Hope for a new day
They say that the darkest hour is before the dawn - but for the Irish fishing industry it feels like the darkest hour is also the longest hour and the promise of any dawning of a new day looks further away than ever.
Depressing as it might sound, the fact is that one would have to search long and hard to find a glimpse of light or hope in any sector of this industry and the ever-decreasing circle has become to feel more like an ever-tightening noose around the necks of those trying to make a living from this industry.
The Irish inshore sector are being stopped from diversifying into any other fishery aside from crab, which might eventually lead to a collapse in this stock; the demersal sector have seen so much quota lost that they must accept a decommissioning scheme that not many years ago they would have fought tooth and nail against; the pelagic fleet are on a quota that is only a fraction of what it was when many of these owners invested in new vessels; and the processing sector has fallen far down the European table (to 10th place) while they must now look up the league to nations, some of whom only have coastlines one tenth the size of Ireland’s, making higher revenues (and profits) than Ireland; and all the while, the Minister’s seafood report PR spin (via BIM) claims that Irish seafood is doing better than ever before….
The marine minister announcing the whitefish fleet decommissioning scheme on the eve of going on his holidays was akin to throwing a grenade into a room and slamming the door behind him and, whilst many vessel owners will now be glad to opt for this scheme, this is only because of previous blatant mismanagement and incompetence by senior civil servants in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) has left the Irish fleet with such small quotas that their businesses are no longer viable.
Regular followers of IFSA articles, or indeed most Irish industry organisations, will by now be fed up listening to these opinions but the core problem remains the same - until we have a Government who are willing to call out the marine civil servants and make them accountable for their blatant anti industry strategy and actions (not just of the last couple of years, but for the last two decades).
An even deeper cancer that lies within the industry’s problems is the lack of transparency, indeed worse still (in my opinion) a sheer corruption of power, is the situation where we have a marine minister who is actually either under the mistaken belief that his department officials have nothing to do with the SFPA or he is deliberately misleading the industry when it is widely known that these same DAFM officials have been meeting with SFPA senior officials two (and sometimes three) times per week for the last year - meetings which are signed off as ‘budget meetings’ but are clearly not taking place with such regularity for any purpose as mundane as operational financial matters and are an obvious ‘reporting back’ on strategy and actions between DAFM and SFPA against the industry.
Furthermore, the DAFM and SFPA, often so willing to release statements when they think they have cases against the industry, have been very quiet with regards their recent trip to Northern Ireland where SFPA senior personnel decided to give the monitoring officers there a dressing down for not ‘correctly’ handling the Killybegs blue whiting landing fiasco in Derry (i.e. and that it should have been carried out to the SFPA’s way of doing things) —- a move that backfired embarrassingly when this attempt at bullying was the center of a formal complaint to Westminster from Northern Ireland and in turn to Leinster House and resulted in a slap on the wrists for the SFPA.
As the industry patiently waits for the outcome in mid September of the previously withheld EU Audit Report in which the gross incompetence of the SFPA is to finally see the light of day, such carry on is not only another item in the lengthy catalogue of tragic comical errors in the SFPA’s history but it also highlights the urgent need by this industry for an in-depth investigation into the senior figures and of the operations of the DAFM and SFPA, the lack of transparency, and the anti industry strategy within both of these bodies.