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Ireland’s Producer Organisations Accuse Minister Creed And His Officials Officials Of ‘Turning Their Backs’ On The Fishing Industry

The country’s four fish producer organisations have made a unified criticism of the Marine Minister and his Department who they accuse of “turning their backs” on the fishing industry.

The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO), the Irish South and East Fish Producers (ISEFPO), the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (ISWFPO) and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) have joined forces to issue what a blunt, direct condemnation of Minister Michael Creed and his officials.

The four organisations, which form the backbone of a €1.22 billion industry that supports more than 16,150 jobs, say the “temporary tie-up scheme” announced by the Minister is “completely unfit for purpose” and that “not one single cent of new financial support is being made available to the industry.”

They say the scheme is “botched and ultimately useless.”

“In rejecting impassioned appeals for specific COVID supports from a beleaguered fishing industry which is fighting for its very survival in the face of the pandemic, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and his officials have effectively turned their backs on the sector. Earlier this month, the Minister did announce a Covid-19 Voluntary Fleet Tie-up Scheme which is completely unfit for purpose. Instead of achieving the key objective of matching current supply and demand, the scheme will do the reverse with very little voluntary uptake as almost all vessels will continue to fish thus making an already over-supplied market worse.

“Crucially, not one single cent of new financial support is being made available to the industry. We have met with the Minister and his officials and set out clearly what we need to survive this pandemic. Moreover, we have already successfully lobbied at EU level to have amendments to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund provided under EU Regulation 2020/560 to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation Chief Executive, Seán O’Donoghue, when the joint statement was issued.

“Like many others, fishermen are struggling desperately, in the new ‘normal’ that we find ourselves in. Demand has fallen to such an extent that some fishermen are actually receiving no bids for the fish they have risked life and limb, to catch. The closure of sales venues, such as restaurants, markets and other outlets, has seen prices for all fish plummet. Over the last few weeks, the price drop across many popular species has been in the region of 50% to 70%. This has created a serious and unprecedented crisis for Irish fishermen.

“As an industry, we have never faced anything like it. The capitulation in demand and prices combined with the vulnerability and complexity of the supply chain has made the operations of fishing fleets and seafood production, a loss-making enterprise. The industry is doing everything in its power to ensure consumers continue to have access to essential nutrition in the form of high-quality sustainable seafood. It has also protected fishermen through increased health and safety restrictions and extensive surveillance and monitoring of crew.

“The entire industry is united in our unequivocal rejection of a botched and ultimately useless scheme which does nothing to provide reassurance to fishermen. We’ve been endeavouring to try to manage a safe passage through Brexit and its consequences, now we’re hit with this.

“I’ve never witnessed anger like it in the sector and I’d implore the Minister to review the scheme, deliver the very basic support that we need to survive. We are more than willing to meet him halfway and continue to operate, thereby providing a sustainable and very important food supply,” concluded Mr O’Donoghue.

The organisations had put forward a joint position which they said was necessary to achieve a workable and effective temporary tie-up scheme that would try to match supply to demand. Two key elements of their proposal were an initial three months scheme, starting on April 1, with a review at the end of May and financial support for a temporary tie-up which would be based on 30% of the full grossings of the vessel in the same period last year (force majeure to be taken into account in relation to this period) with an appropriate tie-up period of 7 to 10 days to be further discussed.

The four POs say that the scheme announced by Minister Creed and the Department does not take these key elements into account and, as a consequence, the very firm collective view of the four POs and their members is that the scheme is doomed to failure with very little uptake.

Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South and West FPO said that the “entire industry is united in our unequivocal rejection of a botched and ham-fisted ‘scheme which will not succeed in its objective.”

“The Directors and members of the Irish South and West FPO beseech Minister Creed to reconsider his position and immediately review his scheme, so as to deliver the required support that we need to implement a workable scheme which will give us the best chance to not only survive, but be ready and able to be a key Industry that will be there to rebuild our country’s economy following Covid 19. We are confident this small investment by our Minister aided by the European Commission will be one that will return many times its value in sustaining a very important food supply and most importantly sustain our coastal communities that so desperately depend on our Industry.”

Mr. Muprhy said that, despite the attitude of the Minister and his officials who had turned their backs on the industry and the coastal people, fishermen reassure the public they “will continue to keep the food supply lines going” so that the public will have “access to essential nutrition in the form of high-quality sustainable seafood.”

The Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation said the Minister’s scheme falls so far short of what the industry requires that “one could question if it was “designed to fail.”

“The Industry proposed a scheme based on one of the templates used in other Member States, namely the French model, which would have allowed strategic management of fisheries, matching effort to market demand, with continuity of supply in the food sector,” said South East CEO, Hugo Boyle. “What the Minister has offered will be counterproductive, resulting in a situation which will encourage vessels to continue fishing, using up valuable stocks while demand is at ‘rock bottom’ resulting in uneconomic returns for those engaged in fishing. This is also contrary to good planning and conservation of resources. The Minister, unfortunately, chose to ignore such options.

“We now have a scheme which does not cater for the losses the industry has incurred during the ‘lockdown’ where vessels had to tie up with no income due to depressed or total lack of markets. Rather, we have an unworkable, unfit for purpose ‘support’ package. The Industry is united in the view that the scheme needs to be amended in order to have a viable fisheries sector for our coastal communities when ‘normality’ returns.”

• Listen to Sean O’Donoghue on the Podcast.