Thousands of jobs in the fishing industry are at risk from huge factory ships operating outside the country’s 19km limit and cleaning out stocks, it has been claimed.
County councillors in Kerry sounded the alarm, urging fisheries minister Simon Coveney to follow Australia’s lead and implement a complete ban on supertrawlers and factory ships from the country’s exclusive economic zone which extends to 320km.
The fishing industry contributes €700m annually to the economy and employs 11,000 people, in counties from Louth to Wexford and Cork to Donegal. A spokeswoman for the Department of Marine said five “pelagic vessels” had returned to Irish waters in recent weeks and four were currently just off the 19km limit. The ships are being monitored.
Independent councillor Johnny Healy Rae said “a huge ship, call it factory ship, call it supertrawler” had positioned itself off the Blasket Islands last summer and had up to 20 forklifts working around-the-clock.
The activities, he said, involved catching, processing and packaging. He further claimed only 10% of the catch was ‘premium’ quality. Mr Healy-Rae said, that as a result, any catch of lower quality was “mulched”.
He told a meeting of Kerry Co Council that Ireland should follow decisions by Australia to ban such ships.
“Small fishermen with two or three in a crew fishing out of Brandon in Co Kerry had no hope against this huge ship which, after the summer, moved north-west,” he said.
Mr Healy Rae claimed Brandon fishermen were checked by authorised officers at least every six weeks. “There are 2,500 employed in the industry in my electoral area alone and they are regulated to the hilt. I am calling on the minister to have these factory ships regulated the same way,” he said.
A second motion approved by Kerry County Council by Waterville-based Fianna Fáil councillor Norma Moriarty also called for a ban on foreign-owned factory freezer ships from fishing as close as 21km off the coast while other calls were made for the reinstatement of a fisheries sub-committee in the council.
The Irish Wildlife Trust, in November last, had called for a ban on the super trawlers due to conservation risks to a variety of marine species. Dingle fisherman Mike Hennessy, fishing for herring off Dunmore East in Co Waterford in a 12m boat Realt na Mara with two other crew members, said super trawlers “have the place cleaned out”.
In a response to the council’s motions, the Department of Agriculture and the Marine said any changes to fishing limits would have to be undertaken at European level, with agreement from member states. Law enforcement was by The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Naval Service.
Despite problematic weather conditions, the Irish Navy had conducted two inspections of some of the group of vessels late in 2015, and one further inspection within a day of its return in January. Two Dutch fishing vessels were boarded on January 13, at 56km west north-west of Tory Island, Co Donegal.
“There are currently four large pelagic vessels operating in Irish waters, however none are currently operating in the Kerry area. The closest large pelagic vessel is approximately 60 nautical miles west north-west of Kerry Head,” the department said.