Fishermen dealing in crab, lobster, and shrimp have appealed for financial assistance. They claim their autumn and winter catch prospects have been devastated by Hurricane Ophelia.
Fishing vessels licensed to catch crab and shrimp, from Courtmacsherry to Baltimore, in West Cork, and also up along the Wild Atlantic Way and in the south-east, suffered huge damage to their gear, specifically the pots dropped out at sea for extended periods.
One major fish processor, Castletownbere-based Shellfish De La Mer, said its supply has been seriously impacted by the hurricane and said there would be a shortage of shellfish for buyers, including hotels and restaurants, this Christmas.
The impact on shellfish fishermen is even more pronounced. Colin Cashman, a 44-year-old fishing out of Courtmacsherry, said the hurricane caused €20,000 of damage to his pots and curtailed his ability to continue fishing up to the end of the regular season, ahead of Christmas: “I have never seen anything like it, as long as I’m going.”
He typically has up to 500 pots in the water, as far as three miles out to sea. These are checked and emptied weekly: “There are still a few outside [at sea], but we’re in the process of bringing them in.”
A large number of pots, which cost more than €50 each, were damaged, while the related coils of rope cost another €50. Many were torn or badly tangled by Ophelia. “They would be in 50m of water. There was a 26m swell measured at the gas rings,” Mr Cashman said.
Mr Cashman has been fishing for 30 years and, in addition to catching crab, the pots stay in action for shrimp up to Christmas. However, many boats have now no option but to cut the season short, because of inadequate or damaged gear. “We can’t do anything, at the moment. We have a few out, but it’s not enough,” he said.
As many as 20 boats were similarly affected around the West Cork coast and he said that emergency funding was needed to allow them to get replacement pots back into the water, particularly as many are not licensed to catch other fish. He said if no funding is forthcoming, “we will be out of business, I would say”.
Donald Healy, of Shellfish De La Mar, said overall supply is down, due to Ophelia: “It puts us under pressure to supply and fill Christmas orders.”
Much crab and shrimp caught in Irish waters is exported, but some is also supplied to hotels and restaurants.
The Department of Agriculture said some compensation is available, but only to fishermen affiliated with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. A departmental spokesman said:
“The Department’s €240m European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Operational Programme is the vehicle for financial supports to the seafood sector, up to 2021.
"The programme delivers a wide range of supports for aquaculture, fisheries, and seafood processing, through a suite of 15 schemes. The EMFF regulation (508/2014) provides for a special compensation scheme for fishermen experiencing significant economic losses, arising from severe storms, etc.
"Article 35 foresees the establishment, by fishermen, of a ‘mutual fund for adverse climatic events and environmental incidents’.”
This fund would act as a form of mutual insurance for otherwise uninsurable losses. It would pay compensation to affiliated fishermen for losses that exceed 30% of the fisherman’s annual turnover, arising from severe storms and other adverse climatic events; losses arising from environmental incidents; and for the costs of rescue at sea for fishermen or fishing vessels.
“The fund must be established and managed by fishermen, and be funded through the subscriptions of affiliated fishermen. The compensation would only be available to fishermen affiliated to the fund.
"Support to the fund, from the EMFF programme, would be in the form of a contribution to the costs of compensation paid out by the fund. Depending on the type of vessels or fishermen experiencing losses, EMFF assistance may be up to 80%.”
He added: “The Department and BIM stand ready to assist and advise fishermen, and their representatives, in establishing the fund, but the EMFF does not permit a financial contribution towards the costs of establishment or management of the fund.”
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