Fishermen lift Cork port blockade for talks

PROTESTING fishermen were meeting in Cork last night to decide on what course of action to take following the lifting of their port blockades.

Despite a warning by Cork Port management of possible legal action, the fishermen say the blockades could be re-imposed, depending on the outcome of a meeting tomorrow with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Brendan Smith.

A spokesman for the south-west fleet, Ebby Sheehan, said the blockade had been “temporarily suspended” for the meeting.

Two container ships stuck in Cork Port since Tuesday left the harbour just before lunchtime yesterday, escorted by the Cork port tug and the harbour pilot boat.

As they approached the blockade the trawlers moved aside and allowed the ships to pass. They were followed by two smaller cargo ships.

The commercial manager for Cork Port, Michael McCarthy, said the blockade had cost hundreds of thousands of euro to industry in the region. He warned that any further attempts to blockade the port would result in legal action.

Earlier, hundreds of trawlermen, their families and businesses affected by the fishing crisis took their protest to the offices of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority in Clonakilty, Co Cork. At the protest mounted at the SFPA offices, fishermen accused the Government of being overzealous in policing their activities.

John O’Mahony, a Kinsale-based trawler skipper, said Irish fishermen were being put at a distinct disadvantage compared to fishermen in other EU countries.

“There isn’t a level playing pitch. We have around 130 fishery protection officers in this country, whereas between France and Spain they have just about 60,” Mr O’Mahony said.

Fishermen say the high numbers of protection officers has led to increased scrutiny of Irish vessels rather than foreign ships working off the Irish coast.

Mr O’Mahony said the crisis in the fishing industry, brought on by restrictive quotas, cheap imports and a major rise in fuel prices was about to cripple it.

“We have six crewmen and at the moment we are holding onto them. But a lot of boats will be tied up and jobs will go,” he said.

Haulier Denis Minihane, who is based in Skibbereen, claimed his small company was at risk. He has three trucks on the road and is dependent on transferring catches to shops, restaurants and processing plants.

“Things are looking bad. The boats aren’t out and the price of diesel for my lorries has gone up as well,” he said.

“A lot of people are going to suffer. The Union Hall Fishermen’s Company and Glenmar Shellfish could see factory workers laid off.”

Mr Minihane said the crisis could be “hugely damaging to the economy of west Cork”, which is still dependent on the fishing industry.

Senator Michael McCarthy, Labour spokesman on the marine, also attended the protest. He called on Minister Smith to recognise that many fishermen were on the verge of bankruptcy.

“One woman has told me that her husband hasn’t taken a wage out of their boat in three months,” the senator said.

The latest protests are not being endorsed by the Federation of Irish Fishermen; representatives of the four main industry organisations, and was condemned as “unhelpful” by the Irish Association of Seafood Producers.

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