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A decision that will sink or save this industry

For the past two decades, at the various annual EU Council quota talks,  Ireland’s negotiators viewed any quota reduction of 15% or less as a success while the representatives of other EU Member States considered any quota increase of less than 15% as a total failure - - it has been this mindset that has seen Ireland, despite holding the richest waters in Europe, become the poor relation of the EU fishing industry… “

It is believed that a senior level panel of interviewers will, in the very near future, gather to discuss the appointment of the new heads of the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM).

Given the track record of those who are now being replaced after some 25 years at the helm, these new appointments are critical to the future survival of the Irish fishing industry - both nationally and within the EU framework.

I feel a sense of basic decency prevents me from highlighting the catastrophic management of this industry by the two outgoing civil servants over the past two decades, but it has been clear that a reign of anti industry strategy, lack of co-operation, and abuse in many different forms has been in play.

Put simply, too much power has been in the hands of too few and above all else, the lack of transparency and accountability has been at the core of the problem that has blighted every sector of the industry for so many years.

Many questions have remained unanswered as a legacy of the current regime such as the [civil servant denied] relationship between the DAFM and the SFPA; how much tax payers’ money was wasted in taking anyone who tried to fight the system to court on trumped-up charges; and the coincidence that anyone who stood up to the DAFM suddenly found themselves being a ‘person of interest’ to the SFPA…

How can it be that more than a dozen marine ministers have come and gone in the past 25 years - some of them good people with great intentions and yet they achieved nothing during their term? 

And the only constant throughout that time has been the marine senior civil servants who in fact held all the power - - so much so that they earned themselves the title from fishermen as the ‘Department Against the Marine’.

For anyone at an administrative level who may take offence at this opinion then I believe history shows that, under the outgoing regime, the Irish fishing industry has not once made a gain in terms of increased quotas or better fishing opportunities for any sector and any improvement in quotas came solely as a result of ICES advice to the EU Commission and not from any case or fight taken to the EU by Ireland.

As I have mentioned in a previous article, in the past 25 years at the various annual EU Council quota talks Ireland’s DAFM negotiators viewed any quota reduction of 15% or less as a success while the representatives of other EU Member States considered any quota increase of less than 15% as a total failure - it has been this mindset that has seen Ireland, despite holding the richest waters in Europe, become the poor relation of the EU fishing industry.

Looking in terms of this industry being a commercial business, how can its ‘managers’ claim to have done their best when we have arrived at the point where the seafood catching, processing and retail industry is now at an all-time low with the pelagic, demersal and inshore sectors all on their knees with Ireland trying to survive on crumbs of quotas while the rest of the EU fleet enjoy a boom time in Irish waters?

And meanwhile the latest (doubtless DAFM-edited) BIM Seafood Report attempts to paint a pretty picture to Government and the general public of an Irish seafood sector showing growth (while Irish quotas are vastly reduced) by including data of imported fish which is sold in Ireland.

From administrators and many politicians dropping the term ‘fishing industry’ and using the sexier-sounding ‘seafood sector’, and replacing ‘fishermen’ with ‘fishers’, its clear that there is a move towards whitewashing this industry and its traditional way of life to something else - - something that will sound better in corporate reports but will paper over the cracks of an industry and a group of people who are being systematically eroded from Irish heritage - a group of people who are slowly going from catchers and processors of Irish-caught fish to a forgotten section of society who are being forced out of work and forced to look on while the fleets from every other EU nation successfully harvest the rich resources in Irish waters.

To those who will be selecting the next generation of senior DAFM managers I would ask that you please look at the past track record of failure and think of the future - - recognise that Ireland’s catching and processing sectors and the socio economics of the coastal regions that rely on them are on the very brink.

Meanwhile rumours are strong within the industry that a certain candidate, well known for sharing the same attitude of his outgoing colleagues, is a hopeful for this appointment and, if this decision receives even the slightest consideration, which would surely bring about the final end of commercial fishing in Ireland, then this industry will react in the strongest manner in defence of itself.

It matters little whether the new appointees have previous experience in this industry or not but what’s more important is that they will have the dedication and willpower to work WITH this industry instead of against it and that they are willing to do their best to view this industry in terms of a failing commercial venture and address what can be done to make it successful.

The very futures of many thousands of Irish people today, and for generations to come, are in your hands and the decision you now make will either sink or save this industry once and for all…

Cormac Burke,


Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA)

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