The European Commission has detected “significant weaknesses” in how Ireland controls fish catches within EU waters, highlighting issues around weighing and an “ineffective sanctioning system for offences”.
It has given the country three months to conduct an inquiry into its application of EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) rules in order to “evaluate Ireland’s capacity to apply the rules” which govern management of fish catches off this coast.
The European Commission says that its official request arises from “the severe and significant weaknesses detected in the Irish control system during an audit carried out by the Commission in Ireland in 2018”.
The EU audit identified shortcomings related to the “effective control of the weighing of catches of small pelagic (mackerel/herring) species, and issues related to underreporting of catches of these species”, said the commission.
It also identified the “inadequate and ineffective sanctioning system for offences committed by operators and the lack of control and enforcement of bluefin tuna catches by recreational vessels”.
The audit of monitoring — conducted by the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) — was carried out by EU officials in March 2018 in the largest fishing port of Killybegs, Co Donegal.
The auditors scrutinised weighing systems in seven fish factories in Killybegs, and analysed monitoring of the fleet of large pelagic vessels, some of which were found to have under-recorded storage capacity in 2014 and 2015.
The audit also identified the State’s failure to control a recreational fishery for bluefin tuna. It found evidence that some tourist trips advertised over the internet resulted in bluefin tuna being “kept, landed and offered for sale” in breach of regulations.
Warnings of weaknesses in relation to pelagic monitoring had been flagged in a review of the country’s fishery control regime, commissioned in 2007 by the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
The 2007 review by consultants had advised that weighing of pelagic fish should primarily be undertaken at the quayside. It said weighing in factories should only continue where “strict additional control assurances” were implemented.
The commission said Ireland’s administrative inquiry should “focus on the collection of information on these specific findings to enable the Commission to further evaluate Ireland’s capacity to apply the rules of the CFP, and to assess the potential consequences of any failure to do so”.
“The Commission will analyse the information provided by Ireland and identify if any further steps or actions are needed,” it said.
Ireland defended its approach in its response to last year’s audit, but made a number of commitments, including hiring more staff and developing a protocol with the Director of Public Prosecutions.