Killeen:Key steps must be identified –

Killeen:Key steps must be identified Published:  26 June, 2008

Tony Killeen

TONY Killeen, Minister of State at Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today opened a major conference on innovation and sustainability in the Seafood Industry organised by Bórd Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

The Minister also held a formal meeting with the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) to discuss further the immediate issues facing the Irish fishing fleet and the next steps which will take place at European level to address the immediate challenges for the Irish industry.

The conference involved national and international speakers who drew on their expertise and experience to give “very informative” talks on driving innovation and engineering sustainability in the Irish seafood sector.

Minister Killeen said: “I believe that the current very difficult situation the industry is facing makes it even more critical to identify the key steps necessary to lift the industry out of its vulnerable position where it is dependent on inflexible commodity prices and thus unable to pass on its full costs. It is of the utmost importance that we take steps and work together to maximise the value and in particular the prices fishermen get at the quayside. The Cawley Strategy sets out the road-map and today’s conference served to both review progress and identify opportunities in the market for both wild and farmed fish.”

The conference also focused on aquaculture development and Minister Killeen identified this sector as offering potential for significant growth. He said that he is committed to addressing the current challenges so that the full potential of aquaculture can be realised.

Minister Killeen also set out the work he is doing with Commissioner Borg and his colleagues in the Council of Ministers to get agreement for an EU funded package of emergency measures for fishermen.

Minister Killeen said: “I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the patience and very reasonable attitude of fishermen since our meeting in Athlone on June 13. I fully recognise that fishermen are impatient at delays in finding solutions to the current crises. I wish to assure fishermen and the FIF that Minister Smith and I understand fully their situation and will continue to work with the utmost urgency to secure an EU funded package of measures as early as possible. We will continue to press the Commission to deliver at the Fisheries Council on July 15.”

Minister Killeen said he was pleased with the response of the EU Fisheries Commissioner Borg, who has undertaken to come back to the next Council meeting on that day with definitive proposals, ahead of which the Minister said he anticipated further progress could be made.

Apart from the lengthy discussion on the fuel issue, Minister Killeen said that he was particularly pleased with the progress made in a number of other areas of concern to Irish fishermen, which he had discussed on a number of occasions with the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF), including at a meeting with representatives of the FIF during the Council this week.

He said that Tuesday’s meeting was positive in the areas of restructuring the industry, action to combat illegal fishing and a possible increase in access for Irish fishermen to cod stocks in the Celtic Sea – all of which are issues of particular concern to Irish fishermen and which the Minister has been pursuing with the Commission.

Minister Killeen said that the proposals discussed today had to be seen in the context of the Government’s initiative to implement a major restructuring of the Irish whitefish fleet.

“We are currently in the process of a major decommissioning programme to remove up to 35% of the larger whitefish vessels from our fleet and we issued offers worth €41 million last Friday to vessel owners under the scheme. Clearly the completion of the current planned decommissioning measure must be our first priority.”

The Minister also pressed the Commission to examine new initiatives at EU level to increase the return received by fishermen at the quayside and improved labelling to assure consumers. He also asked the Commission to bring forward initiatives on research and innovation into ways to develop more fuel-efficient engines and fishing practices.

The Minister added that given the large-scale programme of decommissioning that is underway, as recommended in the Cawley Strategy Report for the future of the fishing industry in Ireland, there is no funding available under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) nationally for temporary tie-up measures as envisaged in the Commission’s paper.

“We firmly believe that we must introduce short term measures to compliment the decommissioning underway in our fleet and address the immediate financial hardship faced by vessel owners and crew, we are seeking additional funding from the Community. There is a requirement for the Commission to source additional funding and we would urge the Commission to do so urgently to support the industry during this period of restructuring and put it on a firm and sustainable footing in the future.”

The Minister also described as “very significant”, the agreement reached at Council on a new regulation to combat landings of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fish from within and outside the EU. Minister Killeen said the estimated €1.1 billion of illegal imports annually in the EU was a cause of concern as it had the effect of depressing the price of fish within the Community as well as causing serious environmental damage. He welcomed the speedy agreement on this proposal at Council and the commitment of the Commission to bring forward detailed rules to give effect to this regulation.

On a further related issue of great concern to Irish fishermen and as discussed with the Federation of Irish Fishermen, the Minister pressed the case for an increase in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Cod stocks in the Celtic Sea off the Irish coast. He welcomed Commissioner Borg’s commitment to examine new scientific information on increasing landings and to have the matter further discussed at the next Council on July 15. Minister Killeen said this was a positive response to his call for the EU Commission to re-examine new scientific knowledge on the level of Cod stocks and the possibility of a sustainable increase in access for Irish fishermen to Cod stocks to alleviate the pressure on incomes of Irish fishermen.

Ministers also discussed with the Commission the need to develop a new EU strategy with the Commission for the expansion of the aquaculture industry to meet the growing demand for seafood in the EU market. During the discussions the Minister outlined a number of matters at EU level which need to be addressed at Commission level to get a co-ordinated EU effort to the development of this industry which is important for Ireland’s coastal communities.

Minister Killeen has asked the Marine Institute for an immediate review on the scientific state of the seabass stocks around Ireland. On receipt of this review the Minister has undertaken to meet with his colleague Minister Eamon Ryan to discuss the appropriate management arrangements for the stock.