Irish Inshore Fisheries Sector needs Tailored Recovery Package in order to get restarted the fleet gets back to sea after COVID-19. Photo: Oliver McBride
The ‘Key Supports for Reopening your Small Business’ being provided by the Irish Government is of little use for inshore fishermen says the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA)
The Government is providing direct, non-repayable financial support to small scale businesses reopening as the COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted but unfortunately for the Irish inshore fisheries sector, none of the fleet qualify for the criteria needed to benefit from the subsidies.
“Unfortunately these supports are of little use to small scale fishing enterprises” the Association asks. “Will we ever get the meaningful support we need ?”
The inshore sector has suffered a lot in the past nine-month. Pre-COVID-19, in 2019, the market for Irish brown crab came under threat as markets in China began to refuse to purchase the product due to concerns of cadmium levels in the meat. Then after the new year a spell of bad weather had kept the fleet in harbour and this was then followed by the collapse of markets in east Asia and Europe due to the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.
The inshore industry in Ireland consists of boats that catch shellfish and with these avenues of income shut-off to them, fishers were left high-and-dry as they had no option but to tie-up their vessels.
Now, the fleet is looking to get back to sea, but inshore groups like NIFA are highly concerned that many boats might be lost to the fleet due to inadequate support from the Government.
One of the schemes is the temporary wage subsidy scheme. The scheme enables employees, whose employers are affected by the pandemic, to receive significant support directly from their employer through the payroll system. But this was of little benefit to members of NIFA as they explained:
“The wage subsidy scheme is of little or no use. Almost all small scale fishers are either self-employed or self-employed share-fishers, especially crews and therefore ineligible as the scheme is only open to PAYE employees.”
This caused frustration for the inshore fleet but it looks like their frustrations are not over.
“Re-start grants are only available to businesses that pay commercial rates. Most small scale fishing enterprises don’t pay rates, they don’t own commercial premises. Instead they own fishing boats and some pay harbour dues. Calls to waive harbour dues have been rejected to date.” explains NIFA.
While the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announces over €50 million in aid for the country’s beef farmers, once again, the small scale fishing sector has been royally shafted by the Minister and left to fend for itself.
Other areas of funding from local government through LEOs (Local Enterprise Offices) are meaningless to the sector as direct sales is impossible for small scale fishers to operate along with operating and maintaining their boat.
“The online trading voucher is of limited use,” says NIFA. “Majority of landings caught by Irish SSCF operators are exported via a complex and fragile supply chain. Direct sales online have limited potential and will not be able to move the majority of products.”
“The various other supports from LEOs mostly involve loans why many SSCF operators don’t not have the repayment capacity to make use of.”
Earlier in the COVID-19 crisis, NIFA and NIFO had written to acting Minister Creed with concerns for the sector. On 8 May the Minister announced a Temporary Voluntary Tie-Up Scheme.