Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
118. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the serious crisis in the fishing industry due to the huge increase in fuel costs; if he will report on the engagements he has held with the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries on this matter; and if he will make an urgent intervention for fishermen in Ireland similar to the approach of the French Government. [16814/22]
As the Minister knows, there was already a serious crisis in our fishing industry before the energy crisis we are now facing. Six weeks ago, I asked the Minister in a parliamentary question what he would do to assist our fishermen. He said he was prevented from doing anything by the European Commission directive. Since then, France and Spain have made serious interventions to assist their industries. What will the Minister do?
Like the Deputy, I am aware of the increase in fuel costs, as well as the effects that this is having on our fishers. The Agriculture and Fisheries Council, AGRIFISH, meeting on 21 March initiated a debate on the impact of increasing fuel costs for the fishing industry. I emphasised to the Commissioner that these increased fuel costs come on top of difficulties that had already been created by Covid-19, as well as, of course, the impact of the quota reductions under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. I called on the Commission to urgently examine and approve measures through flexibility within the European programmes and fisheries funds that would allow funds to be allocated towards the challenges facing the industry, particularly the fuel crisis.
On 25 March, the Commission adopted and implemented a decision to trigger the crisis mechanism of the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, EMFAF, recognising the Russian military aggression as an exceptional event that is causing market disruption and thereby making it possible for member states grant two types of financial compensation to mitigate the impacts of costs stemming from market disruption and specific storage mechanisms. The Commission is continuing to explore other solutions, including possible action in the framework of the EMFAF, to make use of the remaining available financial resources.
In relation to addressing the challenges arising from the transfer of quota under the EU Brexit agreement, I have submitted schemes to the Commission for state aid approval, involving a voluntary two-month tie-up scheme in 2022 and a voluntary decommissioning scheme for the polyvalent sector of the fleet. I met with representatives of the fishing sector at the Irish Skipper Expo last Friday, just six days ago. I advised them of the progress on these and other important schemes, as recommended by the task force which I established. This sector has welcomed the two-month tie-up scheme. As the Deputy knows, the tie-up scheme, which is available to each boat, involves having a boat tied up for one month in each three-month period. The fishers are then are paid for the equivalent of what they would have been catching in that month, and the quota that they would have been catching is available to other boats that are still out. This effectively increases the quota available for the boats that are fishing in that month by 50%. It is a key measure to support the sector.
The inshore and offshore fishermen to whom I speak, including those in County Donegal, are telling me that with prices tripling, they just cannot afford to go to sea. If you look at what happened in France before Article 26 was triggered, you will see that France intervened by providing a direct subsidy to its fishing industry, which was some kind of assistance. Similarly, Spain has now announced €68 million in support for its industry, including a range of interventions. Apart from a tie-up scheme, which is linked to the existing Brexit adjustment reserve fund, what is the Minister doing for people in the fishing industry? They cannot go to sea. This impacts on food supply. This impacts on an industry that has been hard hit by Brexit, as the Minister knows. Some 60 boats will decommission. We are down to 30% of what the fleet needs to be above 18 m. This industry is already in crisis. This will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. What is the Minister going to do?
I have been listening and working and talking to fishers themselves, as well as their representatives, because this challenge is an emergency. I did this as recently as six days ago. I will continue to engage with them on the challenges. As the Deputy knows, many measures are coming out of the seafood task force report, which will support all of the sectors. Through that, I have proposed a total of €425 million to support the sector this year and next year.
I have outlined the details of the tie-up scheme, which I have submitted to the European Commission. This has been welcomed by the sector. Its impact will be that for one month in a three-month period a boat will not go to sea and it will get paid for that month. The boats that go to sea will be able to fish that quota, which increases the quota they would have had by 50%. That has been welcomed by people in the sector. I will continue to liaise closely with them because it is an important sector, particularly for our own county. It is important that we work with them through this period of time. I will continue to do that.
As I have said, the Spanish Government has announced €68 million in direct aid to be granted in the form of discounts of 20 cent per litre of diesel for three months at least; deferments in the payment of social security contributions; credit lines in the Spanish official credit institute and the Spanish state agricultural society; and €50 million from FEMPA, which is linked to Article 26. There is a whole range of interventions to assist the fishing industry in Spain. I just do not see the same detail here. I say to the Minister again, with all due respect, that I am concerned about the marine aspect of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Minister has massive responsibilities and a huge food supply crisis across the whole sector. The marine area of the Department needs a dedicated Minister of State. It needs one person keeping hold of the Department and working directly with the industry. I do not see a response in this country that is anywhere near what is happening in Spain or France. We have an industry that is more in crisis than its counterparts in Spain and France. I just do not understand this.
I have outlined to the Deputy how I have been fully plugged into the industry and its representatives in relation to the pressure that is there. I am also engaged in driving flexibility at European level in relation to how we can respond. I have outlined the scheme which has been submitted, and for which we are hoping to get approval. This will provide relief for the sector at a very difficult and challenging time. We have the Brexit challenge as well, which the sector has been dealing with over the last 18 months. This has significant implications for people in the sector. As Minister, I am working closely with them to respond to this at a national level, to support them fully and to maximise the capacity of our industry nationally to grow, to develop and to add value in the years ahead. I am also fighting that battle at a European level in every way possible to improve our position within the Common Fisheries Policy, particularly with regard to the review of that policy.
I am very much aware of the challenges. I have been very much in touch and engaged with the sector and fishers with regard to the pressures. I will continue to adopt that approach over the next while and also, very importantly, engage at European level with the Commission in terms of the flexibility for supports around that.