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Minister avoiding the real problems in the pelagic sector

“The Minister’s Irish fleet landing proposal does nothing aside from attempt to mask his failings in recovering a single kilo of quota from the EU for Ireland’s catching and processing sectors over the past four years - - and also the fact that he refuses to address the issue of the SFPA driving out foreign vessels from delivering vital raw material to the factories in Killybegs”

“This industry is in crisis and in danger of collapse largely due to SFPA arrogance while McConalogue won’t challenge them as he is busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…”

Editorial Comment

Cormac Burke, IFSA

Much like the announcement of the so-called ‘support’ measures for the inshore sector, Charlie McConalogue’s proposal that the Irish pelagic fleet should land its quota in Irish ports (or at least in EU ports) raises more questions than answers.

It’s a delicate subject to address - - as can be evidenced by the deafening silence of response from the industry in general.

While Irish boats are of course entitled to land their fish in Norway or Faroe Islands if they so wish, it is an undeniable fact that the Irish processing industry, Killybegs in particular, has seen its revenue fall by two-thirds in the past two years and, the blatantly obvious and stark realisation is that a similar third year will see the end of several operators who have given employment to the town and surrounding area for decades.

But for those not directly on either ‘side’ of this argument, it seems that McConalogue’s proposal, while, on the face of it, is an attempt to aid processors, it will however do little to deal with the inescapable fact that the pelagic catch quota has been halved in recent years and the raw material to the processing sector is down more than 65% in that same period.

In trying to mask his failures in not recovering so much as a kilo of lost quota back from the EU for Ireland during his term in office, this proposal does nothing more than once again see Ireland fighting over the crumbs of quota it has left instead of our Minister fighting Europe in demand fair play for the Irish fishing industry.

TMinister backing reform of the anti industry SFPA would be of more benefit to the processing sector and the pelagic fleet

Aside from the ever-dwindling Irish pelagic quota, the elephant in the room here is that everyone in the industry knows that the problem lies with the Sea Fisheries Protection ‘Authority’ (SFPA) and their bloody mindedness in the infamous harassment of vessels from other nations who have landed to Irish ports in previous years and, as a result of the treatment received, vowed never to return - - leaving the Irish processing sector counting the cost of the SFPA’s uncontrolled and self righteous behaviour.

It is not just the foreign landings that have come to a halt due to SFPA harassment but, the question must be asked, if the price per tonne offered was the same in Killybegs as in a non EU country would the Irish vessels opt to come back? And the answer is probably NO, mainly because of the over-the-top treatment these vessels have received from the SFPA in the past.

The processing sector urgently needs raw material if it is to survive and if the Minister wants to help the volume of landings in to Irish ports then surely he must call the SFPA to task as it is their behaviour that is impacting most on the sector that the Minister claims he is trying to assist.

That means it’ll be time for McConalogue to roll out the old routine “my office has no dealings or interactions with the SFPA” - - a statement that no one in the industry actually believes and if, as we are supposed to accept that the Minister genuinely wants the best for the pelagic sector, then surely he can at least give a public commitment to ‘suggest’ to the SFPA that they call off the dogs in their regime of excessive levels of monitoring that is far and beyond that imposed elsewhere in the EU - - a regime that has actually driven away vessels from Killybegs with some vessel masters vowing never to return as a result of the treatment they received.

Industry continues calls for State investigation into the SFPA

The revelations last weekend in the Irish Mail on Sunday that the SFPA found a Dutch factory ship operating in Irish waters to be in breach of fisheries regulations but that no action was taken has strengthened the industry’s claims that Irish fishermen are being targeted by this ‘authority’.

The article states that a ‘whistleblower’ SFPA employee reported that there is a strategy that Irish fishing vessels are being “hit much harder” with the level of control and enforcement while non Irish vessels in Irish waters are not being subject to any “effective control” by the same ‘authority’.

Surely these recent revelations, which only confirm what the the industry has been saying for years, coupled with the fact that this body has practically chased away all foreign vessels from landing to processors in Killybegs, should be ample ammunition for the Minister and this Government to seek a review of the powers of the SFPA and the fact that under the current system they seem answerable to no one.

No effort to bring increased landings to Ireland

Despite the Minister suggesting that Irish boats should not be allowed land fish outside of the EU, it is worth noting that throughout his term as Minister, McConalogue has been party to certain EU / Third Country deals for non EU vessels to catch fish in Irish waters (first Norway and currently Iceland in negotiation), and yet not once has he suggested to the EU Commission that part of any such deal must see it be compulsory for these nations to land a percentage of this Irish fish into an Irish port - - strange then for a minister who claims to ‘care’ about the Irish processing sector …

Meanwhile, the word is that this proposal from the Minister came completely out of the blue without any suggestion or prompting from any sector of the industry - - who then, one might ask, is advising the Minister to make this move…. DAFM? BIM? EU? Or someone who this industry had hoped they’d already seen the last of?

— Surely, given that we don’t believe he comes up with such ideas himself, this is a question that must be put to the Minister so people can be made aware of who is actually driving Ireland’s fishing industry ‘strategy’ if it is not the people in the industry itself?


Watching these events unfold, one cannot help but be amused (although it is a more tragic than comical situation) at the poor attempt to fool people that McConalogue is creating something positive - - again like the inshore sector, making a bold announcement that transpires to be a damp squib and in the cold light of day is of little actual use to anyone.

All of these ‘moves’ are nothing more than jangling a bunch of keys at a baby to distract a pelagic industry that is literally on the verge of bankruptcy.

And while it makes great ‘spin’ for the media who don’t understand the reality of the crisis of the Irish fishing industry, it doesn’t mask the failures of a marine minister and the fact that not one fisherman or processor in this country is a single kilo of fish better off than we were four years ago (aside from the Irish/Danish mackerel quota of 12,300 tonnes that Ireland once owned and, when trying to get it back, our political representatives managed to snatch failure from the jaws of victory and we ended up with approximately 2,500 tonnes which will decrease to 1,500t from 2026 onwards (*see calculation below).

And so while the great debate will rumble on, it should be realised that Ireland has lost millions and millions of euros’ worth of quota in the past five years due to various EU-involved cases, all of which seem to be designed to impact Ireland more than any other EU member state, and this downward spiral is not over yet and we continue to haemorrhage quota every year while others continue to reap a bonanza.

Bleak facts

Several processing factories are on the verge of closing permanently, the Irish pelagic fleet are tied up eight months of the year, and from the Minister we have schemes, proposals, measures, projects etc and yet not once has he openly said, never mind actually attempted, to fight the EU to regain any of the quota that’s been taken from Ireland in past ten years, nor has he even hinted that he recognises that the SFPA are a huge part of the problem.

Not even the news that Belgium was last week allowed by the EU to quadruple its sole quota in the Irish Sea while Ireland didn’t see an extra single fish was our marine minister moved to make a comment that he’d challenge for an equal increase for Irish fishermen.

Its clear that McConalogue is not living in the same reality as everyone else in this industry and he fails to see the deepening crisis that is unfolding in front of his own eyes - - - so much so that he recently voiced his displeasure to industry representatives for speaking about him in a ‘negative manner’ to the media…

But based on his track record and results thus far how does he expect the industry to speak about him? Positively? Full of praise?

Is he dwelling in some Walter Mitty world where he can continue to bungle the management of this industry and that no one should be allowed to criticize him?

History shows that such arrogance has resulted in a lost seat and the end of a political career.

While the latest pelagic landings proposal will cause much debate but no result (as our EU ‘partners’ are unlikely to support it anyway), our competitors will continue to strengthen their hand and, like a thief in the night, continue their EU-legalised plunder of Irish waters while our minister stands around with his hands in his pockets and watches Ireland going bankrupt.

And so, while the fleet are tied up and the factories go out of business, Charlie and his officials are handing out the menus and rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, supported by his appearances on the Government-sponsored PR platform, RTÉ, telling the public what a good job he’s doing for the industry…


  • The Danish / Irish mackerel calculation explained:

 The EU gets 40% of the 12,300 tonnes in 2023 - - - then Ireland’s share of the EU share is 50.3% -

However, Ireland failed to distribute this quota of fish in 2023 due to McConalogue’s procrastinating… so this year we get a combination of 2023 & 2024.

But then the 40% reduces as follows… -30% 2024; -27.5% 2025; -25% 2026


From 2026 onwards it remains at 25% and therefore on a rough calculation if Ireland gets 2,500mt in 2023 then we get approx. 1,550mt from 2026 onwards (this is 12,300mt x 25% x 50.3%).

In summary, by 2026 Ireland will be in receipt of an annual 1,550 tonnes of a mackerel quota that we once owned 12,300t of…

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