Northern Irish hopeful as SFF calls for "urgent" fuel price action – Fishupdate.com

Northern Irish hopeful as SFF calls for “urgent” fuel price action Published:  17 March, 2008

Bertie Armstrong

THE Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) today called for the urgent introduction of measures to help alleviate the crippling price of fuel.

Meanwhile Northern Irish fishermen said today they are hopeful of some help.

With fuel prices reaching a record high, fishermen are struggling to remain viable, given that fuel costs have doubled in the last four years and now typically account for around 50% of expenses for a single fishing trip.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, has already raised the issue with Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, who has agreed to highlight industry concerns at a meeting tomorrow in Brussels with EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg.

Mr Armstrong said: “The Cabinet Secretary has given the undertaking to emphasise to Mr Borg both the general problem caused by the eye-watering cost of fuel, and the perceived lack of a level playing field as a result of French and Spanish government actions to help their fishing fleets.

“He has also called for a report from his officials on the effects of the high fuel prices and has promised to meet with the SFF to discuss possible mitigation measures.”

Mr Armstrong added: “We realise that the driver is the world market and that oil prices are likely to remain high. The pain is spread universally across all consumers and commerce and we recognise that a direct subsidy for the fishing industry is unrealistic and likely to breach competition rules.

“What might realistically be available, however, is mitigation within the rules for some other cost elements.”

This could include cancelling or reducing the payment of light dues and the maintenance and operating costs for the mandatory vessel monitoring system (VMS) and the forthcoming electronic logbooks.

Mr Armstrong said: “It is simply not sustainable for the Scottish fleet to continue operating against the background of such crippling fuel costs and urgent action needs to be taken to alleviate the situation.”

Meanwhile, following last week’s lobby at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Irish fishermen are hopeful that a package will be offered to help off-set rising fuel costs.

It is understood that during their meeting last Thursday afternoon, there was cross-party support from Northern Ireland Executive Ministers that assistance should be offered to the fishing industry. While NI Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew did not present any firm proposal to her ministerial colleagues, her officials have been tasked with bringing forward a business case for discussion between herself and the Province’s Minister for Finance Peter Robinson. The main issue seems to be the requirement that any assistance meets EU State Aid Rules. It is hoped this meeting will take place soon.

Speculation on the content of the package is mounting, but it is understood that discussions are centring upon the proposals tabled by the Anglo-North Irish FPO Ltd, which focused on the suspension for twelve months of landings charges at Northern Ireland’s three fishery harbours (Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie), which are owned by the Government and administered by the Northern Ireland Fishery harbour Authority.

Alan McCulla from the ANIFPO said that the entire industry was encouraged by the Executive’s response, but that fishermen would reserve their final judgement until the content of any package was revealed.

“Not only have we seen harbour charges increased this year, but UK fishermen still have to pay light dues and UK fisheries administrations are adding to the fleet’s costs by getting fishermen to pay for the upkeep of VMS systems, which are of no benefit to fishermen. These stealth taxes must be removed.” he said.

“If all our requests were to be met, the package could be worth on average £4,000 to each local fishing vessel over the next 12 months. This has to be compared with Government payments averaging £23,000 to each fishing business in Spain, which meet EU state aid rules. At the same time while our fishermen were paying £0.46 per litre of fuel last week, which includes the fuel rebate, Spanish fishermen are paying £0.41 per litre.”

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