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An open letter to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

April 13th, 2021

Dear Sir,

This day (April 13th) marks the 8th-week anniversary since the formation of the industry group Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance (IFSA) – an organisation established to give the people of Ireland’s coastal communities and fishing industry a platform from which to voice their concerns at the ongoing mis-management of the Irish seafood sector – an organisation with 4,250 petition signatures and with 65 vessels and 40 companies subscribing to it – an organisation that you have dismissed as “not being of relevance to the industry” in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question.

Personally, I care little for your opinion of the IFSA as this voice will still be loud long after your political career has gone quiet, but I think your dismissive attitude is a slap in the face to the 4,250 people in Ireland’s coastal communities who have voiced concern through the IFSA and gives weight to the belief that this Government continues to ignore Ireland’s marine sector and to neglect it to an almost criminal degree.

In the eight weeks since the IFSA was formed, some 28 articles have been produced (most of which were emailed to you and, I might add, without even the courtesy of a formal response) and these articles have posed a series of questions that are obviously causing some discomfort to you and your Dept. of Marine officials, including amongst others:

· How did Ireland end up being hardest hit of all EU nations in the bungled BREXIT deal i.e., an overall loss of 15% of Irish quota whilst other nations suffered only a 6% loss?

· Why have you consistently stated that you fought “tooth and nail” to protect Ireland’s case in the BREXIT deal when that is clearly not true, as evidenced in Ireland, under YOUR care in this case, coming out with the worst fisheries deal in the history of the Ireland/EEC (EU) relationship? quoted by TD Michael Collins during comments in the Dail:

Fisheries Council meetings attended by the Minister on 27th November and on the 15th/16th December, where the Brexit fisheries element of negotiations were discussed, point to the Minister acting as a protector of European quota interests rather than as protector of the Irish share of quota”.

· Why is Ireland not challenging the EU Commission on its rulings of the Irish fishing industry when it is clear that this same Commission continues to work towards the benefit of the EU fishing super powers of Netherlands, Spain and France, to the detriment of Ireland?

· Why is Ireland accepting EU Commission threats of penalising of minor infringements in the Irish fishing industry when the same Commission turns a blind eye to illegal fishing gear and undersized fish openly on market sale in Spain?

· Why is the Irish industry (and the public) being told that the loss of revenue as a result of BREXIT will be €43m when in fact it is more likely to be an estimated €860m?

· Why is the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) allowed to continue a regime of unwarranted prosecution and ‘trumped up’ charges against the fishing industry when even the Government’s own Price Waterhouse Cooper independent report showed this body to be dysfunctional and out of control?

· How can the SFPA be allowed to reject a pelagic flow-scales system that is officially recognised as one of the most modern in Europe whilst continuing to insist that pelagic fish be ‘dry weighed’ and by doing so is vastly reducing the quality of this seafood, with serious knock-on financial ramifications for Irish pelagic vessels, processors and exporters?

· Why does the Department of Marine (and the general media) persist with belief in the story that Irish fishermen are guilty of overfishing and that they continue to break the law when it is commonly known that such comments in an EU Commission review report were largely based on biased information and suppositions furnished from the aforementioned dysfunctional SFPA?

· How can Department of Marine civil servants continually appeal court rulings that are in the favour of fishermen plaintiffs by stating “we have deeper pockets than you” i.e., meaning that they have access to more funds than the average fisherman – “funds” meaning an inexhaustible amount of taxpayers’ money with which they can use to cover their legal costs even when the court ruling has clearly gone against their case?

· How is acceptable that the Irish fishing and seafood industries have been governed for the past 25 years by two senior civil servants and, according to a recent IFSA report (April 10th), possibly at times in breach of the Irish Constitution?

· Why is your ‘industry lip-service’ Task Force only composed of people and groups who are unlikely to challenge your plans for a fleet decommissioning scheme and what was the point in establishing such a Force in the first place if you had already made clear to them that a decommissioning scheme was your preferred outcome of recommendation?

These are some extremely serious points of discussion and whilst you may attempt to dismiss the IFSA as an organisation, you are certainly in breach of your duties as a marine minister if you blindly refuse to address the questions that are being asked on behalf of Ireland’s fishing and seafood industries.

You have an elected mandate to serve the best interests of those who have entrusted you to hold office and make representation on their behalf.

Why are you abandoning your constituents and the people of Ireland’s coastal regions?

Yours sincerely,

Cormac Burke,

Chairman, Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance

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