Written answers

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Fisheries Protection

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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101. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties currently being experienced by fishermen in Killybegs, County Donegal and other places caused by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority's new guidelines on the weighing of fish at piers and the draining of water from fish; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36202/14]

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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102. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will review the current Sea Fisheries Protection Authority's proposals on the regulation of the pelagic fishing and processing industry here with a view to addressing the concerns of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association and the Federation of Irish Fishermen as communicated to him on the 16 September 2014. [36203/14]

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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103. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the scope allowed to him under Article 61(1) of Council Regulation 1224/2009 for the weighing of fish at factory premises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36204/14]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, together.

Firstly, may I say thatall matters relating to the operational enforcement of sea fisheries law are, by Statute, matters appropriate to the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA). The SFPA is the independent law enforcement agency of the State for sea fisheries law.

As Minister, I do not have responsibility in relation to the issues raised by the Deputy. Responsibility in these matters rests with the SFPA. The SFPA have a challenging job to do. Its statutory responsibility is to enforce EU and national law under the Common Fisheries Policy. It also has responsibility to provide a level playing field for everybody in this industry. If one boat or two or six boats are overfishing deliberately, it is not a victimless crime. It has an impact on others who are law abiding and who are catching in accordance with the quotas allocated to them. The market situation for pelagic fish is currently challenging, as Russia has banned the importation of pelagic fish and Russia has been an important market for mackerel, in particular. If illegally caught fish are being placed on the market, it displaces and reduces prices for those operators, the majority of our industry, who are abiding by the rules set down. In my view, it is in the interest of the industry as a whole to have strong and fair arrangements in place that give confidence that the rules apply across the board and that all operators are abiding by the quota allocations made available to them.

In order to inform the Deputy, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority has sent me a report on the issues that have given rise to the current situation, the actions taken and the current state of consultation between the SFPA and the industry.

Arrangements for the monitoring and control of fisheries is set down in the EU Control Regulation 1224/09. Article 60(2) of the Council Regulation requires that weighing of fisheries products shall be carried out on landing prior to the fisheries products being held in storage, transported or sold. The SFPA has allowed a derogation from the EU regulations and permitted the weighing of pelagic fish post-transport in every plant since 2012, based on assurances that proper systems and procedures that accurately recorded catches were in place in these plants.

However, there have been substantial indications that fish have been landed in weights that exceed those recorded by the weighing systems in factories. These indications have arisen through the routine course of the SFPA’s work and as a result of joint inspections with other organisations, including the National Standards Authority of Ireland. The SFPA has set out some of the issues that gave rise to concerns. These include a high level of divergence between spot checks by the SFPA and the official factory weight, even taking account of some divergence relating to water content. A trend of individual trucks recording substantially more fish when subject to an SFPA official control compared to instances when not subject to such controls. One instance involved a simple on-off switch on the belt weigher in a factory which had the effect of allowing the belt to transit fish without being recorded on the meter. If used in this way, fish would not be weighed or recorded.

The permits which allow in-factory weighting have lapsed due to the SFPA’s overall lack of confidence in the operation of the weighing systems. The SFPA has entered into discussions with both catchers and processors to implement systems and procedures that will restore confidence in the weighing systems in factories. The SFPA have set out to the factories certain requirements necessary before permits can be granted, allowing the renewal of in-factory weighing. These requirements include provisions to give assurances that weigh belts in the factories when moving are recording. They include confirmation of product flows into and out of the plant and checks involving weighing of a sample of landings on the pier side as a means of validating factory weighing.

Several pelagic fish factories have over recent days applied for permits under the new requirements, albeit generally qualified by statements around non-acceptance of some of the requirements described by SFPA. These applications are currently being considered by the SFPA. The representative bodies for the Irish pelagic industry have acknowledged the need for change. However, they are not to date willing to support the SFPA requirement for a continuous remote monitoring facility to increase assurances of accurate recording. Furthermore, they are not to date willing to provide stock movement records at the level of detail of the SFPA request. Irish catchers have said they are not willing to move to recognise the validity of weighing at landing, even as a component cross checking arrangement of an overall system of supporting factory permits.

I understand and appreciate that the new arrangements sought by the SFPA for the effective control of pelagic fisheries involve some changes in practices. However, in the long run, I believe that it will be in the interests of the industry as a whole to commit to strengthened controls that give all catchers and processors assurances that there is a level playing field across the industry. I would encourage the industry to continue its dialogue with the SFPA. The SFPA is currently considering existing applications for in factory weighing permits and is awaiting further applications from the remainder of the factories. If there are additional technical issues to be sorted out, the SFPA have assured me that it remains available for further discussion with industry representatives.

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