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Infamous EU Audit report built is fundamentally flawed and is reliant on false data

Having spent the past 24 hours trying to digest the so-called ‘damning report’ on Ireland’s fisheries infringements – the report that the Irish industry would not be given access to, until it was discovered online by the IFSA, it is clear that using the term ‘trumped-up charges’ would be an understatement to say the least, writes Cormac Burke.

Having re-read the entire 70-page report several times, my immediate comment is that at no point in the EU report, which was largely based on information contributed to them by the SFPA, at NO POINT are the demersal (whitefish) or shellfish sectors alleged to have been involved in any infringements – immediately leading to the question as to why are these sectors now being included in the SFPA’s new directive of weighing at point of landing for ALL sectors.

However, whilst being an obvious point, this should not be allowed to cause any division between the sectors by the SFPA’s efforts to punish all for the unsubstatiated allegations waged against the pelagic sector – as it is well known that the regime of ‘divide and conquer’ has always been the preferred modus operandi of the administrators of the Irish fishing industry for past decades.

So, here’s the facts that reveal the reality - the reports that the media, the public and the industry have been repeatedly fed suggesting that Ireland has constantly ‘overfished’ and committed ‘systematic infringements’ according to the SFPA and Department of Marine are simply unfounded.

They are based on conjecture and fanciful supposition. The motive could not be clearer. This is a deflection exercise to save the blushes of the SFPA and the successive Governments that have allowed this agency to career out of control since its inception. The audit report has one finding that is amplified loud and clear. The SFPA is incompetent and dysfunctional!

After all the inuendo, allegations and hype leaked by malicious agenda driven insiders, we were expected to believe that the entire report and its ‘findings’ are based on ‘ullage tables’ i.e., the measurements of the RSW tanks of pelagic and polyvalent vessels carrying bulk pelagic fish (mackerel, herring, blue whiting and scad).

This should be a relatively simple issue to explain to the layperson but, due to the SFPA’s methods of manipulating existing vessel data, or in many cases, totally ignoring existing vessel data, which has turned this into a wildly complicated but totally false set of results.

When a vessel is built, the yard provides a vast range of information – every detail of the vessel’s structure and measurement within – including ‘ullage tables’ which state the official cubic size and capacity of each RSW tank that holds fish.

In 2014 the SFPA informed the Irish pelagic sector that, under EU requirements, all vessels would have to be re-measured and recalibrated as the modern laser measuring system was more accurate than the previous versions and that the old system did not allow for the fact that some tanks contained various pipework and other obstacles etc.

All Irish vessels complied with this request, at a personal cost to each owner of many thousands of euros, and as a result the difference in the old and new measurements across the entire pelagic & polyvalent fleet was negligible (less than 3%).

Then, alarmingly, when the SFPA measured a vessel’s tanks, they used some very strange and unexplainable methods and, being unaccountable to anyone, proceeded to base their reports on these flawed results:

Taking just one Killybegs’ vessel as an example, there were six tanks on board – the owners complied with the SFPA's request to have all tanks remeasured.

As part of the 2018 EU audit the SFPA compared the original and new tank capacities. However, through oversight or perhaps by design in all bar one of the tanks, they failed to compare the ORIGINAL measurement against the most recent ullage table and classed the outcoming data as ‘newly discovered’ capacity – which in that particular vessel’s case, resulted in the vessel showing an 811.5% difference in carrying capacity relative to its original records.

Clearly this questions the validity and credibility of all of the data detailed in the audit report. It also questions the integrity and bona fides of those who compiled the information.

You do not need to be a cynic to think that this was a desperate attempt to distract from the shameful findings on the SFPA. Not content with fabricating a gross misrepresentation of facts the SFPA then set about supporting this nonsense in the follow-up administrative enquiry.

During the Oireachtas Committee hearing earlier this week Andrew Kinneen admitted submitting significant ‘data sets’ relating to landing and dip records to the EU as part of this administrative inquiry.

The IFSA has clear evidence that the dip data submitted to the EU is equally flawed.

This is evidenced by another case of a vessel that was repeatedly advised by the SFPA that their dip consistently indicated that the vessel was under declaring its catch.

The owners and master of the vessel vehemently denied any wrongdoing but nevertheless the SFPA directed the vessel be subjected to a full monitor on every landing until such time as the vessel tanks were remeasured and new ullage tables produced.

Reluctantly the owners acquiesced at considerable expense - and low and behold the new tables were practically identical.

Therefore, the only explanation for the harassment was that the SFPA are incompetent or incapable at reliably taking dip measurements of a vessel’s tanks and consequently all data they have sent to the EU must be considered unreliable.

However, there is a more fundamental issue. Why would tank capacities or tank dips even be considered as an indication of what Susan Steele refers to as a 'systemic' problem in Ireland?

Dipping is a formally stated “unofficial monitoring” of the quantity of the quantity of fish in a tank by SFPA officers lowering a plum line into the tank and, already furnished with the information of the bulk capacity of said tank, they can estimate the quantity of fish in that tank at that particular time.

This system is purely intended to return an estimated quantity and is not seen by the EU Commission as an official recording of the amount of fish landed but purely ‘advisory’ as the official quantities were, up to now, recorded at the point of weighing at the processing factories.

But, as proven by their very own data reports, the SFPA were completely incompetent in the dipping process and figures didn’t tally on a regular basis --- therefore, rather than confess to the EU that they were having difficulties in this regard, the SFPA set about hiding their incompetence and instead decided to ‘throw the industry under the bus’ by deflecting from their own issues and reporting that Irish pelagic vessels where not been correctly monitored which naturally set alarm bells ringing in Brussels.

And so, if this is the ‘smoking gun’ report that the SFPA has hung over the head of the industry for so long then it’s now clear why they attempted to hide it from the industry because it is clearly full of holes, discrepancies and formulated using completely incorrect data on ullage tables.

If nothing else, the SFPA’s version of using (or neglecting to use) the data of each vessel’s ullage tables, proves that this clearly demonstrates that this has all been an agenda driven by SFPA themselves to inflict the maximum damage and this industry must strongly challenge both the SFPA and the EU Commission on proposals to punish the Irish fishing industry based on ‘evidence’ that is not only false but is in fact totally corrupt.

It is also worth noting that in its submission to the EU, the SFPA stated that three Irish fish processing companies have had allegations of infringements in the past – to be clear, despite several attempted charges brought by the SFPA, not one single processor has ever been convicted by the Director of Public Prosecution of fisheries related charges.

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