Public demand for canned rather than fresh fish during the Covid-19 crisis and restrictions on Irish seafood exports are contributing to a looming storm in the fishing sector, an Irish industry leader has warned.
Fishing representatives are due to hold a video-conference with Marine Minister Michael Creed tomorrow amid fears that fishing vessels may be forced to tie up in port due to lack of markets. EU fisheries ministers are also expected to hold a video-conference in the coming days.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said no one wants to see vessels tied up, but the domestic market for fresh fish is simply not big enough to sustain fleet costs.
“We may have to introduce a system of vessels rotating at sea, but compensation will also be required for those forced to remain in port,” he said. “The Irish seafood sector is export-led, and so it is severely affected by the fact that European and Asian fish markets are restricted or closing, and leading retailers like Tesco and Sainsburys in Britain have suspended their fresh fish counters.”
Access to sufficient cold storage could provide some relief for vessels fishing for prawns – one of Ireland’s staple export fisheries - he said.
A briefing document by two European industry organisations, Europeche and EAPO, which Mr O’Donoghue has forwarded to Mr Creed describes how the Irish nephrops (prawns), whitefish and brown crab fleets that rely heavily on exports to the Chinese, Italian, Spanish and French markets have seen “huge prices drops and market closures”.
“This is also the case for other species in many countries. This led to the fishing activity being suspended and the whole seafood industry sector is affected,” the documents says adding fleets face a drop to “about zero” of all sales to restaurants and food services.
Mr O’Donoghue said the public demand is for canned fish at present, with European canneries working hard to keep up supply. The European fishing industry organisations are seeking a number of measures, including ensuring vessels can carry more than 10% of their quota into next year.