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We Continue to Harm Ourselves

In a hard-hitting article the Chief Executive of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation says the inspection of foreign vessels landing into Irish ports is meaningless and that there should be an onus on the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to ensure that such vessels can prove what quotas they have. He says that Ireland is discriminating against its own fishermen and is ignoring the need for controls on non-Irish EU vessels fishing in our exclusive zone. This is a challenge to the Minister for the Marine, the Government and the SFPA to explain their actions.

As George Bernard Shaw once said “Put an Irishman on a spit and you can always get another Irishman to turn him”.

We are a brilliant nation at harming ourselves and this is particularly true when it comes to managing our marine fisheries. We adopt EU fisheries regulations with gusto for our own fishing vessels and ignore the need for transparent control systems for non-Irish EU vessels fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone. It’s a massive ‘elephant in the room,’ one no one wants to discuss. I am finding harder and harder to ignore it.

Non-Irish fishing vessels are landing into Irish ports daily with catches of prime fish.

Why wouldn’t they?

No one knows what quota they have if any, and for what species.

The inspection of such vessels is meaningless.

Surely there has to be a legal onus on the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to ensure that any vessel landing into an Irish Port has quota, how much and for what species?

The need to have a fully transparent system to prove this to an Irish Fisheries Inspector should be of paramount importance. If this cannot be done why are we allowing this to continue when national and EU taxpayers money is being used for control purposes?

A very significant slice of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund plus Exchequer funding goes into fisheries control.

My opinion is that Ireland is discriminating against its own fishing citizens and putting them at a major economic disadvantage by allowing this to continue.

It’s difficult to rationalise why I or anyone is still raising this point about a control system that is supposed to be the same for all EU fishermen considering modern data transfer systems.

The Common Fisheries Policy is supposed to be just that and the Control Regulation, the mechanism to enforce fisheries law on an equal basis for all fishermen.

As European citizens, surely the least we can expect is to be treated the same as other EU citizens. Actually, we are. It is the law and enshrined in a number of EU treaties.

However, in terms of fisheries it is not happening.

This brings me to the more substantive issue of how we deal with this. It can only be done by exposing such discrimination on a national and European legal platform. Fisheries control is critical as fishermen need to be protected from themselves.

Fisheries control has to be equal.

We tend to think of ourselves as Irish Fishermen. It may be that we need to think of ourselves as EU fishermen and insist on the real harmonisation of rules and in particular the interpretation of EU fisheries regulations. It’s incredible that non-Irish vessels are treated differently to Irish vessels in Irelands EEZ. Surely this is against various EU conventions to ensure equal access to resources and to markets for all citizens.

Minister Creed has recently signed off on a new policy whereby a nephrop vessel will have to opt for a fishing area per trip. In essence, the vessel would have to report back to port before going to another area.

The SFPA advocated this policy change.

This will have major economic and safety issues. Moreover, it removes the flexibility that is essential for vessels to remain viable. Fishing is a highly migratory business.

I take you back to the spit and the availability of Irishmen to keep turning it on their own people. Will all vessels fishing in the Porcupine bank, French, and Spanish for example be subject to this new reporting measure?

‘No’ is the simple answer, even though FU16 is in the Irish EEZ.

This like many processes is arbitrary, moreover discriminatory.

I think it may be time to start teasing out the bigger issue of economic discrimination that Irish fishermen are being exposed to.

If we accept that we are European citizens confined by the Common Fisheries Policy and the EU control regulation it might be time to make a formal approach to the EU Ombudsman, on the grounds of unfair procedure in terms of maladministration being meted out to Irish fishermen by EU institutions and national authorities.

(This article first appeared in our March 2018 issue of the Marine Times Newspaper)