'Government’s committed to securing sustainable future for the Irish Seafood Sector and supporting our coastal communities'
In his closing statement on Fisheries and Coastal Communities in Dáil Éireann last night, Minister for Food, Agriculture and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said: "As a nation, we have endured many challenges over the past year and a half – from the disruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, to the upheaval caused by Brexit.
"Ireland’s Seafood Sector has been among the most seriously impacted during this period.
"My objective is to work with the industry to grow the sector, and the Coastal Communities supported by it, in the years ahead.
"My Department’s Action Plan for 2021 sets out the priority actions to be implemented this year to drive the development of a sustainable, competitive and innovative Seafood Sector.
"In my opening statement, I addressed some of the main issues and developments directly impacting on fisheries and coastal communities. I’d now like to touch on some broader topics, which have relevance for the Seafood Sector.
"There is growing global acceptance of the reality of the impacts of climate change on our oceans and this has driven a sharp focus on the need for solutions and actions to address these pressing challenges.
"The Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications has signalled his intent to publish the Climate Action Plan 2021 this summer. My Department is participating in several working groups contributing to the drafting of the Plan.
"As I speak, Climate Action is actively being embedded across policies, programmes and work streams within my Department and the agencies under my remit, creating opportunities for innovation and to harness the collective input of policy makers, scientists, technical experts and industry representatives to generate meaningful climate action.
"As islanders surrounded by ocean, it is imperative that we further and deepen our understanding of the marine environment and the effects of climate change. During 2021 the Marine Institute will conduct a baseline study of essential ocean variable monitoring in Irish waters, current measurement programmes and data quality.
"Ireland's new marine research vessel, RV Tom Crean, is due to be completed in summer 2022. The new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose marine research vessel will keep Ireland to the fore in Atlantic marine research activities, including vital fisheries, climate change related research, seabed mapping and oceanography.
"A continued and intensified focus on adaptation, climate action measures and the sustainable management of our fish stocks will be central to the continuation of a sustainable supply of seafood and global food security for a growing world population in the coming decades.
"I was pleased last week to be at the pier in Greencastle, Co. Donegal to announce over 600 tonnes of mainly plastic waste has been collected by our Seafood Sector since 2015, as part of the Clean Oceans Initiative.
"The ongoing efforts of the Irish Seafood Sector, through the Clean Oceans Initiative, to tackle the plastic pollution pervading the marine environment is a leading example of what can be achieved through collaboration.
"The Programme for Government sets out a promise to collect, reduce and reuse marine litter and clean up our marine environment. I would like to commend the Irish Seafood Sector and BIM for their achievements in addressing this matter.
"All maritime spatial planning matters, including for offshore renewable energy projects, come under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
"I understand that the Minister intends to publish the Maritime Area Planning Bill in the coming weeks which will overhaul the planning and development system in the maritime area and that the National Marine Planning Framework is due to be published next month.
"Maritime fishing traditions have cultural significance and form part of the identity of our coastal communities. The access needs of fisheries are varied due to the diverse nature of stocks which are fished, ranging from year-round to seasonal to intermittent.
"Unnecessarily restricting access to fishing grounds could negatively impact the economic viability of our rural coastal communities which rely on these areas for fishing. Spatial conflict is likely if certain types of activities are displaced due to designations or consents for other activities.
"I welcome the initiation by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage of a Working Group with industry and stakeholder representatives on the development of a Communication Protocol between the Seafood Industry and the Offshore Renewable Energy Industry.
"I note also the ongoing work by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to develop comprehensive legislation for the identification, designation, and management of Marine Protected Areas in our territorial waters.
"It is my firm view that early, persistent and meaningful engagement between all stakeholders, from inception through to management, of all spatial plans and the projects that come under them is essential to the sustainable development of Ireland’s Blue Economy.
"I will briefly refer to the issue of fisheries control as I am aware that the recent decision by the European Commission to remove Ireland’s derogation for weighing of fish after transport is a matter of concern for the fishing industry. I have addressed this issue in the House on previous occasions so I will not go into detail here. The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority has now put a revised Fisheries Control Plan out to public consultation and following the conclusion of that public consultation the SFPA will be submitting a new control plan to the European Commission for approval.
"As you will be aware, under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, all operational issues of this nature are exclusively for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Naval Service. I am, as Minister, expressly precluded from getting involved in operational matters such as this. I am advised that the SFPA is currently engaging with the sector on this matter.
"I can assure the House that I, and this Government, are fully committed to having an effective, dissuasive and proportionate system of fisheries control in place in order to protect the fish stocks on which the Irish fishing industry depends.
"The interim report of the Taskforce accurately describes Brexit as a “once in a generation geo-political shift”. Of all the challenges facing the Seafood Sector, Brexit is the most significant and the one with the most far-reaching effects.
"The impact of Brexit has been a major blow for the Irish fishing industry. However, this impact would have been immeasurably worse had the Barnier Task Force agreed to UK demands that all fish caught by EU vessels in UK waters should be fully reflected in increased quota shares to the UK. In the Agreement, UK Quota shares were increased to reflect 25% of the fish caught by EU vessels in UK waters.
"Similarly, the major concern for the Irish Fishing industry late last year was that we might be in a No-Deal scenario, which would have seen all EU and Irish vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland’s fishing zone.
"The Trade and Co-operation Agreement finally struck with the UK on Christmas Eve did involve a transfer, by 2026 of 15% of our overall fish quotas to the UK. Whilst this was a disproportionately high contribution from Ireland – and I have made that case at every opportunity since then and will continue to do so – it was still a better outcome for the Irish fishing industry than what UK were demanding or what would have happened to the Irish fishing industry in a No-Deal scenario.
"In spite of the real challenges arising from Brexit and the 15% disproportionate burden we had to contribute to that deal, which I will continue to seek to address, I am convinced that this is a strong sustainable sector with a bright future. Working together with industry and within the EU structures and with other Member States we can in various negotiating fora, as recommended in the Interim Seafood Taskforce Report, and in the upcoming CFP Review, secure the future of our seafood sector.
"Earlier this month, agreement was reached with the UK on fishing opportunities for 2021. This agreement will provide the necessary certainty and stability for our fishing industry for the rest of this year.
"The successful conclusion of the first post-Brexit fisheries consultations with the UK is an important milestone and sets a good precedent for future cooperation with the UK on the management of our shared stocks.
"I fully recognise the dissatisfaction of the fishing industry with the inequitable burden on Ireland in terms of the quota transfers to the UK under the TCA. I can assure the House that this Government intends to continue to keep the focus on the disproportionate quota reductions for Ireland.
"I have strongly and repeatedly raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing at EU level – most recently at the meeting of the Informal Council of Fisheries Ministers in Lisbon earlier this week. I will continue to do so whenever suitable opportunities arise.
"I have previously stated that I am committed to doing all possible through the review of the CFP to secure additional quota where possible for Irish fishers. When I met with EU Fisheries Ministers this week I made clear that Ireland will be seeking a review of the historic relative stability sharing arrangements within the EU in order to compensate for the imbalance in the quota transfers under the TCA.
"Through the Seafood Sector Taskforce, I’ve brought all voices in the sector together to advise on how we can support and develop the sector and, in turn, the coastal communities dependent on fishing.
"I am delighted to have received the interim report and I’d like to thank the members of the Taskforce for their positive engagement and commitment to securing a sustainable future for the Seafood Sector.
"The Taskforce is continuing its work, including considering proposals for strategic onshore and offshore initiatives that have the capacity to sustain coastal communities by providing jobs and economic activity.
"There are opportunities to growth if we invest in and add value to our Seafood Sector.
"As easing of COVID-19 restrictions now allow for meeting groups of people, I intend to visit coastal communities in the coming months and look forward to being able to engage in person on the pierside in the near future. In the meantime, I will continue to maintain regular contact with industry representatives and to advocate for our Seafood Sector, both at a national and EU level.
"To conclude, I would take this opportunity to reassure the House of this Government’s commitment to securing a sustainable future for the Irish Seafood Sector and supporting our coastal communities," said Minster McConalogue.
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