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Sustainable Development of Sea Fishing

Policy Statement by Minister Dermot Ahern on future directions for the sustainable development of the Sea Fishing industry June 2004

Government Priorities

The Programme for Government set down a number of priorities for the sea fisheries sector involving - reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, the introduction of a new fleet policy, a long term strategy for sustainable development of our fishing industry, development of fishery harbours and effective management and service structures. I will first of all briefly outline what has been achieved so far.

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

After protracted and difficult negotiations, a new framework for the CFP was agreed in December 2002. I secured, working closely with fishing industry representatives, a reform package that included key national priorities including

  • Copper fastening the legal basis for the continuation of the Hague quota preferences
  • Establishing a strong control and enforcement framework
  • Placing fishermen in the centre of policy formulation

I also secured the protection of the sensitive waters off the Irish south and west coast with the introduction of the new Irish Box with a special regime for this area. In addition, fishing effort limits have now been established and cannot increase for all Irish waters. Only where there is a clear scientific case, as is the situation I understand for crab and scallops for the Irish fleet, can effort increases be granted.

During Ireland's Presidency I secured the delivery of key aspects of the new CFP including putting in place new Regional Advisory Councils and the fast - tracking of the development of Environmentally Friendly Fishing Methods. These were national priorities to help rebuild our fish stocks and to give a greater voice to fishermen going forward.

Devolved Service Structures

In line with the Programme for Government's commitment to develop devolved service structures, the first initiative taken in this respect was the reform contained in the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, which established an independent fishing vessel licensing authority to administer fishing vessel licensing policy and established a transparent process for the promulgation of that policy. I am also committed to introducing further legislative changes, similar to those implemented in the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, that will strengthen and establish the legal independence of certain regulatory functions in the Department. In addition, the Government decision to decentralise seafood and coastal functions of the Department to Clonakilty provides an opportunity for a renewed focus and further development of service structures using state of the art technology and a network of offices in every major harbour in the State to improve service delivery to the seafood sector. I envisage that the local harbour offices, such as the impressive new building which I opened here in Killybegs recently, will provide one stop shops for all Government and Agency services to the seafood sector in their area.

New Fleet Policy

Last November I introduced a new fleet policy as was provided for in the Programme for Government. The policy was introduced following an intensive consultation process and addresses the critical issues associated with fleet management. The introduction of a settled, stable and transparent fleet policy was called for and will give stability and certainty to the industry going forward.

Blueprint for Future

Reviewing the past two years, it is clear that it has seen significant change and good progress has been made on the Governments agenda. Now I want to focus on the challenges and priorities going forward. Today I will outline my policy agenda in four critical areas

  • a plan to deliver sustainable fishing for the whitefish fleet
  • infrastructural development plan
  • management plan for sustainable inshore fishing

Plan to Deliver Sustainable Fishing for Whitefish fleet

The Irish whitefish fleet has changed considerably for the better in recent years. Under the Whitefish Renewal and Modernisation programmes of recent years, investment of close to €200 million was supported with EU and national grant aid that delivered a modern, efficient whitefish fleet. This fleet has the potential, for the first time ever, for Irish fishermen to compete on a truly international scale.

Notwithstanding this level of investment, the reality facing the whitefish sector is that there can be no expectation of increased catches in the short term. For many whitefish vessels the focus is primarily on improved added-value for the product rather than on increased production. Going forward the future looks bright as we are now a focusing on rebuilding stocks so that in the medium to long term sustainable fishing will support and grow the economies of coastal communities dependent on fishing.

Against this backdrop and in order to position the sector for the future, there are a number of particularly pertinent questions that I consider we need to focus on going forward:

  • What changes are necessary to our domestic quota management arrangements to reflect the new fleet developments and the reduced quotas on key species?
  • How might it be possible to encourage fishermen to broaden their fishing activities across the range of whitefish fishing possibilities to take some pressure off the comparatively high current concentration on cod and monkfish in particular?
  • Can we get a better seasonal match between landings and markets including on-shore processing capability?
  • Can we achieve a better co-ordination and alignment between inshore and offshore fishermen?
  • What steps can be taken to encourage Irish fishermen to avail of fishing possibilities in more distant waters, within of course existing, well-established EU fisheries partnership structures?

All of these are critical questions requiring urgent examination. Many of these important questions have obvious implications for the way we manage our fisheries in Ireland, in particular the way we manage our whitefish quotas. In that respect, I believe that we need to undertake a root and branch review of this area because our existing arrangements were designed some two decades ago when fish stocks were generally far healthier and the nature and structure of our fleet was far different. At present Department officials are involved in a review of current quota management with industry representatives. The work to date has made clear that we need to stand back and undertake a much more thorough review of how we are managing our resources. Tinkering with current quota regimes is not the answer in my view. Neither can we agree to fundamental changes without a full understanding of the medium to long-term impact. There is, therefore, a need to take a serious look at all the issues and make decisions for the future based on a sound understanding of the impacts on the industry that will deliver a sustainable and economically viable future for the whitefish sector.

As part of this process I am planning to have an independent economic assessment undertaken of the fishing possibilities which are currently available to our whitefish fleet under the current system and comparing this with the level of fishing opportunities which will be required going forward to ensure a long term viable future for our whitefish fleet. This study will review the quota management system taking into account the views of the sector and systems in operation in other countries. It will then make recommendations on the options for change taking account of our fleet structure and fishing possibilities. When the results of this independent study are available it will inform the level and nature of changes which we will need to make to our quota management system and our future fleet policies for the whitefish fleet. I will be fully involving the industry representatives in how we take forward the recommendations.

Infrastructure Development

I would now like to turn to matters of infrastructure and the need to provide suitable harbour and landing facilities for the fishing industry. As a new fishing fleet for the 21st century has been developed, there is a consequent need for harbour infrastructure that can meet the needs of that modern fleet and attract increased business from other fleets and marine activity in our waters.

The NDP programme for fishery harbour infrastructure, which started to be rolled out in 2000, is now starting to come to fruition. Last month, I opened a very fine facility in Killybegs. This €50 million facility will benefit not only the fishing community but the entire North West. This facility represents the biggest investment in fishery harbours since the foundation of the State. Not only is Killybegs now a world class fishing harbour but it is also capable of accommodating very large commercial vessels.

In addition to the Killybegs development, I am pushing ahead with development proposals at Castletownbere. The target is to have contractors on site before the end of the year so that quay extension and new onshore facilities can be progressed. I recently launched the first phase of the development at Rossaveel Harbour. I am also progressing the long overdue development of Clogherhead pier and the same process has commenced at Dunmore East with the initiation of a public consultation process to identify the more suitable development option for the harbour taking account of needs of the fishing industry, environmental issues and leisure industry.

I am also progressing an important Greenfield site development at Cromane, Co. Kerry, which is important centre for the aquaculture industry. In conjunction with Kerry County Council we have now settled on the design of the facility and the necessary statutory permissions are being sought at present.

Inshore Fisheries

I now wish to turn to another area of immense importance to fishing communities inshore fisheries. When I introduced the Scheme for the licensing of traditional pot fishing boats last year, I said that it was the first critical step in bringing effective management and conservation measures to the inshore sector. With the licensing scheme now nearly completed, I intend to proceed immediately to put in place structures that support effective management of this sector.

Travelling from my home county of Louth around the coast to Donegal there are over 2,000 vessels in the inshore sector. These fishing boats provide some 4,000 full and part time jobs and their catch amounts to an income of €40 million for the coastal communities in which they are based. If we are to ensure sustainable inshore fisheries for the future who better to help us find the correct balance between environmental, economic and social considerations than fishermen themselves? Therefore it is my intention to place inshore fishermen firmly at the centre of the decision making process.

To this end I have instructed my officials, BIM and the Marine Institute, to bring forward proposals for a network of Inshore Fisheries Local Advisory Committees. These L.A.C.s will be involved in setting the objectives for inshore fisheries in their area and the development of local management plans to deliver these objectives. They will be assisted in their task by BIMs network of Inshore Fisheries Development Officers, who have for the past 5 years worked hand-in-hand with local fishing communities around the coast.

Sound objectives and good management must always rely on solid advice and to this end I am also initiating a series of nationally based species advisory groups. These will bring together the talents and abilities available in BIM, the Marine Institute, our 3rd level colleges and fishermen and produce, on an annual basis, scientifically based management advice that will thereafter be available to the various local advisory committees.

Common Fisheries Policy Going Forward

Going forward at EU level, I will be concentrating on two key priorities the delivery of an effective, even handed control policy and effective conservation programmes that will ensure fish stocks are managed on a sustainable basis.

I have consistently pressed the case for enhanced EU wide fisheries control, enforced in a strict and even-handed manner. The new CFP sets out the framework for effective control involving new structures and new provisions such as satellite monitoring (VMS) for all vessels over 15 metres. The Commission has brought forward a proposal on control structures which focus on some key steps that need to be taken if we are to achieve effective and co-ordinated control of our fisheries, including the establishment of a dedicated fisheries control agency within the EU. I will be working to ensure that the new control regime delivers new structures and renewed focus so that fishermen throughout the EU can have confidence that the rules are applied across the board in a fair and even handed manner.

I would also like to mention here that I recognise that fishermen are finding the application of the new EU controls on pelagic landings difficult. Meetings involving my Department and industry representatives have been held and I understand that a further meeting is planned for later today. I am pleased that these meetings are proceeding on a constructive basis because it is critical that we have satisfactory arrangements in place for the autumn fishery.

Turning to the state of fish stocks, the scientific advice on many whitefish stocks remains of concern. The overall objective is to ensure the recovery of these stocks within a timeframe of five to ten years. I will continue as a priority going forward to press for the application of recovery plans that are stock specific and appropriate to their particular areas and which ensure the long-term sustainability of stocks while continuing to support the livelihoods of communities dependent on fishing.

Conclusion

This Government believes strongly that there can be a clear, profitable and bright future for our fishing industry and coastal communities and as Government we are willing to invest in the infrastructure, policies and regulatory frameworks to bring that about. Just as we believe in the future of the industry we also believe that we will only bring that future about if we take better care of our fish stocks. In the words of the much respected Joey Murrin, we will in future have to speak more strongly for the fish. If we can do this collectively then the future we all wish for the vibrant national fishing industry can be secured.