The Minister for the Marine is currently not proposing a tie-up scheme for the Irish fishing fleet but instead is strongly leaning towards using the EMFF for Storage Aid.
This is according to correspondence from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who have said that the Minister is committed to keeping a supply of food working rather than closing down any part of the food industry.
However, Minister Creed was not present at last Tuesday’s meeting which was hosted instead by Dr.Cecil Beamish, Assistant Secretary General for the Department and attended by representatives from the Irish Fish Producers Organisations along with two representatives from NIFF.
Minister Creed has proposed using the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund (EMFF) monies for Storage purposes rather than using it for a Cessation of Fisheries scheme.
“The Minister is not proposing that a tie-up scheme is introduced at this time, as the main focus at this point is to work to continue to support the supply of food,” says the Department’s correspondence, but “the Minister will keep this tie up option in reserve, in the context of available funding and in case the situation develops to such an extent that such a scheme is required.
On Storage the correspondence says “This would allow the fleet to continue to fish and support the continuation over the period of a supply of seafood for domestic and EU markets, while also providing a safety net if markets cannot be found for some catches.”
Tuesday’s meeting achieved nothing more than outlining the Minister’s intentions as the Department did not know how much money was left in the EMFF for Ireland.
On Monday the Department said “The Minister is currently examining the options, and a meeting at official level to consult directly the Producer Organisations who have a central role and other industry representatives has been arranged for tomorrow (21st April).
“The purpose is to ensure that any such scheme would be properly targeted within an appropriate budget and would not result in a withdrawal of fish which could be viably sold or a subsequent glut of stored product being released onto markets when they are recovering.”
None of this was achieved as the Minister was not present and there were no financial figures available from the Department. A second meeting is to be arranged when the Minister will have those figures to hand.
Unfortunately, Storage Aid under EMFF rules can only be used by fishing vessels that are members of Fish Producers Organisations. Any private or independent operator will not be able to avail of this funding.
Small operations like the inshore fishing fleet could find themselves excluded from EMFF funding which ordinarily they would be entitled to.
This is because the EU has not provided any additional funding to the EMFF. It is merely an early release/a reshuffle of funds which could see the fund exhausted on Storage.
The Fishing Daily has written for a second time to the Minister and the Department asking how they are going to support non-members of Fish Producers Organisations and what aid outside of Wage Subsidy Scheme will they give boat-owners who have insurance, harbour fees, loans and other expenses to pay since the markets collapsed.
The Fishing Daily has also asked the Department if they will provide funding to help boat owners restart their business in the next coming weeks?
As of now, the Department has not returned with an answer except
“The Government has put in place a number of measures to help support the fishing industry through this crisis period. The Government’s National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme includes the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy scheme, an enhanced COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 per week and an increase in the COVID-19 Illness payment to €350 per week. The self-employed are also eligible for the COVID-19 Pandemic
“Unemployment Payment, which is particularly relevant for the fishing industry as a large proportion of fishermen are self-employed “share fishermen” on board vessels or are self-employed inshore fishermen. The Banking Sector has put in place a co-ordinated approach to support individual and business customers affected by COVID-19, including flexible arrangements such as payment breaks for mortgages and other loans.
“Last month, the Minister met with the banks’ agriculture and fisheries lending teams to confirm that these supports will be extended to the fishing industry.”
The Minister has tasked Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) “to work intensively with both the catching, processing and retail sectors to seek engagement so that our supermarkets and shops have a ready supply of fish in their stores.”
In truth, we rely heavily on exporting fish to France, Spain, Italy, the UK and China and these are the markets that collapsed at the outbreak of COVID-19.
The Irish public’s consumption of Irish caught fresh fish per person is relatively low compared to our EU neighbours and the domestic market is there to develop if BIM and Bord Bia would invest in it.
This is something the CEO of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO), Patrick Murphy feels strongly about.
Speaking to The Fishing Daily yesterday he said “We have almost five million people in Ireland. If 20 % of the population or one million people buy 1 kilo of say prawns. That’s one thousand tonnes.”