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Europe Approves Funding for Fishing Industry – Irish Government Must Take Action NOW!

Emergency additional financial support now imperative to manage unprecedented COVID-19 crisis

Marine Minister Michael Creed must take immediate action to implement a newly developed European funding package for hard-hit Irish fishing / aquaculture and seafood sectors.

EU ambassadors have agreed the Council's position on a proposal to help tackle the negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the fishery and aquaculture sector. The proposal will amend the regulation on the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF) and the regulation on the common market organisation (CMO).

The proposal introduces the following specific measures:
• support in relation to the temporary cessation of fishing activities with a maximum co-financing rate of 75 % of eligible public expenditure
• support in relation to the temporary suspension or reduction of aquaculture production and sales
• support to producer organisations and associations of producer organisations for the storage of fishery and aquaculture products
• increasing the quantities eligible for storage aid to 25 % of the annual quantities of the products concerned

The Council position agreed today adds the following amendments to the proposal:
• inclusion of fishermen on foot (mostly women) as eligible for support in case of temporary cessation
• derogation for temporary cessation for new vessels
• flexibility in order to use 10% of the budgetary funds allocated to Union Priority 3 granting working capital and compensating the reduction of sales and additional storage costs for aquaculture farmers

To date the only recommendations given for the industry was for individuals or businesses to apply for support via the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment; COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme; Credit Guarantee Schemes; Microfinance Loans or the €200m SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme. There is no industry specific support unlike for the agriculture sector who even have a dedicated support telephone line during the current situation. The Irish industry has sat by and watched as our neighbours in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (with England announcing their measures this morning to provide £10m in additional funding for the industry) have been given industry specific financial aid to assist fishermen during the current situation.

The approval by the EU Council on the suite of measures which will assist the seafood industry through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund must be implemented immediately by the Irish Government.

Speaking to the Marine Times, Patrick Murphy, Chief Executive of the Irish South & West PO stated that; "We have to ensure that the current crisis does not cause irreparable damage to communities where fishery and aquaculture are the main economic activities. A meeting with the Minister and the fishery organisations must be held at the earliest opportunity."

Here at the Marine Times we believe the PO's have a vital role in ensuring the Minisiter listens to the concerns of the industry and the coastal commnuity as a whole and applies the available supports available from the EMFF programme.

Ireland South MEP, Billy Kelleher – who is based in Cork – has welcomed confirmation of proposals to support fishermen and the wider fishing sector affected by the current and ongoing Covid-19 crisis through a number of practical yet important measures.

“We have been informed that the European Martine and Fisheries Fund will be made more flexible and that Member States will now be able to provide support to the following sectors: Fishermen through the temporary cessation of fishing activities; Aquaculture farmers for the temporary suspension or reduction of production and provide support; Producer organisations for the temporary storage of fishery and aquaculture products.

“These are positive yet practical proposals that will support fishing communities across Ireland South. It is essential now that the intention of the Commission in announcing these supports becomes a reality for our fishermen and is not delayed by red tape.

“The Irish government have been given the flexibility to support the fishing industry and the thousands of families dependent on the industry for their livelihoods.

“We need a quick response from Minister Creed as to how his Department will implement these proposals. Fishing communities need certainty as quickly as possible.

“At this important time, we need to support every community who are seeing their livelihoods put under severe pressure. I’ll keep working with my colleagues in the Parliament and with officials in the Commission to prioritise and swiftly bring forward further measures that fishing communities, and other vulnerable communities, need to keep their head above water,” concluded Kelleher.

The recent Easter Market highlighted how decimated the industry has become for the coastal communities of this Island Nation. The loss of income was felt in coastal communities as the Easter market is traditionally a time when oysters, lobsters and crab are sold to local restaurants and hotels. This market has vanished and smaller fishing fleets around the coast are feeling the effects.

Kevin Flannery, Chair of the Southwest Fishers Local Action Group, said that in Fenit, Co. Kerry alone annually over 200 tonne of oysters would normally be destined for markets at Easter but this is now gone.

In a recent interview with the Kerryman Kevin stated; "Their market is gone and it's a part of Kerry's economy that is struggling because of the total loss of a market.

"There's 80 licence holders in Fenit and their industry has completely gone. Take Cromane where they have an oyster and muscle industry, that's gone; the market for lobster fishermen around our coast for places like France and Spain, that's also completely gone.

Fenit Harbour - File photo by John Eagle (RIP)

According to figures there are over 200 registered fishing vessels in Kerry alone and now 90 percent of their market has vanished since the virus took hold. Hard work has been put in to making China a developing market for inshore fishermen – that hard work has been eradicated.

Kevin insists that local fishermen must be compensated through the European Maritime Fishery Fund from which Ireland receives around €240 million a year to be spent on various local agencies and fisheries programmes. Now that approval from Brussels has been granted for specific measures this funding must be allowed to assist inshore fishermen.

"They're in dire straits as they don't have a market. Irish people don't buy lobster and crab in high numbers so there is no point putting it on the Irish market as they wouldn't be able to consume the volume that is caught.

“There is urgent need for a 'tie up' scheme where the Government will work the shortfall in fishing into a Conservation scheme where fishermen would have some of their overheads covered as part of the scheme.

"I would be asking urgently for this to happen. As well as the loss of the global market, Kerry's restaurant market is also gone for the foreseeable future. It's an angle that people have forgotten," he said.

Annagassan, Co. Louth - Photo by the Editor

The Killybegs Fisheries Organisation (KFO) has said it welcomes a suite of emergency measures proposed by the EU Commission today (Thursday, April 2nd) which endeavour to mitigate the adverse effects of an industry placed in serious peril by the COVID-19 crisis and to provide reassurance to the market. However, the Organisation emphasised it is now imperative additional financial supports are put in place forthwith, to complement these measures.

Chief Executive, Seán O’Donoghue said that the combination of simultaneous challenges around vessels being tied-up as well as seismic difficulties around the market price collapse and lack of cold storage for products has created the perfect, horrendous storm for the fisheries sector. The measures, which have to be still approved by both the EU Council and the European Parliament should be immediately implemented by the Minister recognising that the Commission-proposed measures are backdated to February 1st, 2020.

He stated: “We are hugely concerned at the ability of our members to continue to supply safe and healthy seafood and welcome today’s measures which allow the sector to continue to operate in the short-term in this unprecedented crisis.”

“We are literally and metaphorically in unchartered waters. This legislative package provides some solace for our members who are trying to keep the supply of food as constant as possible in the chaos which is encircling us all. However, we must be clear. It merely allows Member States more flexibility in reassigning and transferring unused funds which were already ring-fenced for our industry under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). No new funding has been provided today, that quite simply must be the next move from the Commission if we are to have a any semblance of a viable fisheries sector supplying healthy seafood post COVID-19. As it stands, fish prices have plummeted by up to 50% at a time when EU Governments are keen for the sector to continue to supply the market with a vital, safe and healthy food supply.

We commend the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials for their work in liaising with our EU counterparts but implore that their efforts are redoubled to deliver meaningful, additional financial support as the crisis continues.

“Like so many industries, we are crippled by the chaotic and devastating ripple effects of COVID-19 and are both stunned and shocked at the consequences of what this pandemic has set in motion. We stand four-square behind our frontline workers, our Government as well as EU and indeed global leaders, as they seek to restrict the spread of the virus.”