ANN CAHILL: Emergency aid for fishermen to be agreed by EC

FISHERMEN whose livelihoods are threatened because of the big jump in fuel prices are to be thrown a lifeline by the European Commission.

An emergency package of measures to tackle the immediate hardship being suffered by people in the industry will be put to fisheries ministers next week.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Brendan Smith and Junior Minister Tony Killeen meet European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg in Strasbourg today to discuss the crisis.

Brian Crowley MEP pointed out that oil has risen by 40% this year, creating huge problems that require a EU solution. The commission aims to double the amount of money that is available to member states from the union’s Fisheries Fund to €600 million, so they can pay out quickly.

The measures are aimed at easing the immediate pain being suffered by the industry and helping to restructure it in the longer term.

Under it, vessel owners will be able to tie up their boats for three months as the Government will be able to give money to cover crew costs and the fixed costs of fishing vessels. Bigger grants for fuel-saving equipment will also be allowed to help reduce fuel consumption. Vessel owners will be entitled to grants to carry out energy audits and discover how best they can cut back on their fuel consumption.

Money from the European Fisheries Fund will be available to help workers in the fishing industry to retire early. Fishermen will also be allowed pay decreased social security contributions for up to two years. Up to now, this has been granted only to fishermen, but Mr Borg said he hopes it will help reduce the pain in ports along the coasts where businesses are expected to shut down.

He said they hoped to avoid a severe crisis in the industry in the short term and to tackle some of the longer-term issues, like over fishing and the demise of stocks. “For many years, the EU fleet has suffered from a vicious circle of overcapacity, over fishing and declining profitability. At the same time, fishermen have been unable to benefit from reduced supply and rising retail prices for fish products. As a result, margins in many segments are wafer thin, making the sector much more vulnerable than others to a drastic rise in costs, such as we have seen with the price of oil,” he said.

The package would also enable the State to provide aid of €30,000 over three years per vessel rather than per company, which is the current law. This is intended to help fishermen who own more than one boat, though there will be a cap of €100,000. The rules on funds to compensate those decommissioning vessels permanently are to be changed too, while the state will be allowed give up to 60% of the costs of modernising engines and gear. A range of initiatives aimed at increasing the value of fish to the fishermen are included in the package. These include monitoring prices, improving quality and processing, and increasing fishermen’s bargaining position with the processing industry and distributors.


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