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27 July 2000 Edition

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The Disaster of the EU Common Fisheries Policy

Last week we carried the first part of a report on the Tuna Fishing fleet where four trawlers have been arrested in so many weeks by Irish Naval Patrols, which fishermen claim to be persecution in face of the far more powerful rival Spanish fleet. In the second part of a two-part investigation of the Tuna Fishermen's raw deal, Roisin de Rosa looks at the ``sell off'' of the Irish fishing industry and our natural resources, which has happened under the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU.

  The trouble with the Department is that it is away in a world of its own. One phone call from Brussels and they jump 10 foot in the air,  
says one fisherman who suffered arrest this year.

``The EU Common Fishery Policy (CFP) has been a disaster'', according to Martin Ferris, who was a fisherman himself, fishing out of Dingle in Kerry. ``The Government conceded to a snatch of Irish natural resources and now they haven't the heart to fight. The CFP lies at the heart of all the frustration felt by the fishermen round our shores.''

When the 26 Counties joined the EEC back in 1972, Irish fishermen were allocated 4% of the EU catch , despite the fact that Ireland had 18% of the EU waters. The EU fishing policy is decided by vote of member states. The Dublin government has 3 votes out of a total of 84. Austria, for example, with no coast line, has more votes than Ireland on the question of an EU fishing policy.

How did this happen? ``The larger constituencies in the country dictated the pace. No one looked after the fishing constituencies,'' says Martin Ferris. ``These large constituencies looked on our resources as expendable. Since the CFP came into effect, Irish fishermen have been fighting a loosing battle.''

Was it a trade off with agricultural interests? Or was it incompetence of our negotiators at the time? It is said that Hillery, who headed the negotiating team on agriculture, sent Brendan Kelly, from the Department, home 2 days before negotiations began, and that when the Irish team were asked for details on the tonnage of Irish fishing boats, they had no idea, and counted up rough guesses. The quotas allocated to the 26 Counties were assigned on the basis of tonnage. It didn't help that the Irish negotiating team didn't even know what our tonnage was.

Selling the Fishing Industry

But the fight to protect Irish fisheries in the South West has not been pursued with any great conviction since. It has continued to be viewed as something to be sold. In the early eighties Charles Haughey generously issued the `Dingle Licences', so-called because 14 of the 20 were given out went to Dingle people. Many of these licences went to people who did not even have boats, but the licences had value.

Equally the attempt to develop fish processing was a complete flop, or worse. In 1979, Brian Lenihan, Minister of Fisheries at the time, agreed a lease of Dinish Island, off County Cork, with Eiranova, a subsidiary company of the Spanish giant, Pescanova. Pescanova controls the major fraction of the Spanish fishing industry, which is the largest in the world aside from the Chinese fleet.

The lease on Dinish Island was conditional upon Eiranova fulfilling obligations to employ Irish people in the fish processing factory, to be built on the island, and on the 5 ships which they were given licence to build, each with a tonnage of around 140 tons, though the average Irish tonnage was only 60 tons. The ships were built and financed by the Bank of Ireland, at Verolme dockyard, since closed down.

The IDA gave substantial grant aid of £525,000, approved in 1979, to Eiranova, on the condition that they would provide 115 jobs by 1983. Eiranova however did not fulfil these conditions. According to Enterprise Ireland, the numbers employed reached only 26 full time and 24 part-time at peak production.

Production very quickly fell off from `peak' levels. No fish is processed now at the factory, apart from a few shrimp. The 5 boats employ Spanish crews, who are cheaper by far. But the 5 ships, registered to Eiranova, are allowed to catch fish, which, when landed in Spain, count against the Irish quota. It was an opportunity missed, by the Irish government, even if not by Pescanova.

The real costs of CFP

The costs of the CFP to Ireland has not only been the loss of a fishery industry, but the depletion of fish stocks, and, perhaps the most serious of long term effects, the deprivation of those fishing communities along the coasts, which are dependent upon fisheries.

When the crews come back without a catch, they receive no wages. They are classified as self employed, and therefore not eligible for benefit. When the boat is sold, arrested, or rammed, or where the boat is not big enough to reach the waters where the fish lie, because stocks have been depleted nearer shore, the crew get nothing for their labour. The crew's pay is calculated on the basis of their share of the catch.

When the boat lands its catch in Spain, and the crew is Spanish, and Pescanova doesn't pay Eiranova for the catch, then there is no benefit whatever to the Irish fishing communities, or the Irish economy. The catch is merely recorded against the Irish quota, and Castletownbere is left a fish transit station.

Renegotiating the CFP

The arrest of Arthur Hand's boat on 13 July was the last straw for the fishermen. Out of their frustration they blocked lorries carrying fish leaving Castletownbere on 15 July, as the LE Deirdre escorted Arthur Hand into Halbowline under arrest. The blockade led to a meeting the next day with Minister of Marine and Natural Resources Frank Fahy.

``We spoke about many aspects of the problem, harassment of our tuna fleet, the price of diesel which has doubled over 18 months, compensation to the tuna men when the driftnet ban comes into effect next year and the modernisation of the fleet supposed to start in September.'' Ireland is supposed to get 30 new boats. The Spanish fleet is allocated a further 1,150 boats.

The blockade was suspended pending a further meeting scheduled last Thursday (20th July) with Minister Fahy. Defence Minister Michael Smith refused to meet the fishermen.

There are preparations afoot for re-negotiation of the CFP next year, and the possibility of looking for regionalisation of the CFP. People are saying the CFP has to be abandoned if Irish fishing is to survive; that we need to return to a system of an Irish box, where Irish fisherman can fish, and take responsibility for conservation in that area.

Jason Whooley of the Irish South and West Fisherman's Organisation (ISWFO) believes, after last week's meetings that Minister Fahy has some understanding now of the situation facing Irish fisheries. But will he secure regionalisation? Or is the Department foolish enough to believe that by persecuting Irish tuna fishermen, `policing our fishermen', that Ireland will win `brownie points' which will strengthen our hand in the renegotiation of the CFP?

``Fishermen don't count''

``The trouble with the Department is that it is away in a world of its own. One phone call from Brussels and they jump 10 foot in the air,'' says one fisherman who suffered arrest this year. ``The Department of Marine, and the Irish government have never defended our fishing industry. We are expendable. They've sold off our national resources, and neglected our fishing communities.''

The late Brian Lenihan once said ``the trouble is that fishermen don't count, because they are never at home on Thursdays'' (polling day). Perhaps that explains why Arthur Hand and his trawler were arrested last week, and why the CFP will not be dismantled in favour of regionalisation of EU fishing, in next year's renegotiations, unless the larger vested interests in the Irish economy decide that the fishery industry and fishing communities do count after all.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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