As the SFPA quietly set about trying to ‘encourage’ vessel owners in to ‘voluntarily’ agree to have cameras installed on Irish demersal fishing boats, the question must be what is the ultimate aim of this yet more micro management and forensic control of fisheries monitoring in Ireland which is on a much higher level than anywhere else within the EU.
In a recent statement the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) announced that they were seeking a number of Irish registered fishing vessels to participate in a Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) pilot project, which is part of a larger European Union, North-Western Waters (NWW) REM initiative.
“REM is a technology that allows for the remote monitoring of fishing vessels, providing valuable information on fishing activity and compliance with regulative requirements, including the landing obligation. The SFPA has written to Fisheries Producer Organisations to encourage participation in the REM pilot project,” the statement declared.
While it is reported that this move is in advance of upcoming new EU regulations, no one has been yet told to what extent the EU want to increase monitoring systems but, as always, Ireland wants to be the EU ‘teacher’s pet’ in not only being ahead of the new regulations but to have even more stringent measures in place than the rest of Europe will be under.
But in what is being described as an apparent almost harmless REM pilot project, it is reported that the new system for Irish boats will not just include cameras throughout the vessel but also a range of sensors placed on hatches, net drums and other equipment in daily use.
Where will this all end? Will there eventually be a sensors in the bunks to record how many hours’ sleep the crew have each trip? And sensors on the galley cupboard doors to monitor the volume and type of food being consumed?
In their eagerness to get this project underway, it is reported that the SFPA are willing to pay between 12,000 and 20,000 euros for the first year that a vessel owner volunteers to have the cameras and sensors installed - - and, alarmingly, it is rumoured that any vessel that accepts the offer will be immune from any prosecution for the first year.
Now if that last statement, although not verified as yet, has even a grain of truth in it then it is clear that the SFPA themselves believe that the installation of this system on vessels will definitely be leading to prosecutions in some form or another in the years to come.
The most obvious thought that jumps to mind here is that the SFPA expect the fishing industry to be ‘a turkey voting for Christmas’.
I’m not saying that there are any illegal activities currently taking place on Irish fishing vessels, indeed it has been confirmed by the EU Commission that Ireland has the highest compliance rate in the entire EU fishing sector, but once the data (or as the SFPA describes it “valuable information”) from onboard cameras and sensors is studied then its clear that an entire new set of SFPA rules will come into force governing fishing procedures, hygiene, health & safety etc etc - and before long, when a vessel is boarded for inspection then it will yet another case of some tiny infringement of one of these minor regulations that will give the SFPA the power to penalise or even arrest a vessel for ‘offences against the State’ and probably drag the owner off to court on another legally expensive trumped-up charge.
And, of course, given the SFPA’s track record, once a system such as this would be bedded into the demersal fleet then it would only be a matter of time before a similar system would be forced upon the pelagic and inshore sectors.
Give us the facts!
As always, the SFPA appear to move in the shadows and are extremely vague when it comes to the actual ‘end-game’ aim of projects like this.
While they [SFPA] are stating what the system is at present, they are not informing anyone of what the actual planned use and expected outcome or resulting prosecution may be.
And more to the point, why should Ireland be the first in the EU to agree to any such system until we see the exact requirements of any new EU Commission regulations - my own opinion on this is that it is yet another attempt to snatch even more power in that Ireland will eventually finish up with a system that not only meets the EU basic requirements but have a system that goes far beyond that.
If I thought for one second that the introduction of any such onboard system would be to the long term benefit to Irish fishermen in any form then I might understand it … but when did we ever see anything that the SFPA attempted being done for the benefit of fishermen?
And when we see the EU Commission and the SFPA stand by and turn a blind eye to the large pelagic vessels of other EU Member States working off the west of Ireland and ‘high grading’ their catch and dumping thousands of tonnes of smaller fish back into the sea without a single mention of monitoring cameras on those vessels then I fail to see why Irish fishermen should agree to any such ‘pilot project’ until it is undertaken elsewhere (outside of Ireland) first.
In the wake of Brexit, the disastrous loss of national quota, the ‘giveaway deal’ of blue whiting in Irish waters, and then a tragic decommissioning scheme that is reducing the demersal fleet by one third, and a recent BIM seafood report that confirms the dwindling size of the Irish fishing industry then isn’t it time that the Irish fishermen were given a break -
it is time for this Government to reign in this out-of control body, call off the dogs and give people a chance to get on with their lives and try to make a living.