The fisheries regulator has confirmed that a new control plan for fish landings is being developed for submission to the European Commission “as soon as possible”.
Representatives of the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) appeared at an Oireachtas committee today to answer questions about the recent revocation of Ireland’s fish control plan and how fish landings are managed.
The committee heard that trust between the regulator and industry is broken and needs to be “reset” in order to address the disputed and unpublished EU findings which suggested that some Irish catches were being underdeclared.
In recent weeks, fishermen staged protests in Dublin and Cork over a range of issues, including a new EU requirement for all fish landings to be weighed at pier after Ireland’s fish-control plan was revoked in April.
Independent TD for Cork South-West Michael Collins said the EU perception that Irish fishermen were “pure pirates” was damaging to the sector, which could be left without a control plan for the coming year.
Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said Ireland was the “most regulated” member state in the EU and that the leaking of audit findings had levelled “criminal” allegations against the industry without a chance to defend itself.
The committee heard that one successful prosecution had been taken against a fish processor for tampering with weighing equipment.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South-West Christopher O’Sullivan said the relationship between the SFPA and industry is “toxic” and that the regulator failed to acknowledge that the “overwhelming majority” of the sector was compliant.
The fisheries regulator, however, said the audit and inquiry had raised concerns over the landing of pelagic stocks, such as mackerel and herring, but it was not in a position to share EU documents.
SFPA chairwoman Dr Susan Steele refuted claims that the agency leaked the audit or inquiry findings, and said it had called for the commission to publish all audit reports for all members states.
“There has been no sharing of the audit or breaching of any confidences from the SFPA,” she said, adding that she didn’t agree the agency was the strongest regulator in Europe, claiming it was “not a well-resourced regulator”.
Dr Steele said the agency was working with the consultative committee to improve the relationship and “open up dialogue” with the sector.
The SFPA could not impose “transitional arrangements” as this was outside its remit, she said.
Dr Steele said work was progressing to develop a revised control plan for all fish and bulk pelagic landings only (greater than 10 tonnes), for submission to the commission “as soon as possible”.
“The commission view is that we need to do better and there is opportunity in the control plan to do that,” Dr Steele said.