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Lack of Sales Notes Leaves Some Fishermen Ineligible for Tie Up Scheme

The COVID-19 Tie-up Scheme which is intended to assist fishermen to voluntarily opt to tie up for one or two of the three months from 1st June to 31st August has been described by fishermen as an abject failure on almost every level.

According to figures released by BIM, who launched the temporary voluntary fleet tie-up, uptake on the scheme has been low, only 104 applications were received for the month of June. Out of those applications only 65 of the applicants were ultimately successful due to the strict criteria being sought from vessel owners for eligibility to the scheme.

A number of the scheme’s unsuccessful applicants has their applications rejected due to their buyers failing to submit sales notes to the SFPA (Sea Fisheries Protection Authority) for them. To qualify for the scheme, sales notes are required to demonstrate a minimum of €5000 in financial activity by their vessel in the calendar year 2019, by reference to the Irish Sales Note System, administered by the SFPA. And some of those whose applications were rejected claim that they have declared well over the required €5000 in financial activity to revenue, but because no sales notes were apparently submitted by their buyers to the SFPA they have no official track record for landings.

In regard to the unsuccessful applicants for the June period due to insufficient SFPA registered sales notes. BIM said, “In such cases BIM advises applicants to check/ confirm with their buyers that their registered sales notes are fully up to date on the SFPA sales notes system. But surely the onus of a current and accurate sales note system must be up to the SFPA and the buyers. Questions are now being asked as to why the SFPA are not rigorously enforcing the sales notes regime which has been in operation since 2007.

Furthermore, the lack of sales notes has grossly undervalued the inshore sector’s contribution economically, and in terms of overall landings. It also unbalances the scientific advice because those landing figures are what’s used for stock assessments etc.

The tie up scheme has also failed numerous fishermen in that applications to the scheme can only be completed online, this has caused immense difficulties for some that don’t have a great level of digital literacy, and for others who have no access to email at all.

A Spokesperson for National Inshore Fishermen’s Association’s (NIFA) and its sister group the National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation (NIFO) told Marine Times, “A number of our members informed us that their applications were rejected on the basis that there weren’t sales notes submitted to demonstrate a minimum financial activity of €5000. This is despite the fact that they had declared income in excess of this, to the Revenue Commissioners when making their income tax returns. A failing has been highlighted here with the sales notes regime, something we have had suspicions on for some time now. Members had previously reported various anomalies regarding harbour dues, where fees were based on landings from sales notes data.

Also, in some fisheries where data from under 10m vessels is important, like the lobster fishery for example, national landing figures seem low. Official landing figures say Ireland has landings of about 400 tons of lobster per annum. At an average market price of €15/kg this means the first sale value of our lobster fishery is just around €6 million, it’s a figure that seems low given the effort in and the importance of this fishery.

The legislation behind sales notes has been in place since 2007 so it’s hard to excuse the level of noncompliance that apparently exists. Ultimately, it’s the inshore fishing sector once again that suffers due to the failings of the state on this issue. Inaccurately low landing figures, feed poor data into the scientific advice that is required to manage our inshore fisheries but also means these fisheries are grossly undervalued in terms of the economic contribution they make to coastal communities. This undervaluing has no doubt led to poor policy decisions being made in the past and is likely to continue to do so, until this issue is rectified.

Only being able to submit applications on line has also created difficulties for people. A lack of digital proficiency in the sector and the problems it is causing is something we highlighted in our work on the Inshore Strategy Implementation group. We recommended a number of actions be taken to address this issue area last year, but to date there is no indication from BIM, who are responsible for the strategies implantation, that they are going to actually do something.”