LEFT IN LIMBO
For anyone who hasn’t yet heard the Minister’s well worn script that’s been rolled out hundreds of times, it begins with the line “I set up a Seafood Task Force…” and ends with “a voluntary fleet decommissioning scheme will be necessary and I am working to bring this about as soon as possible…”
Almost a year on and this “soon as possible” has still not happened and the last statement on it was as far back as the Skipper Expo in Limerick some months ago when the Minister, in his opening address, said that those wishing for decommissioning shouldn’t worry as it would be happening “any day now”…
Just to clarify the opinion on decommissioning, it is a disgrace that this should be happening at all – that the Irish fishing industry has been mismanaged by our own Department of Agriculture & Marine to the extent that Ireland’s fishing resources have been prostituted out to all other EU fishing nations whilst the Irish fleet have been left with a pittance in its own seas – but, because of this situation, many vessel owners have been left with unviable business ventures and have no other choice other than to seek to decommission, even though the package on offer is grossly lacking in proper compensation and does not clarify what deductions, tax or otherwise, will be made to the amount paid per GT under the scheme.
The burning question is what is the reason for the huge delay in bringing forth this scheme?
The cynic in me believes this to be a strategy as the current spiralling fuel prices combine with falling returns for fish are forcing more and more vessels to remain ashore as it simply doesn’t pay them to go to sea – and eventually this may drive more people to eventually consider decommissioning.
It was a well known fact that the Minister and his civil servant advisors were looking for approximately 30% of the demersal fleet to volunteer to scrap their vessels but that nowhere near that amount had come forward (earlier this year), so this delay is clearly to try to let rising diesel prices to their work for them and leave many fishermen with no other option.
Sadly, and probably not yet realised by the DAFM, the reality is that by now, with such poor quotas coupled with fuel costs, there is likely to be a stampede for decommissioning and it is possible that there will not be enough money in the €60 million-odd scheme to pay out the 50+ vessels.
But what of the situation regarding vessels planning to decommission?
If you were going to get rid of your car later this year, would you spend money upgrading it? Well you might if you thought it would improve the price the buyer might give you.
But more to the point, if you were intending to completely scrap your car, you definitely wouldn’t put any money into it.
However, vessel owners are hamstrung in this regard as it is their legal and moral responsibility to keep their vessels up to the Certificate of Compliance (sea worthiness) and having to do so means they must continue to spend vast amounts of money on upkeep, maintenance and expensive projects such as engine overalls – all money that might as well be thrown over the rail when it is being put into a vessel that this going to be scrapped later this year.
And so, the people who are awaiting a decommissioning scheme have been left in limbo – having to put money into a boat that has no future, not knowing where they stand, what their plans are, if they will be able to afford to exist the industry under this scheme, and are unable to plan their futures both business and personal.
To date, the Minister and his officials have given absolutely no solid reason as to why there is a delay in starting this scheme that has been promised for so long, and once again the question must be asked as to who is behind this delay and what are the reasons for holding back?
As always when this industry asks questions, the answer has been to blame delays or decisions on Brussels but since we have seen so many times in the past, when the DAFM civil servants blame the EU Commission then nine times out of ten it has transpired that is has not been an EU problem at all but once again has been another thread in an Irish anti fishing industry strategy here at home.