Editorial Comment - Cormac Burke, Chairman, IFSA
Currently much in the international news is the continuing accusation of ‘image washing’ where certain nations, such as Saudi Arabia, are being accused of investing heavily in high profile sports such as Premiership football and international golf tournaments in a bid to raise their global image whilst at the same time neglecting to deal with serious allegations of human rights’ atrocities in their own countries.
On a somewhat smaller but equally serious scale we see a similar agenda being enacted in the Irish fishing industry and one that is being driven by Ireland’s Coalition Government and semi State bodies where the fishing industry and ‘Seafood sector’ is being portrayed to the public as enjoying a wonderful period and is highly sustainable and profitable when in fact the opposite is the case.
Ask any fisherman, vessel owner or fish processor nationwide and they’ll all give the same well-founded pessimistic opinion that this is an industry on its knees, an industry abandoned by a Government who clearly have an alternative agenda for the marine sector - an agenda consisting of lucrative licences for wind farms, increased focus on tourism, assisting other groups in proposed closing of traditional fishing grounds and, most criminal of all, making no effort to challenge the EU powers in a bid to halt the ever-decreasing share of fish quotas for Irish fishermen.
“With an inshore sector trying to survive on mere scraps, a demersal sector left on its knees and a pelagic sector with massive quota cutbacks (and probably more reductions to come), I hereby challenge Minister McConalogue and the DAFM to publish a report which shows how Ireland has and is utilising the €600 million BAR money it received compared to how other Member States spent their share in genuine compensation to their fishermen” - Cormac Burke, IFSA
What the public are being told:
One only has to have a quick read of the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM) website to see the high potential they preach of this industry to the general public:
“The seafood industry is based on the utilisation of a high quality, indigenous natural resource, which has excellent potential for added value and makes a significant contribution to the national economy in terms of output, employment and exports.
“Over the next decade, consumption is projected to grow by 42 million tonnes per annum according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as the world population is set to reach eight billion by 2025.
“It is clear that a huge expansion in food production, including seafood, will be required worldwide to meet this need. The value of Irish seafood exports in 2019 was estimated to be in the region of €577 million, maintaining the value of 2018.
“The strategic goal of the department (DAFM) is to deliver a sustainable, growth-driven sector focused on competitiveness and innovation driven by a skilled workforce delivering value added products in line with market demands.”
Meanwhile, in its latest industry report BIM proudly announced that the value of the Irish seafood economy increased to €1.3 billion in GDP terms in 2022, an increase of 4% compared to the previous year and declared that “this was largely driven by an increase in domestic consumption of seafood in Ireland in the food services sector as well higher prices, both domestically and on the main export markets.”
What the public should be told:
The fact is that in 2022 the Irish fishing in real terms declined by 17 to 19% once you extrapolate the inflationary prices rises in fish products and this year will see the largest ever decline in the fishing industry with early indications that our industry could contract by as much as 25%.
In a bid to paper over the cracks, the BIM report also includes aquaculture figures elsewhere in Europe that they are able to lump in with the wild caught fishery figures – a blatant statement that the powers that be in Ireland are too ashamed to show the extent of our failure.
Twenty years of total mismanagement of the industry by an incredibility dysfunctional marine department has destroyed the Irish fishing industry. One of the of the greatest natural resources left to fail due to an anti fishing anti marine approach by a few within the Department.
Neither DAFM nor BIM make any reference to the fact that as a result of Ireland’s failure to put up any challenge in the BREXIT negotiations the Irish fishing fleet have been left with only approximately 18% of the fish in its own waters, has seen overall quotas in demersal and pelagics slashed by at least 30%, lost access to the once Irish-held lucrative Rockall grounds, and are in the process of decommissioning one third of the whitefish fleet (approximately 57 vessels) due to a lack of quota remaining for the Irish demersal, sector.
And the Irish fishing industry have yet to be told why the Minister took it upon himself to be the ONLY EU Member State fisheries minister to refuse to give Irish fishermen even a small fuel subsidy during the height of the recent crisis.
Also, the infamous (anti) industry monitoring ‘authority’ SFPA continue to increase staff numbers and open new offices nationwide at the same time as the Irish fishing industry has been reduced in size by more than one third.
Meanwhile the “innovation driven by a skilled workforce” that the DAFM statement refers to avoids mentioning that every vessel that is currently being decommissioned represents at least five skilled fishermen now out of work (therefore a ball park figure of 200 fishermen in total) - and that the reduced quotas that Ireland is now trying so survive on also means a forced decrease in the numbers of equally skilled staff employed in seafood processing companies & retailers and, the knock-on effect of reduced numbers working in the ancillary industry service companies such as net making, engineering and electronics.
And, embarrassingly for Ireland, EuroStat figures show that the Irish producing and processing sector has tumbled down from a lofty position on the league table to now sit in 10th place (below nations such as Belgium) and are only slightly ahead of Lithuania - - to put this in perspective, Spain leads this table with 24% of the seafood production share and Ireland on 2% - yes, TWO PERCENT…
Where’s the compensation?
While every EU Member State utilised the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund (BAR) to its fullest by giving actual financial compensation to those whose suffered as a result of BREXIT, Ireland introduced ’measures’ which, on the face of it and for the public’s digestion, are dressed up as compensation but not one cent of compensation was ever actually handed over to a fisherman.
A ‘tie-up’ scheme was introduced whereby a vessel not going to sea to catch his quota entitlement was given an approximate ‘equal’ amount to remain ashore for a month - - but this is not ‘compensation’ - this was just a replacement for the amount of money that vessel would have earned during that time anyway;
A vessel decommissioning scheme that, again, was dressed up to look like somehow the Minister and the DAFM were doing fishermen a big favour in paying them to scrap their vessels in return for an amount of money - - but, as in the tie-up case, this is not compensation - when you hold a gun to a man’s head and say you can stay fishing but there wont be enough quota for you to make a living (because WE bungled the Brexit negotiations) or you can scrap your vessel at a bare minimum payment to ensure that you dont actually make any kind of profit from giving up your venture and your traditional way of life, then surely that’s more like punishment than compensation.
With an inshore sector trying to survive on scraps, a demersal sector left on its knees and a pelagic sector with massive quota cutbacks (and probably more reductions to come), I hereby challenge Minister McConalogue and the DAFM to publish a report which shows how Ireland has and is utilising the €600 million BAR money it received compared to how other Member States spent their share…
… and when they are finished all the little projects around the coast that should be funded by Ireland & EU Structural Funds, what plans do they have when the remaining BAR money ‘use it or lose it’ rule kicks in at the end of this year?
Unless the Government urgently takes an active interest in fishing it is going to fail in plain sight of everyone… and meanwhile every other EU State will thieve on the backs of us and benefit directly from Irish fishing stocks – but, it would appear that is what our marine department have always wanted and we have yet to see a minister even slightly embarrassed that he will be remembered for being at the wheel when a once-thriving industry was brutally murdered.
A rosy picture painted by BIM…