Ray Ryan reports on a new strategic vision to support important revenue-generating opportunities for Ireland’s coastal communities.
A new vision for the future of the Irish inshore fisheries sector up to 2023 is outlined in a new strategy following an inclusive process that included both industry-focused and wider public consultation.
Launched by Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Michael Creed on behalfof the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF), the strategy aims to maximise the sector’s potential to support coastal communities.
It was the first time in the State’s history that inshore fishermen set about developing a specific strategy for their own sector.
Key issues and priorities for the sector were identified. They included a steering group with industry and State partners, a dedicated workshop and public consultation.
One of the issues addressed is a fear among many in the industry that the trades, skills and craft of inshore fishing may come under threat and that its culture, heritage and history could even be lost.
Noting that around 51% of the workforce is aged over 40 years, it warned that without new talent in crews and vessel owners, the industry will not be sustainable nor will it offer secure employment opportunities.
Mr Creed, speaking in the Dáil, said the strategy offers a vision for inshore fisheries that it will have a prosperous and sustainablefuture delivered through a united industry with a strong and influential voice.
“We recently took a decision to prohibit larger vessels from fishing in inshore waters,” he said. “I think this is the first time there has been a recognition of the potential and the opportunity now available for the sector to reclaim these waters as their exclusive territory.
Mr Creed said the inshore sector has potential to create employment in local communities. The establishment of the strategy is key to driving that potential. It also sets out 14 objectives for the sector which are grouped under four themes.
The objectives cover many issues, ranging from improving management of fish stocks to strengthening representative structures.
They also aim to improve the attractiveness of thesector as a career path toattract new entrants andretain current talent.
Bord Iascaigh Mhara will lead the implementation of the strategy in partnership with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum.
It will also help prepare the plan and identify theobjectives and actions that will be prioritised.
The process will facilitate the targeting of financial support available under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to reach those programmes and initiatives where it can be used most effectively.
Mr Creed said there is a real opportunity for thesector to present a product of the inshore that is marketed as sustainable.
The sector can be progressed to deliver maximum value by working with all other State agencies, and can improve port and landing facilities, working closely with departments as well as with local authorities on the infrastructural investment required.
Launching what he described as this significant step, Mr Creed noted that the NIFF had recognised in the strategy that the Inshore sector needs a strong sense of identity.
It also accepted that there is strength in building cohesion and working towards common goals.
“This strategy gives them a clear blueprint for the future,” he said.
The inshore sector comprises fishing boats of less than 12m in length, which are predominately active within six nautical miles of the Irish shore.
These boats, representing around 80% of the Irishfishing fleet, support 2,500to 3,000 jobs, many of them based in Ireland’s remote coastal communities where alternative employmentoptions are limited.
NIFF was set up in 2014 to facilitate the development of a coherent inshore sector “voice” by encouraging fishermen to discuss their fishing issues and generate commonly supported initiatives. NIFF is supported by a network of six regional inshore fisheries forums linked to the community led Fisheries Local Action Groups around the coast. Delegates from the regional forums then bring forward proposals to the national body for a wider industry discussion.
The national and regional inshore forums have been instrumental in supporting initiatives that seek tocultivate a more sustainable, profitable and well-managed fisheries sector.
Regional forum members include inshore fishermen, environmental interests, marine leisure, tourism and other stakeholders.
The structures alsoprovide opportunities for collaboration between the inshore fishing sector and their communities onsustainable strategies tooptimise the income opportunities afforded by the coastal resource.
The development of a strategic vision for inshore fisheries was identified as a priority need by the NIFF in 2017. It was co-funded by the Government and by the EU.
It covers the organisation and profile of the sector, the management of resources, the available infrastructure and resources available and the sector’s profitability.
Specific objectives are set for each of these themes with the overall aim ofcreating a strong inshoreindustry for the future.
Key issues to be addressed through the strategy include enhancing business skills across the sector, sustainable management of key fish stocks as well as attracting and retaining talent.
Each of these aim objectives are geared towards maximising the potential of the sector to support Ireland’s coastal communities.
The inshore fisheries forums are facilitated by the statutory bodies responsible for marine fisheries — the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which also provides administrative support, the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, and the Marine Institute.