A flotilla of vessels will gather at Roches Point off Cork Harbour today and then steam in to the upper quays in the city as hundreds of fisherman stage a protest at what they warn is a “direct assault” on their incomes.
Fishermen say that their livelihoods have been decimated as a result of Brexit and fish quota cutbacks.
The fishermen also plan to march to Turner's Cross today to deliver a letter to the office of Taoiseach Micheál Martin,
Further protests are planned in Dublin, Donegal and Galway to highlight fears of Irish fishermen that they face being driven out of business over the coming months and years.
Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) chairman Pat Murphy said fishermen and their families were now fighting for survival.
“Fishermen operate in the most dangerous profession, in the most hazardous and challenging conditions. All we are asking is that our
right to earn a livelihood be respected and protected,” he said.
'Plundering of a natural resource.'
He warned that what is happening with Irish fish stocks ranks as the greatest 'plundering of a natural resource in history.'
“As a consequence of a series of draconian measures introduced by the Irish Government and the EU Commission targeted against those working in the Irish fishing industry, Irish fishermen will lose millions of euro of earnings if we are not given a fair share of the fish that swim in our waters.
“The UK has 75 per cent of the fish in their waters. But Ireland has been reduced to 15 per cent in Irish waters.”
“It is estimated that job losses of 4,000 or more in both the catching sector at sea and the processing sector onshore will inevitably follow these savage cuts,” he added.
“The re-introduction of administrative penalty points system on a vessel and its fishing licence in tandem with the proposed introduction of penalty points on the skipper’s personal licence will inflict untold damage on an already decimated fleet.”
The EU Commission issued a hard-hitting audit report to the Government last December following serious allegations about overfishing, quota breaches and lack of rules enforcement at some Irish ports.
Now, Ireland faces the threat of a quadruple fisheries blow — a 'payback' system for quota breaches, the withdrawal of a special fish
factory exemption, the suspension of €38 million in EU fish programme funding and Brexit-related quota cuts.
Ireland could lose an estimated 15 per cent of the national fish quota worth some €43 million because of the fall-out to Brexit and loss of access to UK waters — the largest proportionate loss to any EU member state.
Common Fisheries policy
Both Irish fishermen's groups and fish processors have expressed alarm at the potential implications for the industry as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is set for review in 2023.
The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the EU Commission are now liaising over the matters involved while the Government is carefully monitoring developments.
It is only expected to be raised directly between the EU Commission, Government and possible EU Council of Ministers if the enforcement issues involved threaten the overall industry.
However, the EU Commission has adopted a hardline stance over what it has perceived as foot-dragging over the issue by Ireland.
One EU audit is alleged to have found serious overfishing in Ireland between 2012 and 2016.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius has suggested that Ireland will now face a “payback procedure” whereby any amounts of over-quota fishing will be deducted from future Irish quotas.
Ireland has now seen €28 million suspended from an EU co-funded European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Operational Programme (EMFFOP).
Brussels is pressing for Ireland to introduce a penalty points system for breaches of EU fisheries regulations — with closer oversight of
future enforcement by Brussels.
Ireland has also seen a special concession suspended whereby fish factories could have produce weighed on site.
The EU is now insisting that, with the nine-year-old concession suspended, fish catches must be weighed at the port of landing.
While the Government and Irish fishing industry groups are urgently pressing for negotiations with the EU Commission over enforcement issues, pro-Brexit groups in the UK have rushed to exploit the impasse and contrasted Ireland's fisheries challenges to those of non-EU coastal nations such as Norway, Greenland and Iceland.
SFPA chairperson, Dr Susan Steele, insisted enforcement responsibilities were taken very seriously.
“The SFPA takes its commitments under the Common Fisheries Policy very seriously. We have been working with the EU Commission and EU control partners including EFCA, and with the support of the Government, to improve Ireland’s compliance assessment capabilities,” she told 'The Skipper'.
“This has included a significant expansion of the SFPA’s detection and inspection resources in recent years, as well as changes to fisheries controls to ensure Ireland has a strong regulatory system.”
“We will be contacting producer organisations and industry representatives as well as holding local meetings to ensure that the
industry is familiar with the changes that are required.
“The accurate weighing of catches remains the responsibility of industry. The EU’s decision, however, will involve changes to weighing
practices. We will be working to ensure that industry can introduce these efficiently and in a way that assures compliance with EU
regulations. This decision is a clear marker of tougher fisheries controls across the EU."