IRELAND — SACRIFICING COASTAL COMMUNITIES AT THE ALTAR OF THE FALSE GODS OF THE EU COMMISSION
“Ireland...That damnable, delightful country, where everything that is right is the opposite of what it ought to be” -- Benjamin Disraeli
Earlier this week I made a journey to one of Ireland’s most rural coastal spots – Leenan Pier in north Donegal.
The reason for my trip was to meet with the fishing community of this scenic little spot and to hear their story and their concerns of the direction that the fishing industry is being pushed into over the last number of years.
I can only wish that some day the non-caring political and administrative ‘managers’ of this industry will make this same pilgrimage I made either to this windswept location or to any other Irish rural coastal community and come face to face with groups of honest, down-to-earth, decent, hard-working men and women with a story that can be echoed throughout the coast of this nation.
The ten Leenan fishermen (there are a few more who could not attend) who gathered to meet me are all fifth-generation fishermen – representing ten different families in this small area – with kids at the local school, family food shopping in nearby Clonmany, inshore boats that buy fuel and fishing gear from local suppliers – yes, a tiny community but one of massive economic importance to this remote coastal region.
This, said the local fishermen, is exactly what this Government and this marine minister fail to see.
“We grew up with fishing in our blood – most of us have been at sea since we were ten years of age as we spent our time helping our fathers and grandfathers at seasonal fisheries such as salmon, netting herring, crab and lobster fishing – but over time, one by one we’ve seen the possibility of sustaining a living being reduced until we will very soon reach the point where there is nothing left for even us, never mind the generation to follow us,” they said.
It isn’t hard to see what these men, and rural inshore fishermen all over Ireland, are talking about.
Lucrative fisheries such as the wild salmon, eels, bass and herring are just some of the seasonal diversifications that inshore men used to be able to participate in so that they could give the crab stocks a rest – and, as with their forefathers, today’s inshore men know that if they allow themselves to be herded like sheep into just one field, i.e., the crab fishery, then the pressure on that stock will eventually result in a collapse and then nothing will be left.
Inshore men all over the country can see this fact and they don’t understand why politicians, regulators and marine scientists in this country are hell-bent on keeping other inshore fisheries closed when surely they must know that this is an ever-decreasing circle which will eventually decimate the inshore fishing sector and the many rural communities who rely on it.
Red tape strangling people’s lives
In the case of the Leenan fishermen, one case in point is that of the potential of spur dog which, for the summer months, shoal in vast numbers in the local waters – indeed so much so that fishermen cannot shoot any kind of fishing gear for fear of hundreds of spur dogs tangling up it.
But, due to a previous EU Commissioner not doing her homework before making a decision, the “targeting, catching, transportation or landing of spur dogs is prohibited as they are a protected species”.
Everyone is naturally in favour of protecting a species when it is an ‘endangered’ species but this is not the case with spur dogs – this is not an ‘endangered’ but is a ‘protected’ species purely due to a slip of the pen in Brussels.
If memory serves me, I recall that some years ago, EU Commissioner Maria Daminaki was informed of continental long line fishermen getting a by-catch of blue sharks, cutting the fins off them, and dumping the carcass which, rightly so, was seen as a practice which needed to be halted immediately.
And so, without first checking that all types of dogfish (and some members of the ray / skate families) are also in the shark classification, she presented an order banning the fishing of ALL members of the shark family – a well-intentioned attempt but an absolutely idiotic regulation which brought chaos for many fishermen everywhere.
Over time several EU member state countries applied for certain species to be made exempt from the shark rule and Ireland, either intentionally or through incompetence, applied to be allowed catch sand dogs (aka ‘jimmy dogs’) – a fish with almost zero market value and even makes for a poor-quality bait for pot fishermen.
This, sadly results in a situation where fishermen are allowed net a species which is of no use and meanwhile the waters are teeming for four months of every year with a valuable fish which commands good market prices, particularly in France.
The here and now
The fifth-generation inshore fishermen of Leenan, and elsewhere in rural Ireland, cannot remember one single instance in their young lives where they got ‘good news’.
“Between the Department of Marine and the SFPA, every week seems to just bring news of something else that has been closed to us – a fishery, an area, any small effort at diversifying into something else from the crabs is immediately dismissed by the powers that be,” owner/skipper of inshore vessel Atlantic Grace, Robert Kearny said.
“The Minister doesn’t seem to understand that every euro that is earned down our pier is going towards keeping this community alive one way or another, keeping a man in a job, keeping him up with his house payments, putting food on the table of his family – if our administrators keep cutting us back bit by bit and refuse us any alternative fishery then the writing is on the wall for rural coastal Ireland,” he added.
As I began the 100-mile journey back home I thought over my conversation with these people.
Its difficult not to have sympathy with the situation that all Irish fishermen find themselves in right now but the inshore sector in particular (which makes up 70% of the fleet not just in Ireland but in ALL EU countries) has always been the backbone of the industry but will be the first to disappear if the current regime continues.
One comment from a young Leenan fisherman stood out in my mind – “the way the industry is being run nowadays is like having a charger for an electric car but the charger needs to be run on petrol…” -- and, having giving his statement a lot of thought it struck me that this is a very apt description.
In running an industry that ‘ticks all the boxes’ for the EU and the Government in that it must be seen as sustainable and environmentally friendly, there is no mention of not-so-friendly actions and the millions and millions of euros that are being spent in this country in the targeted effort to harass and hamper fishermen everywhere.
And one can’t but worry when a marine minister keeps telling fishermen that reform of the CFP next year ‘might’ bring better opportunities when that same minister knows in his heart that the last reformation of the CFP took more than five years to complete ---- Minister, many Irish fishermen don’t have five years left and some of them only have five months before they will be out of business, out of their homes and gone from their rural coastal communities forever.