21 July 2005 Edition
Preying on the small fish
CATHAL Ó MURCHÚ
Recent action by the scallop fishermen in Wexford is illustrative of the desperate situation in which Irish fishermen are increasingly finding themselves.
A series of protests culminated in the blockade of Rosslare Harbour. The cause of the protest was the Dublin Government's agreement for the reduction of the scallop quotas, adversely affecting the livelihoods of fishermen and their families in Wexford in particular. This occurred despite the fact that the Department of the Marine had encouraged fishermen to make financial investments by upgrading their boats.
Events in Wexford are only a small part of the bigger picture. Essentially, the Irish fishing industry is being constantly run down by the Department of the Marine and the European Commission. Both have colluded in seeing Ireland's quota progressively reduced. The constant downgrading of the Irish fishing industry was effectively a trade-off between the 26-County Government and the EEC when Ireland joined in 1973. In return for giving the EEC the largest share of Ireland's fishing resource, Irish farmers — big farmers in particular — would benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
When asked about the government's fisheries policy Killybegs Sinn Féin Councillor Thomas Pringle said: "The Department of the Marine and the Irish Navy are constantly checking on Irish fishing vessels while ignoring those vessels from Spain, France and Portugal which are known for fishing above their own quotas.
"The Irish Navy has the power to stop and search any EU vessels fishing in Irish waters in order to ensure that EU fishing regulations are being complied with and confiscate vessels that are in breach. But these other foreign vessels aren't subject to the same scrutiny as Irish vessels."
The fact remains that none of the Irish state agencies have shown themselves willing to treat Irish fishermen with parity of esteem or to seriously defend their interests in Europe. Irish fisheries contain approximately 35% of the entire fishery stock of the EU, yet only 12% of the EU fish catch quota is allocated to Ireland. In recent years, this quota has become less and less and the government has kept investment in the Irish fisheries fleet and marine infrastructure to a minimum.
The EU has benefited enormously from a national resource off our coast which has been badly depleted well below the recovery rate, far more than the value of structural funds and CAP payments. It is quite clear that maintaining the viability of the Irish fishing industry has never been a serious priority for the Dublin Government, but rather they intend to destroy it piecemeal and toss away this political hot potato once and for all.