Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Common Fisheries Policy
Last week, as the Minister is aware, more than 60 vessels steamed up to Cork Harbour. Fishermen are very concerned about their livelihoods and the future of the industry. They handed a letter in to the Taoiseach with seven points of concern. I know a lot of these people. They are salt-of-the-sea people, as opposed to salt-of-the-earth people. They are decent, hard-working families who are concerned about the future. They are concerned about the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. They say Ireland has not been allocated a fair share of fish quotas that reflect the contribution of our fishers across the European Union. They are also concerned about the Brexit trade and co-operation agreement, TCA, between the UK and the EU. They say it is unfair and unjust and penalised Ireland's fishing industry. They are worried about the penalty points system. We have had this debate back and forth on a few occasions. They maintain that it should only be applied to licence holders and skippers following a court conviction. They maintain the fact that there is no appeal mechanism for it is unfair.
They maintain the revoking of Ireland's fish landing and control plan by the European Commission is impacting on the reputation of the entire Irish fishing industry. They take issue with having to weigh the fish on the quay side, de-ice the fish and then re-ice it and bring it on from there. They say it is unsafe as there are no hazard analysis and critical control point, HACCP, controls. I ask the Minister to comment on that.
The fishermen are concerned about our fishing grounds at Rockall. They want a review of the migrant workers atypical scheme. They also want the Brexit adjustment reserve fund, of which €1.2 billion is said to be available to Ireland, to be used to redress the damage to the Irish fishing industry caused by the unfair loss of quota. A compensation package should be assessed and paid on the basis of the loss of earnings that will accrue from generation to generation and year after year in the future. The Minister might comment on that as well. What is the situation with respect to the €1.2 billion?
A lot of families around the coast, from Dingle to Wexford, are very concerned about the CFP. In the previous debate we had a discussion about wind energy off the coast but a lot of these families are worried about whether their future will be sustainable and if they will be able to survive or if they will have to stop fishing altogether. In industries like fishing and agriculture we need to attract young people to keep the business going and to keep it viable. It is very hard to attract younger people if there is no future or no wage at the end of a week. We know how difficult and how challenging it is for fishermen to go out into the Atlantic when the seas are rough and to bring in fresh fish that we all like and enjoy.
I am very interested in hearing the Minister's comments on these points and what he can do to reassure fishermen about their future, that they will have an income and they will be able to put food on their own tables as well as food on other tables, and that they will be treated more fairly, as they see it. Could the Minister indicate if he is in constant contact with the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation? What can he say to reassure those families about the future of their industry?
I thank Deputy Stanton very much for raising this issue and for giving me an opportunity to update the House on it. I saw the flotilla on the news coverage last week and I recognise the frustration among fishermen that led to it. I hope to address some of those issues here in the House tonight. The main points raised by the fishing industry during the demonstration on 26 May relate to: the inequitable burden on Ireland in terms of the quota transfer to the UK following Brexit; Ireland's share of quota in our 200 nautical mile zone; and issues concerning EU fisheries controls.
The impact of Brexit on Ireland's seafood sector, and the coastal communities dependent on it, is understandably a major issue of concern for the sector. However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier task force agreed to UK demands, or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone. However, that is not to diminish in any way the very real impact that exists, which amounts to a 15% reduction in our national quota between now and 2026. The aggregate final transfer by Ireland to the UK under the trade and co-operation agreement is estimated at be €43 million.
I assure the House that this Government intends to continue to keep the focus on the disproportionate quota reductions for Ireland. I have raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing for Ireland at EU level, most recently at the May Agriculture and Fisheries Council held last week, and I will continue to do so whenever an opportunity arises.
Regarding the out-take from Ireland's 200 miles exclusive fisheries zone, over the period 2011 to 2015 average landings of all species amounted to just under 387,000 tonnes with an approximate value of €444 million. Of that, Ireland accounts for 42% by weight and 36% by value. I am seeking an update for more recent years and will publish the data when I receive them. I am pursuing every opportunity at EU level to increase the available quotas for our fishing fleet. As I have previously advised the House, I am committed to doing all possible through the upcoming review of the CFP to secure additional quota, where possible, for Irish fishers.
Fishers also raised the issue of fisheries control. The monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland's exclusive fisheries zone are matters for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, all operational issues of this nature are exclusively for the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service. As Minister, I am expressly precluded from getting involved in operational matters such as this. The SFPA is currently engaged with the sector on these matters.
The impact of Brexit has been a major blow for the Irish fishing industry, but I am convinced that there is a sustainable future for the sector. There are opportunities for growth if we invest in and add value to our seafood sector, and there is a strong commitment from the Government to do this. My objective is to work with the industry to grow the sector in the years ahead. My Department's action plan for 2021 sets out the priority actions to be implemented this year to drive the development of a sustainable, competitive and innovative seafood sector. Importantly, I also set up a seafood sector task force, which brings all voices in the sector together, to advise on how we can invest in and develop the sector in the future. I anticipate receiving the interim report from the task force shortly. I assure the Deputy and the House that this Government is committed to working with the seafood sector to adjust to the impact of Brexit and to ensure a clear path for the growth of the sector in the years ahead.
I thank the Minister for the work he is doing in this area and encourage him to continue in the strongest possible way to assist the fishing industry. I wish to make two points in particular. Could the Minister comment on the revoking of Ireland's fish landing control plan by the European Commission, whereby the fish have to be weighed in many instances on the quay side, to be de-iced, weighed and then re-iced again? It strikes me as being very strange and perhaps even unsafe.
I understand €1.2 billion is said to be available to Ireland from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. Could the Minister indicate if any of this could be used to address the damage to the Irish fishing industry caused by what the Minister acknowledges is an unfair loss of quota? Is any compensation package available to fishermen from the fund to help them? I would like the Minister to address the two questions on the revoking of Ireland's fish landing control plan and the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. Has the Minister been able to secure any funding from those moneys to assist fishermen at this time?
Could the Minister comment on the future of the fishing industry in Ireland? He acknowledged that it is under a lot of pressure. There is a lot of stress and concern there at the moment. I commend the fishermen on the demonstration in Cork the other day. It was respectful and well organised. They linked up with all the authorities to cause minimum disruption to everybody while getting their message across. They recognise that others have to make a living as well. Unfortunately, they may have to do it again to draw attention to the real concerns they have.
They do not want to be doing this as they want to be out fishing. I await the Minister's response.
I thank the Deputy. I will deal first with the final point, which was the respectful nature in which the fishermen made their protests and their point, and I want to recognise that as well. They certainly made their point very strongly.
As I said in my opening contribution, any sector that has been impacted in the way they have, coming out of Brexit, where 15% of quota is to be lost between now and 2026, would be massively frustrated, and that is certainly a source of massive frustration to our fishing sector. The fact a no-deal Brexit would have been worse, or what the British Government was looking for in negotiations would have been worse, is only small consolation given the fact there is a 15% impact. As I recognise that very strongly, I have set up a fisheries task force to advise on how we can invest in the sector to mitigate the impact of Brexit, alongside the efforts I will make at European level in regard to addressing burden sharing and, importantly, to support the sector financially to grow and to mitigate the impact of Brexit in the time ahead. I will be very much advised by the fisheries task force on how to go about that.
On weighing at the pier and the revocation of the control plan which facilitated weighing in factories, that has undoubtedly posed a very significant challenge for many fishermen. It is a decision the European Commission has taken following on from an administrative inquiry that it carried out. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has the legal and operational responsibility in this regard and it is engaging with the sector to seek to address the impact of that decision. It recently outlined to the Oireachtas committee its intention to work towards developing a new control plan.
I fully understand the impact this will have, particularly for the whitefish sector. In the wider sense, I will work with the sector in every way I can to deal with the many challenges that face it at the moment and to help it grow into the future.