Seanad debates

Monday, 28 June 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Fishing Industry

10:30 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The next item relates to the landing of fish at Dunmore East by trawlers from Northern Ireland and Britain. It is being raised by Senator Cummins. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is responding on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I thank her for coming to the House. Senator Cummins has four minutes.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. It is unique to have a Senator responding to Commencement matters.

At the outset, I acknowledge the recent announcement of €3.1 million for Dunmore East Harbour and other marine amenities in Waterford, including piers at Helvick, Tramore, Cheekpoint, Ballinacourty and the slipway at Bunmahon. This level of investment in our marine amenities is greatly welcome and the coastal communities across Waterford will benefit massively from it.

I will proceed to the main premise of my Commencement matter, which is the designation of Dunmore East as an official landing port for UK-registered fishing vessels post Brexit. Following Britain leaving the European Union, only two fishing ports were designated for landings, but last January five ports were added to the list. However, there is no designated landing port from Howth in Dublin to Castletownbere in Cork for UK-registered fishing vessels . This leaves the entire south east coastline without a designated port, which is an anomaly that must be addressed without delay.

This is a matter which I and my Waterford Government colleagues, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, and Deputy Ó Cathasaigh have taken up directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and he is on record as saying that this will be kept under review. While I appreciate that technical and regulatory protocols must be put in place to ensure that third country fishing vessels properly count and document what is landed at Irish ports, I believe this can easily be done as there are fisheries protection officers and facilities already in place at Dunmore East Harbour. I understand that there were only 24 landings over the 2018 and 2019 period but this amounted to 318 tonnes of fish, which had a positive impact on the port and secondary processors in the area.

Given the clear geographic gap between Howth and Castletownbere that I mentioned, I believe Dunmore East would become a popular location for UK-registered fishing vessels to land their catches. One must also consider the environmental impact of fishermen travelling from the south east to Howth and Castletownbere to offload their catches. The strategic location of Dunmore East cannot and should not be ignored. There is no question that opportunities are created and expanded by every fishing vessel that lands at a harbour. I implore the Minister of State to convey what I have said to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and to ask for urgent action on this matter.

Before I conclude, I will briefly mention the farcical situation that now exists at Irish ports across the State following the decision of the European Commission to remove the derogation that existed heretofore on the weighing of fish at factories, due to a three-year-old report which stated that manipulation of the weighing system was taking place. This is a very serious matter which has far-reaching consequences for the fishing sector and calls into question the integrity of every fisherman. That is unacceptable. To my knowledge, no evidence of this practice has been provided, yet the entire industry will suffer as a result. Asking fishermen to take fish out of ice boxes to weigh them at harbour walls in what can often be warm temperatures is nonsensical and will have an impact on costs, time and the freshness of fish. I ask that this is taken up directly with the Commission and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, and that the appropriate reassurances are given to them to reinstate this derogation without delay.

Photo of Pippa HackettPippa Hackett (Green Party)
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I thank Senator Cummins for bringing this matter to our attention. It is an important issue. I appreciate the Senator's recognition of the €3.1 million investment in marine amenities in his area.

The possible designation of Dunmore East as a landing port for UK-registered Northern Ireland fishing vessels is an important matter.As the House will be aware, in January 2021, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, designated five additional ports for landings by UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels, having given regard to the level of landing activity by these vessels at these ports in the recent past. Dunmore East was not designated at this point as there has been a low number of landings by these vessels in the past two to three years.

To elaborate, in 2018, there were 15 landings by UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels into Dunmore East. This reduced to nine landings in 2019 and reduced again further in 2020. Over 2018 and 2019, the total volume of landings into Dunmore East by these vessels amounted to 318 tonnes, as Senator Cummins indicated. The Minister understands that these were landings of nephrops, mainly from the Smalls fishing grounds off the south-east coast. The Minister included Howth as a designated port at the beginning of the year because there were 26 landings by UK-registered vessels into Howth in 2018, increasing to 28 landings in 2019. In comparison with Dunmore East, over 2018 and 2019, the total volume of landings into Howth by UK-registered vessels amounted to almost 1,050 tonnes, over three times the volume of landings into Dunmore East. The designation of Howth provides a landing option for UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels fishing for nephrops in the large fishing grounds in the north Irish Sea and may also provide an option for vessels fishing in the Smalls or Labidine fishing grounds.

The Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, SFPA, has already undertaken significant work in putting in place the arrangements necessary to provide for the five additional port designations. As the Minister has previously stated in the Dáil, there are significant practical and cost implications for the State in the designation of EU ports for third country landings as, under EU regulations, such designations represent an entry point to the European Union, following which food is free to circulate within the full EU Common Market. On this basis, for any ports designated, Ireland is obliged to ensure that it has in place a meaningful control presence. I assure Senator Cummins that the designation of ports for landings does not preclude vessels from coming into ports for force majeurereasons such as the need to reach a safe harbour.

When the Minister made the designations in January, this was done in immediate response to the Brexit situation and in consideration of the various pressures on the SFPA, as well as the various landing patterns in different ports. The Minister is fully aware that Dunmore East's location is strategically appropriate for any additional designation and that there is SFPA infrastructure and offices in the port. He will consider these and all other factors during any future review of the designation of additional ports. Finally, I assure Senator Cummins that the Minister will continue to engage with stakeholders on all issues, including designation of ports, relating to the fishing sector.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response. I acknowledge what she stated, that Dunmore East is a location of strategic appropriateness and that it will be considered in the context of the ongoing review. I accept the lower volume of landings there compared with Howth, but given the fact that there is such a geographic gap between Howth and Castletownbere, in particular in terms of environmental impact, notwithstanding vessels being able to land at Dunmore East for reasons of force majeure, I ask that the review would be expedited without delay and that Dunmore East would be designated as an official landing port.

I also ask the Minister of State to raise the weighing of fish with the Minister. It is of the utmost importance and affects the fishing industry right across the State.

Photo of Pippa HackettPippa Hackett (Green Party)
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I again thank Senator Cummins. He acknowledged the reasons behind the designation. There is quite a difference in the landing figures between Howth and Dunmore East, notwithstanding the geographically strategic importance of Dunmore East. As the Minister has indicated, the designation is open for consideration.

Regarding the weighing of fish at ports, although it is unfortunate, I am sure the EU had good reason to remove the derogation. I am not sure whether this can be examined further but I will speak to the senior Minister and see what can be done. In the meantime, the derogation has been removed.