Time is running out for the Minister to save both the industry and jobs in Irish aquaculture says IFA Aquaculture Executive, Teresa Morrisey
Time is running out for Minister Charlie McConalogue to save both the industry and jobs in Irish aquaculture says IFA Aquaculture Executive, Teresa Morrisey.
Faced with high bills and increasing inflation, aquaculture in Ireland needs financial support urgently or else businesses will go to the wall, within the next twelve-months warns Morrisey. With workers seeing pay increases and other employments ready to offer better wages in towns and cities, aquaculture is facing a battle to survive, but Teresa believes that it can be salvaged if it receives government support. But like the fishing industry, that support that is not forthcoming from the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, TD, who has been “monitoring and assessing” the situation regarding energy costs for both the aquaculture and fishing industries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
Whereas the Minister has used the Voluntary Tie-up Scheme to keep fishing vessels in harbour and reduce the fishing effort, the aquaculture has not been granted any supports, even though the Minister has been given a freehand to help.
Both aquaculture and fisheries have been granted a derogation from the European Commission to allow for energy supports to be paid from European maritime funding, but so far, the Minister has bluntly refused to offer any assistance to the seafood industry, failing to recognise the crisis therein, but at the same time granting aid to farmers under schemes such as the Fodder Support Scheme which cost €56 million, because he recognised the crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While aquaculture may not be as important to the exchequer as farming is, it is nevertheless an important employer in rural coastal areas. The IFA has over 150 members providing approximately 2,000 jobs, which are core socio-economically to areas which would otherwise be left to perish. At a time when the country is running close to full employment, these jobs may not count for much on the live register, but even the loss of 25% of these jobs in aquaculture would have long-term impacts for coastal communities, says Teresa.
“A lot of areas around the coast depend on industry. Seafood contributes to around 16,000 jobs and aquaculture contributes to that also” says Morrisey. Indeed, in 2021, the aquaculture industry was worth around €175 million to Ireland.
Energy costs for electricity and gas are the main expense drivers for the aquaculture industry, but raw materials and feed have also been getting more expensive, products that the industry rely heavily on.
“Expenses has risen in the region of 50/60% for raw materials: stainless steel is up 55%, steel is up 50%, aluminium is up 55%, wood used in pallets and construction is up 30% and rising, plastics 11% and fish feed costs for salmon farmers has doubled,” says Teresa.
“We are not an industry that relies on financial help from the State. We are pretty much self-efficient in that regard. The only help we have really got in years was during the COVID-19 crisis but that is about it. There is about €5.5 million euros left in the EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014 –2020) which the Minister has left to spend before the end of next year. If he doesn’t spend it, it’s gone. So why doesn’t he use it now to protect the seafood sector?”
After coming out of a difficult economic climate due to Brexit, where aquaculture businesses experienced gross profits drop by up to 30% due to increased logistic and raw material costs, they were finding their feet in the post-Brexit era, but unlike industries, Teresa feels that the seafood sector has been neglected by the Irish Government.
Any financial aid that the Minister would be granting the seafood sector would cost the exchequer little or nothing at all, so it is difficult to see why the Minister is holding back funds to both the aquaculture and fishing industry.
In fact, on analysis of the Minister’s announcement on Budget Day 2023, of a record €355 million spend on the seafood industry, when broken down, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has decreased its spending on the seafood industry, as most of the money is coming from BAR.
The situation is critical, and Teresa Morrisey asks to Minister to act quickly, not alone as costs soar but because under the European Commission derogation on energy aid, the time limit runs out on 31 December 2022.
“The fishing industry and ourselves are facing the same crisis as the farmers are facing. Where the Minister has extended schemes for the farmers, we’ve not even had any scheme put in place to support us.
“At the moment with the situation of inflation and increased costs, I would say, we certainly see businesses gone out of business and in the next 12 months easily. Oyster farmers for example, their biggest fiancial output is at the beginning of next year when they’ll be buying seed which is a fairly significant cost. In the first quarter of the year, there’s a lot of outgoings and next year they might not be able to spend that money.
“The European Union has given the Minister until the end of this year to spend this money in the EMFF and if it doesn’t happen, essentially by the end of next year we will be out of business.”
by Oliver McBride