Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will urgently activate the funding made available by the European Union twinned with Exchequer funding to assist the fishing industry with the energy crisis and the huge increase in fuel costs following the recent call by the seven national fishing and fish producer organisations. [37922/22]
The Minister met representatives of a range of fishing organisations, which have made an unprecedented statement, as he will be aware. All the national voices of our fishing community have united to appeal to the Government to put together a fuel package to deal with the profound crisis threatening the entire sector. When is he going to introduce such a package?
Since the publication of the report of the seafood task force in October 2021, Navigating Change, I have announced a number of support schemes for our fishing fleet and wider seafood sector and coastal communities. Between October and December 2021, a Brexit temporary fleet tie-up scheme made available supports of between €4,600 and €88,700 per month, depending on vessel size, for vessels to tie up for a calendar month. Vessels in the Rockall squid fishery could tie up for two months, which 179 vessels availed of. I introduced this tie-up scheme again in May and it will operate until November.
To further assist the fishing fleet in these difficult times the Deputy mentioned, I am allowing each vessel to receive aid for up to two months this year rather than one month, as was the case in the previous year, despite the sea fisheries task force having recommended just one month for this year too. A total of 67 vessel owners availed of that in June and 43 in July. For the inshore fleet, a Brexit inshore fisheries business model adjustment scheme operated from January to March and was availed of by 754 inshore fishing vessel owners, delivering between €2,700 and €4,000. We have also announced a €45 million Brexit processing capital support scheme and, for coastal communities, a €25 million Brexit blue economy enterprise development scheme to deliver grants of up to €200,000 for capital investments in coastal areas.
There are specific challenges at the moment with regard to fuel and the impact coming from Ukraine. Unlike in other sectors, no excise duty is charged on marine fuel and VAT on marine fuel is reclaimable and, therefore, there is no Government take in respect of the fuel. In effect, the industry is seeking a subsidy to help meet the undoubtedly significant cost. I met representatives and had a strong, in-depth conversation with them, and I am considering the submissions they made to me.
As the Minister will be aware, it was agreed in Europe that there would be a financial aid package from last March but the Government did not avail of it. Another one has been voted for and announced in recent days and the Government needs to avail of it. The Minister referred to the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund earlier and a tie-up scheme to compensate for the decommissioning of our fleet and the loss of so much of our quota. That is totally separate from the issues that have emerged in the context of the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine.
I cannot put this starkly enough, although I appreciate the Minister has met representatives. This is unprecedented. All the fishing organisations nationally, including IFA aquaculture and inshore and offshore representatives, have united and used the strongest language to say they cannot go to sea or meet their responsibilities to the food sector. The EU is not looking to tie up boats; it wants people to go out to sea to provide food for the European economy. When is the Minister going to help them do that?
I would not say it is unprecedented for the fishing organisations to come together to speak on the same issue and deliver the same message. The challenge relating to fuel is one we have been dealing with for some months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I previously met all those organisations together to discuss this issue. Their request to me in March and April was for a second tie-up scheme. The seafood fisheries task force had recommended only a one-month tie-up scheme for this year, but the fishers' representatives asked me for two and I responded to that by delivering a second one. Through that, we delivered €25 million in funding to the sector, allowing one in three vessels in any one month to tie up and the other two vessels that were out fishing to avail of the quota that was freed up as a result. They asked me specifically for that given the challenging cost backdrop that exists due to fuel and so on, and I responded and delivered. I met them again on the continuing issues a week ago and I am considering the challenges. I know very much from talking to fishers the pressure they are under from a cost point of view and I am considering that strongly.
The Minister knows that in France and Spain, there has been a significant intervention, which has certainly helped their fleets. When I say "unprecedented", as the Minister will be aware, I mean all the producer organisations, including all those from the islands, IFA aquaculture representatives and fisheries local action groups. I have never seen every organisation unite. Some of them have certainly united previously but this is all of them, the entire sector, uniting to tell the Minister they cannot go to sea or afford all the input costs they face. This is an unprecedented crisis on the back of a loss of quota due to Brexit. To be clear, the BAR fund is a separate matter to intervening now in what is a serious threat to the future of our industry, as the Minister will know having met fishers. They cannot afford to go to sea.
The fuel price at which they can make a profit is 60 cent per litre but it now costs €1.30 per litre. That is an impossible challenge for them and there has to be some form of financial aid package to keep them at sea.
As I said, it is not unprecedented because representatives of all those same organisations met me in March and April to discuss exactly the same challenges, and their proposal and ask of me then was for a second month of the tie-up scheme, which I delivered on. Such a scheme is not in place in other countries that have been impacted by Brexit, although without doubt they have been impacted to a lesser extent than us. That was their specific request to me then and I delivered on it. I met them again as recently as last week for further discussions on this.
I reiterate there is no Government tax on marine diesel. There is VAT but it is fully reclaimable, so any support that is delivered will actually subsidise the net cost, minus tax, of fuel. Undoubtedly, the margins are such for many fishermen at the moment that they cannot make a profit or are very challenged in that regard. I have been listening to and engaging with them, which I will continue to do, and I will consider the submissions they have made to me.