Under obvious pressure as a result of their own years of incompetence, (incompetence as defined in three previous Governmental and one EU assessment reports), as well as a clear anti fishing industry strategy, the management board of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) today (Monday 12th Sept. 2022) attempted to reach out for public sympathy with the effort of a “we’re only doing our job” article in the Irish Independent, writes Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA).
In cases such as with the Garda Siochana, there is indeed public sympathy for the demanding task they have on a daily basis but the difference is that the Garda have a clear mandate to uphold the peace, halt crime, and to root out corruption and crime at every level — they DO NOT harass and threaten innocent people going about their work, they DO NOT create their own set of regulations and then pretend these rules have been handed down from the EU Commission, and they certainly DO NOT believe that a “healthy friction” with the people they govern is a good thing.
In her opening subtitle, Irish Independent journalist Caroline O’Doherty states “What its like to patrol the seas for rogue boats” - someone should have told her that Ireland has no ‘rogue boats’ as the entire commercial Irish fleet are fully registered and as a nation we do not have IUU (Ilegal, Unrecorded and Unreported) fisheries (as regularly exists in the Southern Hemisphere) — but her comment nonetheless sets the tone of this SFPA blatant PR script in hinting that Ireland may however have rogue fishermen.
The case used as an example of how the SFPA go about their business was the inspection of a small lobster boat which, the article stated, was done in a calm, chatty manner and with a comment from the SFPA that “we have a generally good relationship with the inshore fishermen” — leaving many to wonder which vessel is being referred to as over 90% of skippers of fishing vessels of all sizes have previously declared their experiences in dealing with the SFPA to be aggressive and unfriendly.
Indeed, when previous SFPA head Susan Steele and current head Paschal Hayes tried to make this same claim of a good relationship with the industry at two separate Joint Committee Oireachtas hearings, they were pulled up on it and asked to give more substance to this claim, neither could respond with anything nearing proof of such good terms with the fishing industry.
In an effort to make a case for the SFPA in the article, they [SFPA] laid the ground by saying that because fish prices have barely moved in 15 years while the price of the equipment needed by vessels and the cost of fuel has increased dramatically during that time, as well as Brexit and now a decommissioning scheme, that this “could be” a reason for ‘some rogue operators’ — saying so in a manner that would make one think that the SFPA almost accept it’s understandable that some fishermen have been pushed into a corner where they must break the law.
“Generally its a compliant industry but there are a few people who push the boundaries on it,” said Hayes - in the familiar manner of giving and taking away in the same statement.
Firstly, if it is “generally a compliant industry” then why are the numbers of SFPA officers being increased year on year whilst the quotas, numbers of vessels and numbers of fishermen continue to decrease year on year?
Secondly, if it is known that there are “rogue operators” out there then why haven’t they been caught yet?
Where is the substance to these constant [for many years] claims by the SFPA of ‘rogue operators’?
When was the last time a fishing vessel was found in serious and intentional breach of the law, taken to court and charged by a judge? (And not including those arrested on silly technical charges such as a faulty boarding ladder or a half a box of fish not in the log book half way through a 10-day 500-box trip?)
The SFPA, and the DAFM, have spent the past twenty years trying to convince the EU Commission and the Irish general public, of corrupt activities in the Irish fishing, catching and processing sector but during that time NOT ONE single vessel owner, fisherman or factory owner has ever been charged with a major offence (and it would be interesting to learn how many cases during that time which were brought by the SFPA against fishermen were thrown out by a judge for wasting the courts’ time) - leading one with the conclusion that either this ‘corruption’ doesn’t exist, or else it does exist but we have the worst monitoring & investigative body on the planet.
Mr Hayes also went to great lengths in this article to claim that the SFPA are doing their job and that a “healthy friction” with the industry is good, and that being criticized for doing their job is expected — in response I would like to make clear to Mr Hayes that this industry and bodies such as the IFSA are never critical of the SFPA for doing their job, but for NOT DOING their job - they [SFPA] do not have a mandate for the powers they claim to have and attempting a jackboot mentality to strike fear into this industry is simply not going to work, nor will it be accepted.
Even in his closing comment Mr Hayes added that the SFPA are currently recruiting data specialists, forensic accountants and IT experts — well, this seems a lot of heavy-duty equipment for what he himself described as a “few minor rogue operators”… so we’re back to the argument of (a) based on such planned enforcements there must be a major amount of rogue operators, or (b) there are no rogue operators but we’re going to make life hell for everyone anyway.
In conclusion, the question must also be asked as to who exactly has been running the SFPA in the recent past ?
It’s not our marine minister as he repeatedly claims that he has nothing to do with them, and its not Paschal Hayes as he and his board have only been in charge for a mere few months.
As always with the unanswered questions in the Irish fishing industry, all roads lead to the senior civil servants in the DAFM….
Footnote: A recent EU report found that Ireland has the highest rate of compliance of any EU Member State (and yet the SFPA continue in a bid to make the Irish public believe that this industry is populated with rogues and crooks)