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Government Needs to Finally Act on the Urgent Appeals from our Fishing Communities in Crisis

The government need to finally act on the urgent appeals from our fishing communities in crisis- Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD Minister’s scheme labeled “useless” and “not fit for purpose” by the Irish fishing industry.

Donegal Sinn Féin TD, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has again called on the Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed to work with his government colleagues to deliver the financial supports needed to “bail out our coastal fishing communities in this unprecedented crisis”.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn was speaking following the issuing of press releases by all of the fish producer organisations, appealing to the Minister to “meet them half way” and deliver the financial supports needed.

He said: “These press releases are a damning indictment of the total inaction of the Minister and this government. As they state, not one additional cent has been provided to the fishing community in this unprecedented crisis with markets collapsing and indeed, the Minister has effectively turned his back on the entire fishing sector.

The Minister knows very well that the temporary tie up scheme that he has announced will fail as it is too little, too late. The fishing representative organisations had called for a tie up scheme to be operational for the two months of April and May as well as a further period of support in June.

Instead the Minister has announced a scheme that has been labeled “useless” and “not fit for purpose” by the fishing industry. This very limited scheme will be operational from June 1st and that will not incentivise a tie up of fishing vessels”.

“This is the latest example of a Minister and a Department that has not been acting in the best interests of our coastal fishing communities. But the stakes are now higher than ever and the Minister must change course and finally do what is right by this vital sector that is worth over 1.2 billion euro to the Irish economy and that employs over 16,000 people.

I again appeal to Minister Creed and the government to step up and meet the fishing industry “half way” as they have today appealed for and to bail out our coastal fishing communities in this unprecedented crisis”.

DAIL QUESTIONS TO THE MINISTER:

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the basis of the proposed payment rate for the Covid-19 voluntary fleet tie-up scheme; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the scheme is not sufficient to meet the loss of business and debts of fishermen affected; if he will convene a fresh round of talks with representatives of the fishing sector relating to the scheme and broader sectorial issues caused by Covid-19 and Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. - Ged Nash T.D.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if he is satisfied that the level of financial support being offered to owners of fishing vessels to support them through the Covid-19 crisis compares favourably with the financial supports being offered by other EU states and the UK Government. - Pádraig Mac Lochlainn T.D.

Minisiters Reply: The Government’s primary objective for the fishing sector throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic has been to maintain fishing activity in order to ensure critical food supply lines to the domestic and European markets. For this reason, from the outset the Government classified fishing as an essential service and kept the fishery harbours and related support services open throughout the Pandemic. This remains the primary Government objective in relation to the fishing sector. There has been significant and sustained offshore fishing activity by the Irish fleet over the past three months. This has been helped by the fact that the price of oil, a critical cost factor for the fleet, has reduced dramatically. Together with good fishing weather, these factors have greatly assisted the viability of fishing operations, notwithstanding reduced market prices for fish.

The Covid-19 Temporary Fleet Tie up Scheme is simply designed as a safety net scheme to provide a further option to fishermen who choose not to continue fishing. It is not designed as a replacement for viable fishing activity, wherever those possibilities exist. To date, most Irish offshore fishing vessels have continued to fish.

As European and Asian markets gradually begin to open up, as is happening at present, it is likely that demand and prices will continue to improve and, in those circumstances, many fishermen will continue to choose to fish and not to avail of the scheme. The Temporary Tie up Scheme, as a safety net scheme, is not designed to attract all fishermen or to bring all fishing activity to a halt.

Fishermen have been and will continue to be able to avail of the horizontal Government Covid-19 supports, such as the Pandemic Unemployment Benefit, the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the banking arrangements. Those horizontal supports continue to be available to the fishing sector and the Temporary Tie up Scheme is a further complementary and additional support to fishermen who choose not to continue fishing. The Scheme is not intended as an income replacement scheme for fishing vessel owners. The Scheme is intended to contribute towards the fixed costs associated with fishing vessels of various sizes that voluntarily choose to tie-up. The supports to fixed costs available under the Scheme range from €6,000 per month for a maximum of two months for the very largest vessels over 24 metres to €500 per month for a maximum of two months for the very smallest vessels under 6 metres in length. Those support levels are in line with the fixed costs reported by the fleet to BIM through the EU Data Collection Framework.

It is up to each fishing vessel owner to decide whether to tie-up for a month or two or to keep fishing and in line with the Government policy of keeping the food chain operating. It is, of course, preferable that the supply of fish continues to satisfy available markets.

In general, fishing vessel owners want their vessels to be at sea and fishing. The Scheme was capped at a maximum of 66% of each vessel size category in the fleet to ensure a continued level of fishing activity. To assist the continuation of fishing activity over the coming period, generous vessel quota allocations are being made for the month of June.