Deputy Tóibín stated: “There was an imbalance with regards to witnesses we had on the day. The Killybegs group didn’t feel that they were aware the mackerel quota issue would be the issue for discussion and I feel that’s fair comment.
“As a committee in future, we should seek at least, to give better prior notice to witnesses as to what exactly is going to be discussed. It was felt by the KFO that there were some inaccuracies,” said Deputy Tóibín. Contrary to remarks made at the end of the original meeting, the chairperson also indicated that the committee would not be sending a report to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, on the basis of the discussion held.
Mr O’Donoghue said that the meeting which the chairman was referring to amounted to little more than a set-up and an attempt by certain committee members to discredit the KFO and skew the facts in favour of fishermen in the South and West.
“Four TDs from Cork and Kerry, one of whom isn’t even a member of the committee, along with four members from the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation including Patrick Murphy as well as a representative from the neighbouring Daingean Uí Chúis Fishermen’s Committee, arrived under the pretence of addressing the prescribed agenda, “What it takes to sustain a viable rural community”. At very short notice from the Committee, the KFO sent one representative, Norah Parke, who was duly ambushed regarding mackerel quotas which are currently the subject of a Ministerial review,” said Seán O’Donoghue.
“Last year, our boats were hit with a 15% cut in mackerel quota. Now that there has been an increase in the Irish quota, the Minister appears open to the idea of making it available to 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector who have a mackerel entitlement for no valid reason other than purely parochial. This is something we cannot and will not stand idly by and accept. It could see the fishing industry in the West and North West deprived of more than €10million of a mackerel catch in 2017. It’s since come to light that the scientific advice used to calculate the 2017 TAC was erroneous meaning a sizeable cut of 13% on the 2016 catches rather than the 14% increase it had previously advised. Aside from the obvious embarrassment of such a mistake in estimating stock size, it has created huge uncertainty for our members who are trying to run businesses and provide employment.
“If this is allowed to happen, it would result in the loss of jobs at sea in Donegal as well as employment ashore in the highly developed pelagic industry in the North West. Moreover, it ignores the fact that those 27 vessels who stand to benefit from this ludicrous review have already been boosted by a large mackerel tonnage increase, going from 1,000 tonnes in year 2000 to 9,700 tonnes in 2016. Furthermore, the polyvalent vessels have secured recent increases worth approximately €3million in Blue whiting, Atlanto-Scandian herring and Horse mackerel collectively with 4,100, 1,700 and 560 tonne increases respectively, which shows how well they have been looked after.”
Mr O’Donoghue said the KFO was opposing the review in the strongest possible terms saying it amounted to nothing more than a significant distraction from the uncertainty and major challenges posed by Brexit for the industry as well as the Minster. The Irish RSW fleet in Killybegs has invested heavily in specialised vessels which has played a major role in developing a mackerel fishery in this country and establishing a credible track record in catching mackerel prior to introduction of Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and quotas system in 1983. Without this excellent track record, Ireland’s current 21.2 % percentage share of the western TAC would probably be only in the region of 1% to 2%.
Mr O’Donoghue said with the unprecedented and particularly demanding challenges presented by Brexit, it’s even more baffling why a ludicrous review is playing out in tandem with this issue causing unnecessary distraction. He called for the Irish Government to make fisheries a top priority in the negotiations around Brexit and to ensure that the sector is not used as a bargaining chip in reaching a final outcome. Given the importance of the negotiations, he questioned why a wholly unnecessary review was being undertaken into mackerel quota in the first instance.
He added that this review into the distribution of additional mackerel is now pitting different producer organisations against each other at a time when Ireland needs to be focused on the Brexit issue more than ever. The KFO has always believed that the course of action being adopted by Minister Michael Creed is fundamentally flawed and endeavours to penalise the Refrigerated Seawater (RSW) sector in a disproportionate and unfair manner.
The review is in direct contravention of a Ministerial policy decision of 2009 which was revised and confirmed in 2010.