The Fishing Daily Podcast Series 2 Episode 06 – Oliver McBride speaks to Aodh O’Donnell, the new CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) about the reason why he took the position, the weighing debacle in Killybegs (the interim control plan), the Common Fisheries Policy Review (Report), the Permanent Voluntary Cessation Scheme proposed under the Seafood Sector Task Force, his aims for the IFPO, offshore energy and the perception of bottom trawling.

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO)

by The Fishing Daily Podcast in Audio


Welcome to The Fishing Daily Podcast sponsored this month by Saltwater Marketing digital marketing services for the commercial marine industry. Here’s your host editor of The Fishing Daily, Oliver McBride.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Welcome to the Fishing Daily podcast. Today I’m joined by the new CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, Aodh O’Donnell.

Thank you for joining us Aodh and taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to us.

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Thank you Oliver. Good to see you.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

A lot of people will probably be asking what is your motivation to come into the fishing industry side of things when you’re better known in the seafood end?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Yeah, it’s a good question, Oliver. I suppose I’ve had a lifelong experience working in the seafood sector. I started in that business when I’m 16 years of age so.

I have a predictor, love and passion for it, and I’m motivated really by that interest and passion.

I have a fair bit of the contact and experience over the years with the catching sector. I’ve also had a fair bit of contact with the state agencies, and I’ve also had obviously a high level of exposure to international developments and trade and so on. So, for me it was a decision that I made because I felt I could bring that set of experiences and skills to the catching sector. And it’s a very challenging time, obviously. But I feel that I can bring some change and ambition to the PO.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

You’ve been at the helm of the IFPO for about four weeks now and those four weeks there’s been a lot happening in Killybegs and not all good. What’s your take on the situation with the pier side weighing?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

I suppose the pier side weighing is a bit of a debacle really, and we have a failure of effectively the control plan to give the catching sector a level playing field in terms of the control weighing itself.

What’s being asked all the vessels in the fleet, and this includes now international vessels coming from Norway and Denmark is to land product and have it control weighed in a manner that essentially renders it unfit for human consumption.

That’s a shame, that’s a pity and I that’s a failure of policy.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

As you probably know yourself from your experience, meaningful employment and an area like Southwest Donegal is highly important. Losing factories, processing factories from Killybegs and surrounding area would have a major impact.

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

It would like for us, not just in Killybegs, but all around the coast. The seafood sector, both in catching and processing. It’s like the Intel for Killybegs, Castletownbere and for Galway.

If we were to lose that or we would have continued shrinkage and decay of the sector, it’s going to be a loss of meaningful employment to communities that have that rely on the seafood sector.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Minister McConalogue has received a lot of criticism over the handling of the situation with the weighing and a lot fisherman has basically said he’s washed his hands off the SFPA.

Plus, he’s also taken a lot of flack for not sorting out his department as he promised an interview back in 2011. He said if he got onto department, he would have a a total rethink about or how it is run.

Do you think some of the criticism is warranted or unwarranted?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, we have a very, very difficult time. We have a lot of anger, a lot of frustration right there, particularly with people in coastal communities and at the moment, in Killybegs.

There’s frustration and that jobs are being lost. People are being sent home, and they see fish bypassing the port, leaving going to Derry, for example, to be landed and brought back by road.

So, this needs to be addressed. The Department of Marine needs to be looked at. They need to come up with some form of solutions that give us an opportunity to catch the fish, to land it appropriately, and how it processed and to give the jobs. Because at the end of the day, the seafood sector is the backbone of our coastal communities in terms of employment, both for direct employment and for the services that are vital to divest themselves.

So, we need proper engagement, we need immediate and urgent action, and we need to take the problem seriously and to have as much interest in the developmental aspect of the business as also the control.

The sector is committed to control. The sector is committed to best practise. We have very, very fine vessels. We have state of the art processing facilities, but we do need the support of the state agencies to go forward and to develop and to grow.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

There’s an amended control plan and the process of being submitted, well have been submitted to the EU Commission, but there’s amendments being attached to it. Do you think any new control plan can fix the distrust and upset between the fishing industry and the SFPA?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, the current Control Plan is an interim one which was introduced at the beginning of the year. We are led to believe that the new control plan has been submitted in March to the EU Commission for approval, but we’re also understanding that the existing control plan, the interim one, is being extended now until the end of the year.

The control plan in its current format, is not fit for purpose, and we have no reason to believe that the new permanent control plan will be much improved on this.

We need to address certain key issues around the control and the weighing of fish products. Once solutions that are similar to those being implemented in the rest of Europe and that give us the level playing field that we’re entitled to and which forms part of the common fisheries policy.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Where do you think the failure is when we can’t get a control plan that works. I know our setup is different in Ireland to install the European countries where the factories are pier side and everything else. But there seems to be nobody picking up on what the fishing industry is saying that needs to be done, and it seems to be a very one-sided conversation from the department and the SFPA.

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

I mean essentially what we need is a degree of common sense. We need to look at what is being done. Look at the investment that’s in the factories themselves in the technology to weigh the fish.

We have a unique situation in that all of our factories now have online cameras recording the actual weighing of the product that’s actually a line feed into the control authorities themselves. We’ve got 31-day backup. What else is required? We just need to address the fact that the factories and the vessels are committed to sustainability. They are committed to compliance, and we just need engagement with the authorities to ensure that the control plan reflects needs of shore-based factories. We’re unique. We have shore-based factories. The Dutch have most of their processing at sea, and they don’t have the same compliance requirements that we have.

All we need is a level playing field.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Another area where we don’t have a level playing field is the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy review is happening now at the moment. What’s your opinion on it?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

OK, well we have the common fisheries policy review. The review itself is a bit of a misnomer because essentially what’s looked at or what’s required by the EU at this time, it’s not a review of the CFP, it’s actually a report on the CFP itself.

We have a task force. We’ve had three meetings so far. We’re looking at basically innovative ways of optimising the position for Ireland in relation to entitlements and quotas and so on.

But the reality, the crushing reality of all of this, is that essentially if we don’t have the political support of our own state, but more importantly of the EU, there will be no change. Other Member States are not going to give quota back to us at their own expense.

They value their seafoods. They value their quotas and they’re not going to transfer them to us unless we really have to.

We have the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which is also a factor here. We’ve transferred so much of our stocks and quotas to the UK, and that’s a significant loss, and this needs to be factored into our discussions and review of the CFP.

But they cautioned that what we have is a limited scope, and a very short timescale to achieve anything, and I don’t hold out much hope much more by way of quota for our Members in that regard.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Unless Ireland gets something out of this review or report or something from the EU within the next, say nine months. We are looking at a very sort of bleak prospect. We have got the Seafood Sector Task Force Report calling for decommissioning, which would lose 30% for Whitefish fleet. You know you weren’t part of that process, you weren’t there at the meetings. But there are some of the recommendations includes the permanent voluntary cessation scheme.

Where do you stand on that?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, I stand on that from a national or from an Ireland Inc point of view.

I really think it’s a shame that the small fleet that we have that we are setting out now to decommission 30% of our demersal fleet.

This is really a retrograde step. It’s a step back for the industry. It would result in a loss of long-term employment both offshore in the catching and onshore, and once this is decommissioned it’s forever. The capacity is lost, the jobs are lost, the culture of fishing, it’s a generational thing. We’ve lost those jobs forever. So, whilst it’s necessary. Given the fact that our quote is also reduced, but it’s still regrettable.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Another area that’s lost as well is that skills, like we’re looking at a lot of our fishing industry where elder skippers are looking at the scheme and thinking about retiring. We’ve got young people coming along and there’s no opportunities for them to become both owners or skippers, and as you say this is a long-term effect.

What would you say to young people who are wanting to come into industry at the moment you think she’d had did have confidence moving forward? Or do you think that you know we’ve sort of hit the wall?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, we have come to a crossroads, but I still think that on an ongoing basis we have a very valuable protein that’s been caught off the West Coast of Ireland. It’s in big demand internationally. The value of this as a food source as a high-quality food source will continue. I think to increase there will be opportunities, but unfortunately, what we have is a downsizing of what is already very small feet by EU standards.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

It seems like a lot of the bigger players and Europe haven’t been impacted by Brexit or the Trading and Cooperation Agreement, and Ireland has seemed to be singled out for this. And we’ve heard from the Director General of the DG MARE, Charlina Vitcheva say who said that Ireland will not be entitled to any more quota.

Then what we have is there, is there a misunderstanding that that you know in Europe you think that the fishermen are acceptable for this?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, the fishermen are not accepting this obviously, or they’re not happy with it. We’re all very angry, but what has happened. The time was moved on. We’re a year and a half into a process now where we are quotas have been transferred to the UK.

It’s a disproportionate hit. It affects particularly the mackerel sector and also the langoustines sector hardest.

And there’s no commitment really. From the EU to address this.We have to fight. We have to see if there’s some form of rebalancing of the situation so that our European partners balance up what we have been lost so that our losses are proportional to other Member States, but this needs political will. This needs commitment all right, and it starts with their own government.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

You’re in the unique position of being the only national fish producer that covers the whole of Ireland.

How can you use that position and dealing with fisheries issues?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, it’s good in that when we’re representing the sector internationally or nationally, we are a national body. We have membership from the east coast; from Clogherhead to Castletown to Dingle, to Galway and Donegal.

We are the oldest producer organisation. We have to use that to build alliances, to liaise with other PO’s both within Ireland and within Europe. To work with various advisory councils to see what can be done. To best represent our members both nationally and internationally.

So, it’s a big challenge. It’s a big responsibility and it’s up to us to give a voice to our members and to represent their interests as best we can. And as part of that we have to bring the discussion and the narrative, not just to our own agencies, but into Europe as well.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Looking heavy over the next two or three years, what do you hope to achieve on the IFPO?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, there’s a couple of very pressing issues that need be focused on.

The first one, obviously, is to make sure that we have a fit for purpose control plan. We need to have proper engagement with the control authorities and with policy development in the State.

The second issue, obviously we’re in the middle of this process at the moment. It’s the common fisheries policy to see what can, if anything can be achieved to improve our lot to improve our courses, to improve our intake Government, and that’s a big challenge

Looking into the future it’s all about representation. It’s about being relevant to our members and to make sure that there’s a proper communication channel and a proper narrative to explain to both our own politicians, and to our agencies and the European agencies that we have a very proud and long culture of fishing and processing, and the that is the backbone of our communities.

We’re sitting on a very significant resource of seafood protein on the West Coast of Ireland. It’s a best fishing grounds in Western Europe.

We have a demand for this product. We have the people we have the vessels, we have the processing facilities, but we need to have proper access and entitlement to this because the demand for food is going to continue and we need to that to be recognised by all players.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Offshore energy production seems to be a controversial topic at the moment for the fishing industry.

What’s your stance on that?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Well, we need to have proper engagement with the catching sector as stakeholders and all of this. We don’t have that proper level of engagement at the moment.

Offshore renewable energy is competing with fishing for the actual seabed itself, and the reality is that for many of these facilities, when they’re established, the fishermen will be displaced.

There’s going to be displacement of access to the fishing waters, so there’s a competition out there for access to catching.

If it’s going to happen to a certain extent, fishermen are going to have some to have some form of engagement, and in the events that they proceed, there is going to have to be some form of proper compensation for the players in that regard.

So certainly, from our side, we’re committed to engaging with these people and to give advice to our fisher folk as key stakeholders. We have entitlements to catching these areas, entitlements that can’t be ignored and they have to be taken account of.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

And suppose another area as well the fishing industry is getting hammered is for bottom trawling. A lot of the Irish fleet are bottom trawlers. This idea that fishing boats are trawling all over the place, that’s a myth, isn’t it?

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

It’s a myth. I mean there, there’s a lot of misinformation, and particularly at EU level, driven by some NGOs, but the catching sector has formed an alliance at EU level. It’s a bottom fishing alliance to this take this task, to address the issues to, to ensure that the information that’s provided by the other side is clear and robust and scientifically stands up.

Bottom trawling is a fact of life. It’s very necessary and some of the literature right there by some of the parties is false and incorrect.

Oliver McBride (The Fishing Daily)

Aodh it’s been a pleasure speaking to you, and hopefully we’ll hear from you soon again and you’ll give us an update on what’s happening in fishing industry and within the organisation.

Aodh O’Donnell (IFPO)

Thanks Oliver, we will.

Podcast music used with permission of In Their Thousands – Acrasia © In Their Thousands 2018. Check out Spotify

Aodh O’Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) speaks to The Fishing Daily

by editor time to read: 15 min