerns about this report. They have made submissions and I will forward to the Minister their submission outlining their ongoing concerns. They are not enthusiastically endorsing this report.
I conclude my contribution by quoting the famous Luke Kelly poem:
For what died the sons of Róisín, was it greed?...
Will German, French or Dutch inscribe the epitaph of Emmet?
When we have sold enough of Ireland to be but strangers in it
For what died the sons of Róisín, was it greed?
Were words ever more appropriate to what is happening in our beloved coastal and fishing communities?