Having attended the Skipper Expo in its excellent new venue in Limerick yesterday, it was heartening to see the main fishing producer organisations (POs) coming together in unity to try to ensure that Minister McConalogue would be left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the current crisis the Irish fishing industry is in, from fuel prices to lack of quota in Ireland’s own waters.
However I am perplexed by some of the comments made by the Minister in his opening speech when he expressed his praise to all the fishing-related businesses who were in attendance at the expo and that it was “good to see them doing so well” - and then went on to announce (with some kind of misplaced pride) that the fleet decommissioning project was well underway.
It is a tragic situation that decommissioning is the only option left open to many vessel owners - but only because a botched EU/BREXIT negotiation left the Irish fleet with a quota so reduced that it makes certain fishing ventures no longer viable - but it is certainly not anything to celebrate and the Minister seems to think that fishermen should be happy about it.
Those now willing to accept decommissioning of their vessels are only doing so because the reduced quotas are putting a gun to their heads and they are left with no opportunity for a possible upturn on the horizon for their businesses.
Now maybe the Minister doesn’t understand the situation, or maybe he is too naive to grasp the gravity of the situation but the decommissioning of one third of the Irish fleet means a loss of one third of the customers of the ancillary industry businesses - the same businesses he is congratulating for doing so well.
From net companies to electronics and from engineering firms to seafood processors & retailers, the fact seems lost on the Minister that the only ‘doing well’ these businesses will do is if they survive when they lose 30% of their revenue after decommissioning.
To make his decommissioning comments to a wide audience at this event as if he was doing the fishing industry some kind of massive favour is confirmation that he surely doesn’t see ‘the big picture’.
And this would further make one doubt if he [the Minister] will understand the request of several POs that if / when a decommissioning scheme comes in, then that capacity & tonnage removed from the Irish register should not be permanently deleted but be stored (and registered as active as far as the EU Commission is concerned) until Ireland’s situation improves or be available in the event of young people wishing to get started with a vessel of their own in the future - I strongly agree with these sentiments as the constant removal of capacity & tonnage from the Irish fleet over the past two decades (this will be the third decommissioning scheme) is a gradual erosion and at some point when Ireland is trying to negotiate with the EU over quotas in Irish waters then we’ll be told that our fleet is so small that we dont need any quota increases.
What now seems like a long time ago, at the protest in Dublin, I said in public that if the Minister and his civil servants at the Dept are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem - now is the time for these people to decide which side they are on - to defend and support all those associated with Ireland’s fishing sector or continue to aid and abet the EU Commission in the gradual winding down of the Irish fishing industry.