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The BAR fund - where’s the compensation for Irish fishermen?

By this time, few people are not aware of the long and sad tale of the outcome of BREXIT, its impact on Irish fishermen and the loss of quota in Irish waters for Irish fishing vessels whilst other nations seem to now have an abundance of TAC in these same waters.

However, as far as the layman is concerned, at least Irish fishermen and Irish fish processors got compensation towards this loss – sure didn’t Ireland receive the biggest chunk of the EU’s BAR (BREXIT Adjustment Reserve) money?

And the average Irish citizen would be forgiven for thinking this when RTE reported last spring: “This means the BAR monies will be regarded as an emergency solidarity payment to the countries hardest hit by Brexit and will be paid up front in 2021”.

True to a point. Ireland was allocated €1.05bn of the total €5bn EU BAR fund, with some €600m of this intended to go in direct compensation to the Irish fishing industry.

But if one were to ask any Irish fishermen, vessel owner, processor or fish retailer do they feel they have received any form of financial compensation for the average 30% loss in revenue as a result of BREXIT then the answer will be a resounding negative.

Barely had the ink dried on the EU Commission’s BAR fund document in March 2021 when France moved to apply for (and be granted under EU State aid rules) three schemes worth €100m to support its fisheries sector affected by BREXIT and the consequent quota share reductions foreseen in the provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).

The French support measures included:

  • (1) With a budget of €80m, aimed at partially compensating the fixed costs of vessels forced to stay at berth due to the quota reductions envisaged in the TCA or to the lack of access to UK waters or other third country waters due to Brexit, as well as the remuneration of crew members. (CB NOTE: This was not a ‘tie-up’ scheme where vessels were paid the equivalent of a month’s revenue for not fishing – this was actual compensation for the loss of quota and fishing opportunities as compared to previous years). The support took the form of direct grants to small and medium-sized enterprises and the amount of estimated losses compensated were calculated based on objective criteria, taking as reference the turnover for the year 2019 multiplied by the number of days when the vessel remains at berth.

  • (2) The second scheme, with a budget of €12m, compensated part of the loss of revenues suffered by the French fleet -- this loss of revenue is due to quota reductions envisaged in the TCA, to lack of access to UK waters or other third country waters, or to negative impacts on trade patterns and logistics. The public support will take the form of direct grants to SMEs active in France in the fisheries sector.

  • (3) With a budget of €8m, this scheme compensated the loss of revenue for the same reasons suffered by French fishmongers. The support took the form of direct grants to SMEs and large enterprises in the wholesale and processing of fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

The EU Commission's assessment of the French application for compensation support for its fishing sector was that “the three schemes enhance the sustainability of the fisheries sector and its ability to adapt to new fishing and market opportunities arising from the new relationship with the UK. Therefore, these measures facilitate development of this sector and contribute to the first objective of the Common Fisheries Policy, to ensure that fishing activities are sustainable in the long term”.

The Commission concluded that the measures were targeted at “supporting the French fisheries sector during the time needed for market participants to adapt to the changed market conditions and that these measures are not considered asovercompensation”.

(CB NOTE: The French Government recognised the need for urgency for financial compensation to its fishing industry and, once approved, France did not wait for the BAR fund money to come through and set about making payments from its State funds immediately for its fishermen and processors and would reclaim this cost back whenever the BAR funds were allocated to each Member State.)

In a statement the EU Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager said: “The fisheries sector is one of the most affected by Brexit, requiring fishermen to re-organise and adapt to the new situation. We will continue to work closely with all Member States concerned to enable swift and effective solutions to mitigate the impact of Brexit, in line with State aid rules”.

Meanwhile in Denmark, in November 2021, the EU approved DKK 1.2bn (€161.3m) for compensation for its fishing industry which, the EU Commission stated “goes some way to fairly corresponding to the loss suffered by the Danish fisheries sector”.

Ireland’s ‘stick it to them’ approach

So it seems clear that the various compensation systems underway in almost every EU fishing nation Member State are relatively reasonable:

A vessel or company produces documentation proof of annual revenue in the years pre BREXIT, then shows the estimated annual revenue with the obvious losses in the year post BREXIT and a compensation amount (up to €300,000 in the case of the French system) is awarded.

But Ireland, with a marine administration run by anti fishing industry civil servants, have put much work into finding ways of spending this EU ‘windfall’ in any possible way other than actually handing anyone genuine financial compensation.

* Firstly there was a tie-up scheme – a notion that if a vessel was made stay ashore and not catch his entitlement of fish for that month, then replacing that revenue instead was somehow ‘compensation’.

And on the point of ‘tie-up’ schemes it is worth noting that while the Irish demersal industry don’t see this as much of a compensation, if it was going to be the only thing on offer then they pushed for the scheme to be extended into a second year – only to be told by the Department of Marine senior civil servant that the EU Commission would only permit the scheme for one year ----- but meanwhile the Netherlands fishing industry have been given approval by the EU Commission to extend their tie-up scheme to three years…. Proving once again that Irish fishermen are being lied to about exactly what the EU Fisheries Commission said or didn’t say!

* Then came the proposal to use BAR money to fund a vessel decommissioning scheme to reduce the size of the fleet – a move which has been received with mixed opinions in the demersal industry – but then to limit the amount of money on offer so low that it will mean that many vessel owners will be lucky to financially just break even and be left with nothing when they walk away from an industry that they have given their whole lives to.

* This is followed by a scheme for the inshore fleet which, instead of helping them diversify into other fishing opportunities and giving them a chance to survive, is instead looking for ways to push these vessel owners into marine tourism projects or indeed to tie up permanently.

Amongst all of this is the announcement that Ireland plans to use a portion of the EU BAR fund to repair and develop some piers around the country.

This would seem a noble gesture were it not for the fact that Minister Charlie McConaglogue intimated that these projects could provide jobs in construction for fishermen who have lost their jobs at sea… Not exactly the ‘support’ that fishermen in the inshore sector needs at this time.

And it also raises a question that this is surely a misuse of the BAR compensation funds as the repair and development of piers and harbours comes under national and EU structural funds and should not be coming out of the money that was intended to be paid out to fishermen and processors as compensation.

In the past nine months every time the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine is asked about Ireland’s allocation of the EU BAR fund he, for the millionth time, reels out the script of “I set up a task force to look at this situation….” Etc etc etc and goes on to take praise for anything good that came out of the task force and then to blame the same force for any nasty recommendations that arose from it but perhaps most noticeable of all was his statement that “the impact of Brexit on Ireland's seafood sector is a major concern for all involved in and connected with the fishing industry. The trade and co-operation agreement between the EU and the UK will have significant negative impacts on our fisheries sector and on coastal communities dependent on fishing” – this was part of a lengthy statement by the Minister to the Dail last year on BREXIT and the BAR fund in which he managed to not use the word ‘compensation’ once.

In early 2023 every EU Member State must submit an audit report to the EU Fisheries Commission on how they distributed their allocation of the BAR fund – it will be interesting to see if Ireland are the ONLY country who, at no stage, actually paid out actual compensation money to fishermen or processors without attaching so many conditions or schemes to it so as to make it not really compensation at all but just another layer of control introduced to a system already creaking under the burden of weight of red tape and anti industry legislation.

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