The owner of a 17ft punt has been told that he must take a journey of more than 70 nautical miles to unload a bot of velvet crab
The owner of a 17-foot punt has been advised he must travel 50 nautical miles around Ireland’s most northerly headland to unload a box of velvet crabs in a harbour with weighing scales approved by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.
Since the loss of the Control Plan, a derogation from the EU Commission which allowed Irish fishing boats to weigh their catches in processing factories or at other assigned places instead of weighing them pier side, Irish fishers have been forced into a situation where they must have SFPA approved weighing scales at their disposal when they land, something that small-scale fishers cannot afford, and something they should not have to do as the majority of catches are non-quota species.
In this case, a young Donegal fisherman, says he was advised by the SFPA that he could not unload a box of velvet crab in his traditional harbour because he does not have the required SFPA approved weighing scales.
Instead of unloading the box at his small pier on Lough Swilly and travelling 40 minutes across the Inishowen Peninsula to have them weighed at Greencastle on SFPA approved scales, he was advised to take to the open seas in his five-metre open boat and travel from Lough Swilly, around Malin Head, through the mouth of Lough Foyle and into Greencastle to unload his catch.
This advice surprised the young man who has always been a law-abiding fisher and such a strict interpretation of the regulations will drive small boats out of business.
“I usually fish for lobsters, but I get a bycatch of velvet crabs here. So, I had a box of velvets gathered up and I was going to send them away to a processor. On Wednesday morning last week, the processor contacted me saying that they were unable to take the box because they had to be weighed on landing.
“I asked if I could take them to Greencastle to be weighed there in the Foyle Fishermen’s Co-op, but I was told that they had to be weighed at the point of landing, in the same harbour.
“The following day, I called the SFPA to see if there would be any way I could take them to Greencastle for weighing, and I was told that if I didn’t have the required weighing scales then I would have to take the boat to Greencastle to weigh the fish.
“I asked him, unless I go around Malin Head in a 17 foot open punt there’s no other way then I can get them weighed?
“I was told “Yes”!
“I was asked if I had weighing scales and I said that I didn’t. I was asked if there was any possibility of buying weighing scales, or three or four boats going together and buying scales, but I am the only one operating here and if I was sharing scales, I would have to cross to the other side of the bay which would mean an hour-and-a-half journey in an open boat in all sorts of weather conditions. I’d be putting my life at risk.
“The velvet crabs don’t earn much but for a small-scale fisherman like me, a box can pay for a day’s fuel but it’s not enough to be going and buying a set of weighing scales. Small boat men like me are already in debt trying to run our business and it is impossible to afford these extra things; and especially when it’s for a non-quota species like velvet crab.
“I am a young fisherman, and I am trying to work myself up to a bigger and safer fishing vessel, but they are making it impossible at the moment.”
The advice from the EU Commission says: “The revocation of the Irish control plan means that operators must weigh fishery products on landing, before transport, storage or sale, and use the results to complete mandatory catch registration documents.
“European Union rules require that fishery products are weighed on systems approved by competent authorities. Therefore, under Union rules, privately owned scales, provided they are approved by the competent authorities, may be used to weigh fishery products at landing. However, this is without prejudice to any specific requirements in relation to the monitoring of certain landings, where the use of publicly operated weighing facilities may be desirable for control purposes.”
By Oliver McBride