Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Adjournment Debate

Fishing Industry Development

2:30 pm

Photo of Christy O'SullivanChristy O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter, which I genuinely feel is of national importance. If resolved, it could contribute towards the regeneration of many coastal communities. The entire mackerel quota increase for 2011 should be allocated to the polyvalent fleet.

As of 1 January, Ireland has had in excess of 6,000 tonnes of extra mackerel quota to allocate. It is time for the Minister to make an equitable decision to allocate the entire mackerel quota increase for 2011 to the polyvalent fleet. This would bring the polyvalent share of the overall quota to 20%.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Connick, on his achievements at EU level before Christmas. The Minister has been very willing to meet industry representatives and for this I am grateful. However, I remind the Minister of the very positive socio-economic impact of increasing the polyvalent share of the mackerel quota.

The polyvalent fleet lands its catches wholly into Ireland, where the benefits to the economy from onshore value-added may be maximised. The RSW fleet lands approximately 80% of its mackerel catch abroad, with only approximately 20% being landed in Ireland. Switching landings to Ireland from abroad would lead to the creation of many extra jobs in the economy based on the expansion arising from the increased activity of the polyvalent fleet. The additional mackerel landed in Ireland would result in an overall increase in output throughout the economy. The coastal communities, which are areas of high unemployment, would be the main beneficiaries. The processing sector would add great value and there would be an increase in exports. In simple terms, it would mean extra jobs, extra salaries and extra disposable income.

The landing of catches abroad represents a leakage from the economy. In other words, the Irish economy does not get the opportunity to add value to fish landed abroad. It is bad enough to have the Spanish and French fleets fishing our waters and landing their catches abroad without our own fleet reciprocating.

The economy would benefit enormously if the entire 10% of the extra quota were allocated to the polyvalent fleet. As I have outlined, it would result in a significant increase in net output and create much-needed jobs in peripheral areas. I strongly urge the Minister of State to allocate the entire mackerel quota increase for 2011 to the polyvalent fleet so that we can begin the regeneration of our coastal communities. I urge him to take action.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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Even when Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973, there was a feeling among fishermen and the fishing industry that, to excuse the pun, they were being sold down the river. To a large degree, it is true that fishing has been one of the Cinderellas of industry despite it being an indigenous industry of considerable importance for coastal communities. People sometimes forget that it makes a significant contribution to the economy in difficult times.

Ireland's 2010 quota for mackerel was 62,643 tonnes. The quota is divided, with 87% for 23 boats. These are known as the refrigerated sea water, RSW, fleet, which is almost exclusively based in the Killybegs-Donegal area. The remaining 13% is given to the rest of the boats in the State, that is, the polyvalent fleet, dry hold fleet, gill net fleet, and so on. Thanks to the excellent negotiations of the Minster of State, Deputy Connick, and his Department, Ireland has received an increase of 10% for the 2011 fishery. I take this opportunity to congratulate him warmly on his performance as Minister of State. He has been a revelation and the industry recognises that his talents have been of considerable benefit to it.

The increase for the 2011 fishery equates to 6,000 tonnes. Deputy Christy O'Sullivan and I are asking the Minster of State to allocate the additional 10% or a larger proportion thereof to the polyvalent, dry hold and gill net fleets because those boats, by the nature of their size and catching capacity, land fish mostly in the State. This has added value, in that they benefit small coastal communities throughout Ireland, not just in the Donegal-Killybegs area - I am referring to ports like Howth, Dunmore East, Baltimore, Castletownbere, Dingle and Ross a Mhíl - with additional direct jobs as well as all ancillary services associated with the loading processing and distribution of the fish.

With the additional 6,000 tonnes at the Minister of State's disposal, he can go a long way towards expanding and promoting the mackerel industry throughout the whole of Ireland without causing any loss of quota to the larger and established industry in Donegal by allocating the additional 10% to the 14 polyvalent and hundreds of smaller boats around the coast. Given that the 23 RSW fleet boats land a large amount of their quota outside the State, the Minister of State should try to ensure that the new additional quota at his disposal should be landed and remain in the State to create jobs in coastal rural communities where they are most needed. At this point in our economic history, it is important that we utilise our indigenous resources for the benefit of our people and ensure that any added value arising from those resources directly or indirectly benefits our country.

Photo of Seán ConnickSeán Connick (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies Christy O'Sullivan and O'Donoghue for raising this matter. There is good news on the total allowable catch, TAC, front for mackerel, with an expected 10% increase in Ireland's quota in 2011 when fully confirmed. This increase will result in approximately €6.5 million extra in the value of landings for this stock. It was agreed at a bilateral meeting between the EU and Norway after the failure of the four-party talks with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which went to four rounds but did not secure agreement. In overall value terms, landings of pelagic stocks will contribute €107 million to the Irish economy and they support further added value and jobs in the processing factories in coastal states.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to allocate the full amount of TAC available to member states because of a technical difficulty in regard to the mathematical methodology of integrating the southern component of the mackerel stock as agreed with Norway last January. In addition, there were technical difficulties with the mechanism to deal with the implications of the EU-Norway and Norway-EU transfers as a result of the integration. A significant amount of work has already been done on this with our Marine Institute heavily involved. However, the Commission was not in a position to finalise the work in time for the Council. The Commission will convene an expert group before the end of this month with a view to finalising the issue as soon as possible. Following the meeting, it is hoped the Commission will be in a position to table an amendment to the TAC and quota regulation for 2011 to provide for the full quota allocations for mackerel. I hope the amending regulation will be in place later this spring. We can expect a final annual quota for mackerel for 2011 of approximately 68,000 tonnes. Until the discussions at EU level are complete, we cannot be fully confident of the quota available.

At national level, the available quota at this time for mackerel for Ireland based on the interim TAC is 54,861 tonnes. The mackerel management allocation arrangements for this quota have been put in place for 2011 based on existing policy. The internal sharing arrangements between different parts of the fleet is subject to dissatisfaction and disagreement within the Irish industry, with each group of vessels seeking increased shares. However, it is important to understand that this is a zero sum game and any increase to one part of the fleet must involve a reduction to another part of the fleet.

I would like to give a brief history of the development of the current arrangements and changes that have been introduced in recent times. Prior to 2000, polyvalent multi-purpose vessels only caught small quantities of mackerel. The mackerel fishery was prosecuted by RSW vessels in the pelagic segment of the fishing fleet which were subject to vessel catch limits since the mid-1980s. There are 23 vessels in this segment of the fleet and they are large purpose-built vessels for the pelagic fisheries, mainly mackerel, herring and horse mackerel. For all practical purposes, there was a technological restriction in place in respect of the polyvalent fleet, in that the vessels concerned were small, dry hold, traditional vessels that were incapable of catching large quantities of mackerel. In such circumstances, the typical total national catch of those polyvalent vessels was of the order of 1,000 to 1,200 tonnes and a 1,500 tonne allocation was set aside for those out of the total national quota, which ranged from a high of 99,000 tonnes in 1994 to a low of 52,000 tonnes between 1985 and 2000.

This situation changed materially from 2000 onwards as a number of polyvalent tank boats were introduced into the fleet. These vessels had much higher catching and storage capacity and the national polyvalent catch trebled to more than 3,500 tonnes in 2000. Following extensive consultation and discussion with the various industry players throughout 2001, revised arrangements were eventually put in place in October of that year. This capped the total mackerel catch of polyvalent vessels at 7,000 tonnes, of which 1,500 tonnes were set aside to cover catches by vessels less than 65 ft. in length. The balance of the available mackerel quota, some 38,500 tonnes in 2008, was divided between the 23 RSW vessels of the pelagic sector according to set formulae.

In 2001 when the allocation of 7,000 tonnes for the polyvalent fleet was agreed, the Irish mackerel quota was 72,000 tonnes. Since then, it has decreased and fluctuated at a lower level. This decrease resulted in a low quota of 49,643 tonnes in 2008. Despite these quota reductions the 7,000 tonnes reserved for the polyvalent sector remained unchanged until 2009 when an Irish quota of 66,070 tonnes was agreed and requests for a higher share of the quota were received from polyvalent vessel owners. In January 2009, the Minister decided after much consultation and careful consideration of all of the available information that, for 2009 and future years, the polyvalent segment would be allocated 13% of the total mackerel quota.

On the level of landings into Ireland, under the EU open market policy, there can be no question of requiring or pressuring vessels to land in Ireland. It is always useful to have an understanding of the situation, as landings of pelagic stocks such as mackerel generate employment in processing in coastal communities. In 2009, almost all of the polyvalent vessels landed in Ireland while 60% of landings by the RSW pelagic segment vessels were in Ireland. The situation for 2010 has seen some change, with 75% of the polyvalent landings and 64% of the RSW pelagic segment landings being in Ireland. It is clear that both polyvalent and RSW pelagic segment vessels are capable of and do land a proportion of their quota abroad. From an employment and economic activity perspective, I would like to see the vast majority of all landings in Ireland and I would encourage the vessel owners and the processors to work together to maximise landings into Irish factories.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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You have well exceeded your time. The rest of it will go on the record of the House.