Furious fishermen gathered in protest in the country’s main ports today to warn the Government the new controversial Fisheries Bill will not be accepted.
More than 300 fishing vessels all over the country were involved in staging peaceful protests in Cork, Waterford, Galway and Dublin to highlight proposals in the new Bill to prosecute fishermen in the courts for fishing offences.
Jason Whooley from the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation (ISWFO) said the proposals were draconian and would threaten fishermen’s livelihoods.
He warned the proposals could lead to heavy legal costs, fines of up to €200,000 and the confiscation of their fishing equipment.
“We’re standing side by side in circuit courts with common criminals, guys who we think are guilty of very serious offences – drug running, murder, rape. It’s an absolutely scandalous environment to be putting fishermen and their families through,” Mr Whooley said.
Mr Whooley said the protest would not block ports and the vessels would sail back out of the docks after two hours.
The campaign is being organised by the ISWFO, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation and the Irish South and East Fishermen’s Organisation.
Fishermen have been campaigning for administrative penalties, such as fishing bans or a penalty points-style system, to be used instead of the courts.
But the enforcement system proposed under the Sea Fisheries Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, which is going through the Dáil, is still based on court prosecutions.
“Our fishermen are adamant we absolutely need to do away with the criminal sanctions,” he said.
“85% of all fisheries offences in Europe are dealt with by administrative sanction. Ourselves and the UK are the only ones left, and the UK are at the moment looking to change this system at government level. We’re just saying it’s time for a fresh look at this.”
The Bill, which is intended to update ageing legislation, will create a Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to stop illegal fishing and the depletion of fish stocks.
Mr Whooley said the Government had promised to amend the Bill fundamentally as it passed through the Oireachtas. However, he said the proposed 102 changes do not come close to establishing the type of system needed to manage the fisheries industry.