The Irish Fishermen’s Organisation (IFO) has
called upon the government to "clearly and
unambiguously" spell out Irish policy with
regard to the registration of sea fishing vessels.
The IFO said it was seeking this clarification on foot of "enquiries and expressions of concern" it had received about the legality of the Atlantic Dawn.
The statement said it was "puzzled by the registration status of the vessel, given the existing policy with regard to the registration of sea fishing boats, as set down by the marine department, which states:
‘It is a basic requirement of fishing boat licensing policy, reflecting mandatory EU fleet capacity policy, that a licence may only be granted for the introduction of a boat into the fishing fleet where the applicant will remove capacity (tonnage and engine power) from the Fishing Vessel Register which is at least equal to the capacity of the boat to be introduced.’
The statement added that as the required capacity had not been removed in the case of Atlantic Dawn, "it is difficult to see how the vessel can be legally accommodated as a sea fishing vessel under the Irish flag".
The IFO has questioned the value to Ireland of vessels of this type, stating "rarely do vessels of this type land into Irish ports and offer no value to the State. There is a strong perception that different treatment is given to different people. This situation must be rectified," the statement added.
The IFO has also cautioned against Ireland being labelled as "neo-colonialist and greedy", by supporting a form of fishing activity that is "likely to create the same problems of stock depletion in third countries that already exist in Europe".
Speaking to the The Irish Skipper, a spokesman for the marine department said that Atlantic Dawn was neither registered on the Irish register of fishing boats, nor on the EU fishing fleet register.
"The vessel is legally registered on the general register of the Irish Shipping 1995 Mercantile Marine Act." Mr Bass added that as Atlantic Dawn was fishing exclusively outside EU waters, "policy considerations [as set out in the IFO statement] do not arise".
"Requirement to remove capacity from the Fishing Boat Register in connection with licensing of vessels is operated to ensure Ireland’s compliance with the binding fleet capacity objectives as specified in the EU’s 4th Multi-annual Guidance Programme," he explained.
Atlantic Dawn is currently operating under a short-term sea fishing boat licence, which precludes her from fishing inside EU waters. The vessel is fishing in Mauritanian waters, identified by the Scientific, Technical, Economic and Fisheries Committee of DG Fisheries. A majority of the crew is Irish, and economic benefits to Ireland include crew wages, shares, and equipment supplies from Irish companies.
On behalf of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), Sean O’Donoghue said it saw "no reason" why Atlantic Dawn could not be accommodated under the international segment of the MAGP. " If this was done, then there would be no problem in EU waters." He added that the KFO did not agree with the IFO on this matter. "It does appear strange that the IFO’s concern does not extend to Dutch vessels undertaking the same operations," he said.
Disappointing uptake of new tuna licences
Despite the allocation of 32 new licences this year in the tuna fishery – primarily for pair-pelagic trawling, trolling and longlining – The Irish Skipper has learned that from 40 applications as few as 10 were deemed suitable, and that many fishermen did not avail of the opportunity.
These additional licences were sought by marine minister Frank Fahey at last December’s fisheries council meeting in a bid to develop Ireland’s participation in this lucrative fishery, in light of the introduction of a TAC and quota system, and the forthcoming driftnet ban. Speaking the The Irish Skipper, Tommy Conneelly said that if the driftnets are to go, "then we have no alternative but to look for other ways of operating this fishery".
Owner of the 57’ Warren Lock and 70’ Annandale, Mr Conneelly said that the obvious option for Irish vessels was to follow the example of the Spanish and French fleets, who engage in trolling by day and pelagic fishing by night respectively: "The fish are now less then sixty miles off our coast, and there are 40 Spanish and French vessels working there.
We all realise that these methods of fishing may not be as lucrative as netting, but you have to do the best with your options. Trolling and pelagic fishing are all that are open to us right now," he said. A spokesperson for the Commission told The Irish Skipper the driftnet ban had been a "difficult decision", which was being introduced on "biological, economic and social" reasons.
"Enforcement will be the responsibilty of each member state, supported by 25 Commission inspectors," the spokesperson added.
Allegations by Irish skippers of discrimination have been challenged by Minister Fahey, who called a meeting of industry leaders and public representatives to "correct misleading reports and misinformation".
He said statistics showed on average that foreign vessels accounted for 65 per cent of all boardings during the tuna fishery, and despite a 2:1 ratio of boardings for foreign vessels compared to Irish boats, "the four detentions in 2000 for alleged breaches of regulations were Irish boats".
The Minister added that the 2.5km maximum driftnet rule was being "strictly enforced by French authorities and the EU Commission", and that no evidence to the contrary has been produced: "If the Irish industry has hard evidence, I will take delivery of it and personally take it up with Minister Glavany," he said.
The 2001 Irish tuna quota is 3,158 tonnes giving a potential value of £10m. Some 14 owners of 18 boats in the driftnet fishery enjoyed a turnover last year of some £8m. Stressing the "illegal and unsustainable" use of driftnets in excess of 2.5km, Minister Fahey said that any breach of the regulation "damages the potential for Irish fishermen to maximise the value of the fishery".
Minister Fahey said the fact that the driftnet ban would be taking effect next year meant that the task of developing viable and profitable alternative fishing methods remained the key strategy: "Significant investment in the region of £3m has already been made by my department and BIM in supporting alternative fishing methods that have potential, such as longlining, trolling and midwater trawling.
"These methods will be further analysed, tested and developed by ourselves and the industry so that the industry can continue to flourish in the years ahead," he said. Chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation Sean O’Donoghue said that despite many arguments, the reality was that the alternatives to driftnetting "are proving viable. Nobody can tell me that Irish pelagic fishermen are not as good as the French, and given a little experience, I would expect this fishery to take off for Ireland."