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Alan Dwan
7/16/01 08:43 PM
inshore ireland [Post#: 340 ] Reply to this post

Moneybags minister throws down gauntlet to inshore fishermen

Monday, July 16, 2001, 23:30 (GMT + 9)

“Organise, organise, organise” was the recurring message for Irish inshore fishermen at a special seminar in Connemara to address the deepening crisis in the sector. Lack of cash is no longer a reason for failing to act while stocks crash and boats go out of business: the Government is offering at least IEP 2 million a year (EUR 2.54 million) for the next five years to help the inshore fleet and now it is up to the fishermen to grab this unprecedented opportunity to work together to revolutionise their working practices.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Frank Fahey declared that the Carna seminar marked the beginning of a new era for Ireland’s inshore fishermen in which they would control their own destinies by making their own decisions for the good of their industry.

“I’m convinced there is a crock of gold outside there in that water if we manage it properly,” he said. “We’ve got to stop hunting and ravaging and killing out whatever bit of it is left. We’ve got to manage it and conserve it and by doing so we will reap the rewards.”

The massive programme of cash aid from the State is in stark contrast to the historical neglect of inshore fisheries by successive Governments. In 2000 a mere IEP 70,000 (EUR 87,500) was provided to assist development. This year, and for the foreseeable future, the total has soared 286 per cent.

The main conduit for grants is the Fisheries Inshore Diversification Programme which has a fund of IEP 2.9 million (EUR 2.7 million) over the next five years for a range of measures including up to 40 per cent grants for new vessels and safety improvements, help with fish marketing and for diversifying into sea angling and other marine tourism ventures.

Other changes already set in train are impressive and when the full programme is in place by Easter next year it should be the envy of other EU fishing nations. In the past there was just one government official managing the entire inshore sector. From this month there are eight dedicated inshore officers employed by the fisheries development agency BIM, seven of whom are based in coastal regions to set up and run new development programmes. Each has IEP 150,000 to spend this year. The first two units were set up in the Dingle Peninsula and South Wexford and they have now been followed by north Donegal, north Mayo, west Galway, Connemara and Valentia/Cape Clear.

The network is set to increase substantially later this year and will continue to expand until all coastal areas have their own local officer and management committee.

Mr Fahey has also signalled his intention to devolve decision-making powers from Dublin to the local units, allowing them to act on issues such as the closure of bays and the banning of trawling in sensitive areas.

A National Inshore Fisheries Co-ordination Group was established a few weeks ago, bringing all the government and industry representatives together. At its next meeting in Galway in September the fishermen from the seven local groups will put forward their own policies for conservation, controls, licensing and, of course, how to spend the cash being thrown in their direction.

Every genuine inshore fisherman is to have his boat placed on a new register in the first attempt to quantify the size of the sector accurately. Minister Fahey also wants to weed out the “smart ass people” who do not depend on fishing for a living but will claim they do if there is a chance of making a quick buck.

The rules for inshore fishing are set to change radically and some action has already been taken. A minimum landing size of 110 millimetres has been introduced for crayfish and, for spider crab, it has been set at 125mm for females and 130mm for males. A ban on the use of tangle nets is to be imposed immediately in the waters around the Cleggan area of Connemara. A closed season for shrimp during the spawning season is set to be introduced next year.

New minimum and maximum landing sizes for lobsters are to be introduced as soon as possible and v-notching is to become a national requirement. Grant aid of IEP 500,000 is to be invested in creating a number of storage areas for live lobster and crab to allow fishermen to hold onto their catches until the market is right. Other plans include a campaign to improve hygiene and catch quality on inshore boats.

Mr Fahey has shown a genuine determination to help pull the sector out of the doldrums, making it a top priority since his appointment as minister 18 months ago. But he was explicit in his message to fishermen that the ball now lay firmly in their court. They must embrace radical change to evolve from hunters into harvesters of the inshore stocks and they must learn to speak with one voice and come forward with their own plans for controls and conservation.

“This sector was great in times gone by,” he told the audience of around 80 fishermen from all around the Irish coast. “We’re now very much in the ‘red sector’ and nobody knows that better than you. Nobody knows better than you that stocks are done down; they’re cleared out in a lot of places; that most of you now are only part-time; that there really isn’t a livelihood anymore.

“The one thing that is killing the inshore sector is that you are not organised. You’re being brought here today to tell you to get organised because at least for once we have the money to give you if you get organised to take it.”

Announcing a range of grant schemes and proposals for change, Mr Fahey told the fishermen: “You’re the people who are going to have to drive this. It’s up to you now to accept the challenge that we’ve put before you. It’s up to you to get a hold of the money that has now been made available and it’s up to you to exercise the responsibility that is fundamental to the success of this programme.”

The inshore sector of under 15-metre boats is by far the biggest part of Ireland’s fishing industry, accounting for 83 per cent of vessel numbers. It is thought that around 12,000 people depend on the sector. But less than 10 per cent of the boats are under 20 years old and some date back to the end of World War II.

Worse than that is the state of almost all the stocks the fleet fishes. A complete lack of controls, apart from minimum landing sizes, has led to the position today where crayfish stocks have collapsed and fisheries for lobster, brown, edible and spider crab, scallop, shrimp, razor shell, whelk and a number of other species are unsustainable at their current levels.

Mr Fahey was on home turf in his native Galway for the seminar and he did not mince his words. The fishermen listened intently to every word and gave a round of enthusiastic applause when he finished. Speaking at the end of the session, Wexford inshore man Joey Maddock said it was good that the minister was using “fighting talk” on the fishermen’s behalf.

Mr Fahey replied: “By working together we can make this thing happen. It’s all there to play for.”

By John Robertson

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