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Thin end of the wedge

Editorial Comment

Cormac Burke, IFSA

There were several fishing industry stories in the past week, most noticeably how Norway was able to ‘redistribute’ its blue whiting quota in EU (i.e. Irish) waters to result in an increase in the volume of their take, and of course the wonderfully refreshing and honest open letter from young Donegal fourth generation fisherwoman Muireann Kavanagh (14) who calls out the Minister for his part in an Irish fishing industry that appears to have been abandoned by this Government.

It was however a less publicised article in the Waterford News that caught my attention most.

The closure of the 116-year-old renowned fish merchant company Flanagans in Waterford City is not just another Irish commercial enterprise that has struggled and eventually died as a result of economic difficulties following Brexit and then the Covid pandemic - - it is a fatality, one of many currently on the verge, as a result of the mismanagement and selling out of the Irish fishing resource to other nations by this Government whilst the Irish fishing industry are being forced into redundancy and liquidation.

Co. Waterford has a long and proud history, with Dunmore East a landing point over centuries for catches of premium Irish fish, as well as a significant number of smaller harbours that stretch from the Suir Estuary down to Helvick Head.

As the people of Flanagans, and all of the other endangered fishermen and workers in seafood processing & retailing in Ireland, face a life-changing move to the dole queue they must endure an arrogant and deluded marine minister showing up at public meetings and declaring that ‘everything is fine’, “and if you don’t like what I’m saying you’re free to leave the meeting”…. and meanwhile the Government’s marine semi State bodies push their PR agenda by issuing to the public various manipulated figure reports of increasing Irish seafood sales in the same year that the quota is down by 20% and the size of the whitefish fleet is down by 30%.

Adding insult to injury for the fishing community of Co. Waterford will have been the recent newspaper article by the Dunmore East Habour Master, an employee of the Minister’s Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DAFM), stating how wonderful it is that there’s so many Belgian vessels now using the port for landing their catches - - without mentioning the tragic and glaringly obvious fact that there’s only room for them to land there because most of the Irish boats have been got rid of, and the fact that all of the fish these foreign boats are landing have been taken out of Irish waters whilst the remaining Irish fleet are struggling to survive on a pittance of a quota - - and its worth noting that in an area not far from this very port the Belgian quota in Irish waters for sole is 80% while the quota for the Irish fleet in these same waters is 4%….

But the closure of a 100+-year-old fish merchant like Flanagans is representative of a much bigger picture in the Irish fishing and seafood industry - - it is a akin to any High St. where we see shop after shop closing down - first a butchers, then the pub, the post office, a shoe shop, a clothes shop, a branch of a bank, - - -  each individual closure occurs without anyone passing much notice until one day it dawns on them that there no longer is a ‘High St.’ in their town.

How many more Irish fishing boats will go, and how many more Irish fishing vessels, processors and retailers will be driven out of business before the Irish population wake up to the realisation that there is no more ‘Irish’ fresh fish because our ‘High St.’ (Irish waters) has been given away to other EU & non EU nations by our politicians who should be ashamed to declare that they ‘govern’ an island nation with some of the richest waters in the world and yet it is an island nation that’s on the verge of no longer having an indigenous fishing industry.

There’s an old saying that it takes a fire to start a war but it only takes the lighting of one single match to start a fire - - perhaps the case of the Flanagans closure should be that match….

As the Waterford News says: “The impact is not just being felt by businesses, such as Flanagan’s. It is eroding an important part of Waterford community life, and heritage, as well as devastating communities of fishing people up and down the Waterford coast. Every time a fishing boat moors up for the last time, a generational, high quality industry gets beaten further to the point of fighting for its very existence.

Photo courtesy of Tides & Tales Maritime Community Project

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