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Getting Answers from the Department of the Marine

Getting answers to questions about Government decisions on the fishing industry can be difficult. During the week, prior to the meeting between the Department and the industry, in which Minister Creed did not take part, it took four days of constant effort and repeating of the same questions to get answers from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

These were the questions the MARINE TIMES put and the answers received:

Q 1)
When will Minister Creed act to implement an assistance programme for the fishing industry?

Answer:

The Government has put in place a number of measures to help support the fishing industry through this crisis period. The Government’s National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme includes the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy scheme, an enhanced COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 per week and an increase in the COVID-19 Illness payment to €350 per week. The self-employed are also eligible for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, which is particularly relevant for the fishing industry as a large proportion of fishermen are self-employed “share fishermen” on board vessels or are self-employed inshore fishermen.

The Banking Sector has put in place a co-ordinated approach to support individual and business customers affected by COVID-19, including flexible arrangements such as payment breaks for mortgages and other loans. Last month, the Minister met with the banks’ agriculture and fisheries lending teams to confirm that these supports will be extended to the fishing industry. The Commission has proposed an amendment to the EMFF Regulation to permit Member States to implement additional supports in the form of storage aid and temporary cessation which is expected to be adopted by the Council and European Parliament this week. Importantly, no additional EU funds have been provided by the EU Commission and Member States must fund any such additional supports from existing unspent EMFF allocations or from National funds.

Q2)
Has the Minister noted the decision at EU level in this regard?

Answer:

The Minister has strongly supported this amendment to the EMFF. At the early stage of the crisis, the Minister wrote to Commissioner Sinkevicius on the impact of COVID -19 pandemic, he later talked directly to him by phone and made a strong case at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 25 March seeking the legal amendments as well as seeking the provision of additional EU financial support for the temporary cessation of fishing activity. This additional EU funding has not been provided at this point. The Minister is continuing to press the Commission for additional EU financial support for the fisheries sector and raised the matter again at an EU meeting on the EMFF adjustments last week.

Q3)
Why is the fishing industry not receiving as much attention from the Minister and Department in comparison to that given to the agricultural/farming sector?

Answer:

See response above.

Q4)
Has the Minister noted the concern expressed about this from industry and aquaculture representative organisations?

Answer:

The Minister met by teleconference on 20 March with all of the main representative groups for fishing, representing both the off-shore fleet and the inshore fleet and processors. The meeting provided the Minister with a good understand of the situation on the ground and considered possible measures to support the fishing industry during this period. A further meeting with industry representatives is planned at official level tomorrow (21st April) – see below.

5)
Why has the Minister not responded, thus far, to requests for a meeting from the industry and proposals such as from ISWFPO for a plan for domestic market management?

Answer:

The Minister tasked BIM to work intensively with both the catching, processing and retail sectors to seek engagement so that our supermarkets and shops have a ready supply of fish in their stores. The Minister understands that there is good engagement from all sides. BIM is continuing to work with all parties so that issues, such as logistics, can be ironed out over the coming short period. This would allow landings into Ireland to be available to customers. This will not cover all landings but could be an important contribution for species such as hake, haddock and whiting. EMFF funding has been provided to Bord Bia which is being used to promote the consumption of fresh caught Irish fish on the domestic market during the Covid 19 period.

The necessity or otherwise to introduce any or all of these new supports will be dependent on the evolution of the seafood markets’ situation and availability of funding. The Minister has asked BIM and Bord Bia to monitor the situation and provide regular updates. Ireland’s top five export partners for seafood are France, the UK, Spain, Italy and China – all of whom have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. While trade to China has begun to reopen and there is demand from the Spanish market in particular and to a much lower degree from the French market, it is clear that this far below normal levels. However, significant fishing activity is continuing for parts of the fleet and fish continues to be exported.

Q6)
Is there a problem with available EMFF funds in the Irish context and if so, why? Contrary to some commentary, no additional EMFF Funding has been made available by the EU Commission?

Answer:

The Department is working with BIM to identify possible savings within schemes on the basis that some projects are not now likely to proceed or are not a priority. This will free up funds that maybe directed at COVID – 19 support.

A Storage Aid scheme is now possible following the amendment to the EMFF which would allow fish to be stored on a temporary basis and be quickly re-introduced onto the market. This would allow the fleet to continue to fish and support the continuation over the period of a supply of seafood for domestic and EU markets, while also providing a safety net if markets cannot be found for some catches.

The Minister is currently examining the options, and a meeting at official level to consult directly the Producer Organisations who have a central role and other industry representatives has been arranged for tomorrow (21st April). The purpose is to ensure that any such scheme would be properly targeted within an appropriate budget and would not result in a withdrawal of fish which could be viably sold or a subsequent glut of stored product being released onto markets when they are recovering.

The Minister is not proposing that a tie-up scheme is introduced at this time, as the main focus at this point is to work to continue to support the supply of food. In addition the horizontal supports available to both workers and business remains available to the seafood sector (please see above).

The Minister will keep this tie up option in reserve, in the context of available funding and in case the situation develops to such an extent that such a scheme is required.

Subsequent to these answers, further questions were put to the Department last Monday. These were:

1) The fishing industry and Aquaculture sectors have contended that they believe all EMFF funding was not allocated? Has it been allocated and, if so, why are some sectors complaining that they have not benefited?

2) The Minister indicates that the fleet should keep fishing, but the markets have "collapsed" according to industry organisations by 50 per cent, so if the Minister is intending to tell the industry to continue fishing, to what limits?

3) For storage proposal - are there sufficient storage facilities available? Industry sources challenge that there are? What percentage of any catch taken will go to storage?

4) The Aquaculture sector has not been referred to in relation to the proposed meeting tomorrow. This sector says it has not been contacted and that it also has serious issues. Our previous question raised in relation to aquaculture has not been answered, no reference to aquaculture is made in the answer.

• To date, four days later, these questions have not been answered.