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Crime of the century

– an editorial by IFSA Chairman Cormac Burke

The recent announcement by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) that the EU Fisheries Commission has confirmed that it “is revoking the derogation for the fishing industry to weigh fishery products following transport away from the place of landing (at factories) with immediate effect” is yet another twisted and poorly-veiled attempt by our own Irish authorities to hamper the Irish fishing and seafood sectors.

Not content with consistently harassing demersal fishermen with the toughest monitoring regime anywhere in the EU – to the extent that skippers need to have their solicitor on speed dial, the SFPA have continued to wage war on the pelagic industry which, they claim, were proven to have been involved in “irregularities” according to a 2018 EU audit report on Ireland.

Also, as the regular newspaper anti industry articles on this subject repeatedly fail to inform their readers, the Irish fishing industry only ever got to see a ‘first draft’ version of this 2018 audit report – nor was the industry ever allowed to see the Irish Government’s response to the EU Commission regarding this report.

Sinn Fein’s fisheries spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn is to be commended for demanding that the fishing and seafood industry now be shown this report and the SFPA’s original contribution to it so that at least we can see what we’re being accused of before the punishment is doled out to us.

Despite the lack of evidence resulting in no cases being brought by any of the EU Commission, Ireland’s Department of Public Prosecution (DPP), the Department of Marine or the SFPA against any of the pelagic processors involved (aside from one single case which was on a technicality), the SFPA’s own input into that EU audit has now achieved their (SFPA’s) goal – no more weighing at factories, and a huge headache for the fishing industry.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that this ‘weighing at point of landing’ regulation doesn’t just impact on the pelagic sector and, due to this rule, when whitefish vessels now come ashore, they will have to remove the ice from every single box of fish, have them weighed, and re-ice them again before loading onto a lorry.

This impacts on food quality due to the additional handling of the product, more work meaning increased safety concerns, increased working time for the crew and hauliers, costs of certified weighing scales and, most importantly, vessels will now only be able to land their catch at times dictated to them by the SFPA which will create even more difficulties for fishermen and processors alike.

But, as always, when the Irish fishing industry authorities are involved, something doesn’t smell right with this entire case.

Firstly, the SFPA’s own statement that the EU has “revoked the derogation” is NOT correct – the EU Commission’s permission for Ireland’s unique situation was for weighing to be allowed in factories as long as the monitoring of landings at the pier was being done in line with EU standards and what has changed is that the SFPA informed the EU Commission that they would/could no longer do this to “EU standards”.

So, to be clear, the derogation still applies at this minute in time, but since the SFPA claim that the monitoring procedures at point of landing will no longer be done to EU standards, then that is what has changed – not the derogation itself.

Secondly, one can’t help notice that on various occasions in the past year, the Minister and the Department of the Marine have used a ‘get out’ card whenever there is some problem regarding the SFPA by saying that they are not in control of this monitoring body – and yet when the SFPA is presenting a case to the EU Commission (such as this weighing one) then who makes their representation to the EU? Yes, the senior civil servant at the Department of Marine…

Also, most noticeably, this latest press release from the SFPA came via one of the world’s largest PR companies – Weber Shandwick – a $500-million per year company with HQ in New York and 78 offices worldwide.

Aside from the presumably huge amount of Irish taxpayers’ money that is being spent in such a contract, to what extent are the SFPA in an embarrassing and out of control situation that it was felt that there was a need to hire a global PR machine such as this to help clean up their image – and why was there a need to place such a formal PR buffer between the Authority and the industry? - and who signed off on this cheque to the Weber Shandwick company?

Presumably not our Minister or Department of Marine as they have nothing to do with the SFPA and they’d never lie to us would they…?

And now on top of it all, the EU Commission has appointed the head of the SFPA as the Executive Director of the European Fisheries Control Agency – what does that say about Ireland’s current situation?

With a promotion to EU level from an organisation which has done so much to hamper the Irish fishing industry, this is a huge slap in the face to Ireland’s fishermen, processors and seafood workers who have already suffered so much in recent times at the hands of the EU Commission.

Is this some kind of EU reward for the well-publicised incompetence of the SFPA?

Or, does it simply confirm everyone’s prediction that all of those who have jointly contributed to the decimation of the Irish fishing and seafood industry over the past decade will eventually get to walk off into the sunset with cushy EU-appointed jobs?

Stop the rot!

While the Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance has, in the past few months, highlighted some very suspect goings on with those in authority of Ireland’s marine sector, I feel we are only starting to scratch the surface of the real level of apparent corruption at many levels of this industry’s management core.

Seemingly, the word from above is that during the final hours of the BREXIT talks, Michelle Barnier and Boris Johnston went into a room and when they came out the deal had been done and ‘that’s all she wrote’ as far as Ireland was concerned…

So, Ireland, the physical owners of 11% of EU waters, were more or less not allowed have a say other than to express a bit of unhappiness two weeks earlier?

What bullshit is this? And who honestly believes it?

If it’s true then Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue are an embarrassment to this nation for standing back while Ireland was robbed, and if it’s not true and there was any opportunity for renegotiation then the same two gentlemen should be charged with treason against the State for allowing this to happen on their watch.

I have a feeling that if they were negotiating for a new wage increase for ministers then their efforts would have been somewhat stronger…

While the biggest question for everyone remains why has the Ireland’s Department of Marine proven itself consistently over the years to be so anti-industry, our fishermen, seafood workers, processors and everyone who relies on the economies of the seafood industry are screaming “enough”!

Already facing major quota cuts for the coming year, pelagic processors feel they are under constant attack from the SFPA and meanwhile the lack of understanding of the seafood industry by the minister is apparent in his suggestion that whitefish processors should undertake temporary closures (due to the 15% quota loss that HE is largely responsible for) without understanding that these whitefish processors have contracts with major retailers to provide fish to them 365 days a year.

Meanwhile, with the marine minister thinking he can calm things with his industry lip-service Task Force, the cracks are already appearing there too and, according to feedback to the IFSA from reliable sources, there are many in this group who are dissatisfied with the information they are being given and are frustrated with the Department’s advice to the Task Force of ‘take things as they are for now - we can look out for better opportunities later on’… a statement which is nothing more than a patronising pat on the head and a “run along now, there’s a good boy” to the industry.

While many people propose that the fishing and seafood industry needs an individual Marine Minster and not just as a brief added on to some other Department, the strongest demand of all coming from Ireland’s coastal regions is that of a ‘clear-out’ of the entire system of the ‘old boys’ network’ within the Department of Marine and the SFPA.

There can be no justice or transparency in this industry until the actions of the manipulators and so-called ‘industry leaders’ in Ireland are brought into the light.

On a personal note, as Chairman of the Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance, I, with the help of the thousands of IFSA supporters nationwide, intend to continue to pursue such matters to the best of my abilities – even despite the fact that Ireland’s citizens must cope with censored news from pro Government, anti -fishing industry publications and media who refuse to report the truth but continue to publish the propaganda fed to them by Government sources.

And it has happened too many times over the years for it to be a coincidence that on every occasion that a single group or person has spoken openly against the Dept. of Marine or the SFPA, that the industry (or that individual) gets harassed by the authorities in one form or another – almost in a “how dare you question our power or attempt to defy us?” strategy which usually results in some form of retaliatory punishment against the industry or the sudden timely appearance of yet another newspaper article declaring that all fishermen are crooks and gangsters.

Power is at the centre of all that is wrong with today’s fishing and seafood industry – who has it, and who should have it.

The fact is that the Minister, the civil servants and the SFPA believe that they have the power and the control but they refuse to accept that they are employed by us, the Irish fishing industry, and as such, the power must be returned to the industry and not lie with the ‘suits’ that have never worked a day in their lives in any area of Irish marine sector and who’s decisions have no bearing on their own lives while all of Ireland’s coastal communities suffer.

Until such time as we see a fisheries minister and a Department of Marine that work FOR this industry instead of AGAINST it, and stop representing the EU Commission to Ireland instead of representing Ireland to the EU Commission, then the fight to halt the political strategic decimation of Ireland’s fishing and seafood sectors and its coastal communities will go on.

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