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Killybegs - closed for business?

Killybegs - closed

It’s January, it’s open season for mackerel, the most important pelagic species of the Irish fishing industry, and yet Killybegs, Co. Donegal seems a poor imitation of itself compared to the usual high activity that is common at this time of year with the buzz of boats landing fish and factories in full swing.

What’s different? Well aside from the fact that the combination of recent events such as Brexit and EU / ICES advice has seen a substantial decrease in pelagic quota for Ireland with last year showing a 45% reduction in the volume of fish processed in Killybegs and a 31% decrease in exports from the Irish processing industry (figures from latest Bord Bia report), there is another factor that is stifling the usual ‘busy season’ for Killybegs’ workers and the local economy as a whole.

The well publicised behaviour and over zealous actions of the Sea Fisheries Protection ‘Authority’ (SFPA) on previous occasions and once again this year has and is discouraging vessels, both local and from abroad, from landing their catches in Killybegs and therefore denying local factories and their staff of badly needed raw material.

This week alone saw the landing in Killybegs of a local pelagic vessel that had to face an SFPA ‘full monitor’ which requires skipper to move to a particular assigned berth and the process undertaken slows down the discharging from the vessel from one to two days, thereby compromising the value of fish as it is longer waiting to be processed and frozen.

More importantly this also means that the fish go through additional and unnecessary extra mechanical handling on a contraption on the pier which the SFPA use (but not for the purpose for which it was actually designed) and to top it all off, then only to be weighed on a less accurate weigh bridge and to insist on a documented return based on this ‘point of landing’ system where it is impossible to accurately determine the exact quantity and weight of bycatch mix rather than use the 100% accurate figures which are produced at any factory as the fish goes through processing.

And this is all because SFPA, now apparently employing more ‘project managers’ than actual fishery officers, wants to sit in their offices and look out the window rather than stand in a factory and avail themselves of real and irrefutable data.

It is therefore no surprise that fishermen are fed up being put through such nonsense and this is evident in even just the short few weeks since the mackerel season opened on January 1st, compared to same period other years, there has been a big increase in Irish pelagic vessels opting to land elsewhere outside of Ireland and meanwhile there is a decrease in the number of pelagic vessels from other nations choosing to come to Killybegs to land, regardless of what good price for fish is being offered by Irish factories.

With Irish vessel owners wanting to land at home but being hindered from doing so, they are left wondering when will someone intervene and stop this madness and see these ‘full monitors’ return to be undertaken in the factories?

Because of the strategy of the SFPA to treat all fishing vessels coming to Killybegs as being criminals and ‘guilty until proven innocent’ the reputation of this fishing port as a possible destination has been destroyed with owners of EU pelagic vessels describing their experience of landing in the port as “crazy”, “intimidating”, “harassed”, and “being subjected to made-up rules that don’t seem to exist in any other EU Member State”.

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