New rules for weighing fish are having a financial impact on industry
The Irish fishing industry is hoping that the EU Commission will accept the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority’s new control plan which is thought to be nearly completed.
The loss of the control plan will put hugely impact the standards of fish from Irish vessels as removing the product from ultra-controlled secure hygiene regulated areas will ultimately damage standards.
A derogation was granted to the Irish fishing industry which allowed Irish boats to weigh their catches in processing factories or other places within the control of the derogation because unlike most other European countries, Ireland’s harbours do not usually have processing plants on the piers.
Last month, the EU Commission’s decision to revoke the derogation came out of the blue and threatens to affect the value of fish coming from the Irish fishing industry.
The SFPA had informed the Commission that they suspected Irish boat owners and processors were cheating the weighing systems in pelagic factories in Killybegs, and the EU Commission made the decision to withdraw the derogation based on this evidence.
The SFPA had overseen the installation of the weighing systems in the plants and the factory floors were subject to monitoring, but they concluded that between 2012 and 2016, the Irish pelagic industry overfished species such as mackerel and blue whiting to the tune of 30,000 tonnes, right under their noses.
Revoking the control plan meant that every Irish fishing sector was hit by the Commission’s decision.
Along with pelagic stocks, whitefish and shellfish landings were also hit by the loss of the control plan and now every species must be weighed on the pier by SFPA approved weighing scales.
For whitefish boats, this will mean removing fish from legally required conditions and exposing them to the elements of sun, wind and rain to weigh them pier side before they can be loaded onto a lorry to be transported to a factory where they can be processed for traceability before being sent to the home market or sent for export to the Continent.
Aside from being responsible for the weighing and calculating of landings, the SFPA is also responsible for the products food safety standards.
When fish is landed in places outside major fishing ports, the lorry must carry the required SFPA approved weighing scales. There was an exemption put in place until the start of June and the SFPA is working with fisheries representatives to engineer a new control plan which will be submitted to the EU Commission for approval.
In the meantime, the exemption runs out in seven days’ time.
John Nolan from the Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op explains what is currently happening on the ground.
“The actual exemption is on the scales being certified, says John. “If we go to Kinsale, Crosshaven, Fenit or Dingle, we have to bring the scales in the lorry with us.
“Then we have to do the sample weighing. We have to weigh all the monkfish and 10% of the other species.”
Another issue for the boats is the long hours it takes to unload and weigh the fish pier side.
“Image being out on a fishing trip, then having to come it to unload and starting to weigh. There’s the working hours directive and other regulations and this holds things up,” says John.
These delays can have a massive impact on whether a boat gets the right money for its fish.
Ferries don’t wait if you are late and, on the Continent,, some late deliveries of fish have not been accepted by the buyer, which is devastating for the businesses back home.
Part of this is that fish landed outside the major ports have to be transported back to where there are already regulated scales for processing, as John explains:
“In Castletownbere we have a state-of-the-art weighing system that labels and traces everything. If one of our boats lands in Kinsale, for example, you can’t go from Kinsale directly to the market without labelling or traceability. So, it has to come back here to Castletownbere where the same weighing process happens all over again.
“It’s doubling the work and exposing the fish to different temperatures which is not good for the quality of the product.”
John is happy though that the SFPA are willing to work with the fishing industry to bring about a new control plan.
He says, “I have met people from the SFPA, and they are in the process of bringing the new plan to Brussels and hopefully that will bring us back to where we were before.”