Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed TD, has responded to the criticism levelled at him over his handling of the Irish fishing industry during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Last Friday, 22 May, the four Irish fish producers organisations launched an attack on the Minister and his Department saying that “in rejecting impassioned appeals for specific COVID supports from a beleaguered fishing industry which is fighting for its very survival in the face of the pandemic, he and his officials have effectively turned their back on the sector.
The Tie-Up scheme for the Irish fishing industry which is due to come into effect as of 1 June does not compensate vessels which took a decision to tie up in late March says the leaders of the sector.
The EU-funded initiative offers compensation from €500 per month for a maximum of two months for vessels under six metres in length to €6,000 per month for a maximum of two months for the largest vessels over 24 metres.
The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO), the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&EFPO), along with the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) wrote to Minister asking him to revise the package after details of the scheme were announced.
The fish producers jointly proposed a similar model for the Irish fishing industry to the scheme introduced by the French Government, which started from 1 April 2020 for an initial three months term with a review at the end of the period. The scheme would be based on compensating a boat owner based on 30% of the full grossings of the vessel earned in the same period last year, and with an appropriate tie-up period of 7 to 10 days “to be further discussed”.
IS&EFPO Chief Executive Hugo Boyle said this would have allowed strategic management of fisheries, matching efforts to market demand, with continuity of supply in the food sector.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation Chief Executive Sean O’Donoghue said of the Minister’s plan “ the Covid-19 Voluntary Fleet Tie-up Scheme which is completely unfit for purpose. Instead of achieving the key objective of matching current supply and demand, the scheme will do the reverse with very little voluntary uptake as almost all vessels will continue to fish thus making an already over supplied market worse.”
Mr O’Donoghue also said he had “The entire industry is united in our unequivocal rejection of a botched and ultimately useless ‘scheme’ which does nothing to provide reassurance to fishermen.
In his reply to the criticism levelled at him for his treatment of the Irish fishing industry and his Department over their course of action Mr Creed’s statement reads.
“The Government’s primary objective throughout the Covid crisis has been to maintain fishing activity, to ensure critical food supply lines to the domestic and European markets. For this reason, the Government, at the outset, classified fishing as an essential service and kept the Fishery Harbours and related support services open throughout the crisis period. This remains the primary Government objective in relation to the fishing industry.
“There has been significant and sustained offshore fishing activity by the Irish fleet over the last three months. This has been helped by the fact that the price of oil, a critical cost factor for the fleet, has reduced dramatically. Together with good fishing weather, these factors have greatly assisted the viability of fishing operations notwithstanding the reduced prices.
“The temporary tie-up scheme is simply designed as a safety net scheme to provide a further option to fishermen who choose not to continue fishing. It is not designed as a replacement for viable fishing activity, wherever those possibilities exist. To date most Irish offshore fishing vessels have continued to fish. As European and Asian markets gradually begin to open up, as is happening at present, it is likely that demand and prices will continue to improve and in those circumstances many fishermen will continue to choose to fish and not to avail of the scheme. The temporary tie up scheme, as a safety net scheme, is not designed to attract all fishermen and to bring all fishing activity to a halt. That is not the primary Government objective for the Fishing Industry.
“Fishermen have been and will continue to be able to avail of the horizontal Government Covid supports, such as the Pandemic Unemployment Benefit, the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the delayed banking arrangements. Those horizontal supports continue to be available to the Fishing Industry and the temporary tie up scheme is a further complementary and additional support to fishermen, who choose not to continue fishing. The scheme is not intended as an income replacement scheme for fishing vessel owners. The scheme is intended to contribute towards the fixed costs, associated with fishing vessels of various sizes, that voluntarily choose to tie-up. The supports to fixed costs available under the Scheme range from €6,000 per month for a maximum of two months for the very largest vessels over 24 metres, to €500 per month for a maximum of two months for the very smallest vessels under 6 metres in length. Those support levels are in line with the fixed costs reported by industry in the EU data collection exercise operated by BIM.
“It is up to the fishing vessel owner to decide whether to tie-up or keep fishing and in line with the Government policy of keeping the food chain operating. It is, of course, preferable that the supply to fish continues to satisfy available markets.
In general, vessel owners want their vessels to be at sea and fishing. The scheme was capped at a maximum of 66% of each vessel size category in the fleet to ensure a continued level of fishing activity.
“It would be a positive sign if the take-up of this supplementary scheme is low and that the safety net provided through the scheme is used only by the minimum number of vessels that make a decision that it is not in their economic interest to put to sea. To assist the continuation of fishing activity over the coming period, generous vessel quota allocations are being made for the month of June.