Written answers

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Fisheries Offences

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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76. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has received correspondence from the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association; his views on the correspondence received; the actions taken by his Department on foot of the correspondence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38626/14]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Firstly, may I say that all 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.

The permits which allow in-factory weighting had 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 had 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.

The current position is that all pelagic processing premise, have applied for weigh permits and on foot of an undertaking by each to work to a scheduled programme of correction and amendment to in-factory systems and work practice. Weigh permits under the new requirements, have been issued to all applicants by the SFPA.

Ongoing monitoring of the compliance with the in-factory requirements as specified in being undertaken by SFPA while the routine of landing controls and in-factory assessment and verifications of weights attained is also being monitored.

A weekly teleconference between SFPA and representatives of the catching and processing sectors is in train and will allow for operational matters as may arise to be tabled, discussed and resolved.

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.

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