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Irish boat owners in the polyvalent pelagic fleet have called for an urgent meeting with Minister Charlie McConalogue as tuna prices tumble

Irish boat owners in the polyvalent pelagic fleet have called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue to call a crisis meeting before the Irish fishing sector crashes.

Irish boats fishing for albacore tuna off northern Spain are facing dire financial hardship as the price of tuna has tumbled from an average of €2.30 per kilogram to €1.22 per kilogram. As the price of tuna falls, the price of fuel oil rises and without Irish government support, some believe the fate of many in the industry will be sealed by Christmas.

Speaking to The Fishing Daily today, John Dee, owner of the Ronan Ross SO 412 and vice-chairperson of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, laid out the cold hard facts facing an industry that has been left destitute by a biased Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and dogged by decades of Irish Government failure.

“Things are looking very dire this year. The price of tuna has collapsed for the fishery to be viable,” explains John. “The price has dropped 40%. The average price we got in the last auction was 122 cents per kilo, which was pathetic.”

“The price is a pittance and as fuel costs increase, and after filling a boat with 50,000 litres of fuel, you can imagine how much is left between everything for paying the crew.”

John’s boat has been fishing off northern Spain for five to six weeks now and he is concerned that the impact of the prices is disheartening for crew, which could lead to many looking elsewhere for more profitable work without the danger of being at sea.

So, what is causing the price of tuna to collapse?

There are several reasons John believes are the cause. Firstly, there is the importing of cheaper tuna from outside the EU. Then the price canners are paying to produce tin cans is reportedly up 40%. And thirdly, the soaring cost of olive oil, of which there is a shortage due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The tuna processors in the EU are looking for cheaper tuna to subsidies their costs and are therefore looking to tuna coming from the Indian Ocean and other places. The influx of cheap tuna is driving down the price of tuna caught by the EU fleet.

With the quota system in place, boats cannot catch more tuna in order to offset the rising costs and are therefore left trapped in the cage.

Irish fishing boats are also being hampered by the Government’s position on fuel subsidies for the industry. In Spain and France, both governments have been running fuel subsidy schemes for their fishing fleets. In Ireland, Minister McConalogue has told the industry there is no way he can offer a fuel subsidy scheme to the fleet as there is no wiggle room due to the way it is taxed.

Boats like the Ronan Ross, in the polyvalent pelagic sector find themselves in a precarious position. John believes that if the Minister doesn’t act soon before the situation could become untenable for owners like him.

“We are calling on the Minister (McConalogue) for a meeting shortly to meet with the PO’s and see what the future is because this fishery will be non-existent for us because we won’t be able to survive. We can’t cover our expenses and make a living for the crew.

“We depend fully on pelagic species. Even though we are in the polyvalent sector of the fleet, we’ve suffered a big cut in the mackerel due to the TCA and that has been a major blow. We are a Tier 1 vessel. There’s 12 Tier 1’s and 15 Tier 2’s in the polyvalent section who have been hit hard in recent years.

“Our mackerel quota went from about 480 tonnes annually to around 360 tonnes, so it’s a massive drop in income for us and others like us in this sector.”

Another issue facing this sector is the closure of the horse mackerel fishery, otherwise known as the scad fishery. John’s boat also had quota for this fishery, but the quota is now only for bycatch in other fisheries. These cuts and closures have left a massive hole in finances and the albacore tuna fishery was seen as an important element in filling a part of that hole.

Another concern for the sector is the Brexit Adjustment Relief Fund (BAR). Polyvalent pelagic boats that availed of the temporary tie-up scheme for whitefish may receive no compensation from the BAR Pelagic Relief Scheme after the Government announced that polyvalent vessels would forego any monies received in previous whitefish tie-up schemes.

This is something John believes is unfair as the tie-up schemes should be treated as separate from BAR Schemes.

The combination of unrelenting issues has put this segment of the fishing industry under pressure to survive and without Government support and input, it will no doubt force more boats out of the already decimated fleet.

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Brian J McMullin Soliciors Killybegs
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