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Playing with numbers - by our “competent authority”

Editorial Comment - Cormac Burke, Chairman, IFSA

This week sees the publication of the 2022 annual report of the Sea Fisheries Protection ’Authority’ (SFPA) in which, as usual, much work has gone into presenting the appearance of an organisation in full flow and working to maximum efficiency - - however, as those in the industry know only too well, this is far removed from the truth.

This report, much along the same lines of the previous BIM annual report, makes great effort in fooling the general public by disguising the reality of the actual current state of the Irish fishing industry and avoiding to mention several key facts.

  • Firstly lets take the SFPA’s claim of 45,031 fish landings in 2022 - - how could such a volume of landings be possible in Ireland when in 2022 the fleet consisted of just 23 full pelagic vessels, 16 polyvalent, 120 demersal and a fleet of inshore craft, and bearing in mind that the pelagic and inshore vessels are very much only seasonal operators?

One might presume that answer lies in the fact that the majority of these landings must have been non Irish vessels but no, these figures are arrived at by a system of, for example, if an Irish fisherman with a small craft comes ashore and sells one quarter of his catch to each of buyer A, B, C & D then the SFPA classes that as four ‘landings’ as there will have been four sales notes involved.

  • Secondly, the SFPA report says that in 2022 there were 45,031 Fish Landings with 1,903 Fishing Vessel Inspections - but fails to make the comparison with its previous (2021) annual report which stated 47,229 Fish Landings with 1,349 Fishing Vessel Inspections.

This is very relevant as it shows over 2,000 fewer Fish Landings in 2022 but approximately 600 more vessel inspections but omits what proportion of these vessel inspections were undertaken by the EU EFCA fisheries monitoring vessel in Irish waters (which was the case for a certain period).

Most notably, the SFPA 2022 annual report avoids giving the breakdown of what percentage of its fishing vessel inspections were of other EU and non EU nation vessels - a fact also not made clear in their 2021 report until it later transpired that of the 1,349 vessel inspections undertaken that year, over 69% (932) were of Irish fishing vessels.

And so, based on the SFPA’s own figures from their last two reports, we have 2,000 fewer Fish Landings in 2022 than in 2021 and at the same time SFPA staff numbers increasing by some 60% over a four-year period (as stated SFPA Annual Report 2021).

Smoke and mirrors

The SFPA are the only Irish state or semi-state body in any sector that has to keep declaring itself as being a “competent authority” - - almost as if they believe if they keep saying it then their reputation, repeatedly stained with incompetence over the years, will somehow fade away.

Even aside from a widely-held reputation of being not fit for purpose, the use of the word ‘authority’ to describe this body beggars belief when it seems that not one member of its management or staff actually comes from a fishing industry background or has any experience of having ever worked on board a fishing vessel.

Giving someone a yellow jacket and a book of regulations does not make them an ‘authority’ on the subject - - and appointing someone with a lifetime of pencil pushing behind a desk the power to govern the policing of an industry in which they have zero experience certainly does not guarantee the status of ‘competent authority’.

This latest SFPA report goes to great lengths to blow its own trumpet by using multiplications of ‘fish landings’ to enhance the real data but it does nothing however to alter their poor reputation when the facts are presented in such a manner as to pretend what great work is being done but fails to prove the need for massive increases in staff numbers which seemingly has resulted in less productivity.

Coming in the same week as the SFPA’s overlords, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), has given itself as 30 million euro budget, the SFPA report seems purely an attempt to try to justify its own role and, in an overall EU perspective, only adds injury to insult to Irish fishermen who are told they are being treated in the same manner as other EU Member States when these fishermen know the exact opposite to be the case.

The term ‘level playing field’ is a myth as the Irish players are not even being allowed on to their own field without continuing harassment and persecution while other nations, the Netherlands to name just one, are enjoying life with little or no monitoring or even a hint of punishment for regulation breaches.

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