Fisheries Authority seeks video surveillance in fish factories

New measures follow detection of ‘tampering’ with weighing system in northwest premises

 Minister for the  Marine Simon Coveney:  fishermen’s associations have written to him accusing the SFPA of generating a “full-blown crisis”. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney: fishermen’s associations have written to him accusing the SFPA of generating a “full-blown crisis”. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has decided to initiate video surveillance within fish factories as a licensing condition, following allegations of “deliberate tampering” with a weighing system within one factory in the northwest.

The State authority which regulates the sea-fishing and seafood sectors also wants all pelagic (herring/mackerel) fish to be weighed on the pier, until a new “tamper-proof” system of weighing in factories can be introduced.

Current permits issued by the authority to factories were suspended last June, following a sweep of factory premises last January by the SFPA, in association with the Garda, Naval Service and National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The inspection sweep is said to have found that weighing systems could be “deliberately manipulated” – although evidence of this was only found on one premises.

The authority has confirmed that “irregularities were detected of varying degrees of seriousness and, in at least one instance, a joint case is being considered by the DPP on behalf of both SFPA and NSAI”. It says factories have been invited to apply for new permits, and says “several applications have been received and the process is ongoing”.

However, fishermen and processors have criticised the authority’s response as “over the top” and have said that “draconian” measures are being introduced “without a shred of evidence” of any “systematic wrongdoing”.

Hundreds of million of euros worth of landings could be lost to Ireland if the measures are introduced, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association has warned, on the eve of the opening of the Celtic Sea herring fishery – an opening already delayed to the brewing row over the SFPA measures.

Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association chief executive Lorcan Ó Cinnéide says that the quality of herring could be destroyed if it is weighed on the pier, as it would involve separating water from fish.

The quality of mackerel – a fishery quoted as worth €1 billion to the Irish economy – would also be comprised by this practice, it has said, as chilled water is “absolutely essential to the quality of the product”.

The association has also sought legal advice on the introduction of video surveillance – described as “remote monitoring of the continuous flow weigh belt” on SFPA permit conditions.

In a letter sent to Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney this week, the IFPEA and the Federation of Irish Fishermen have accused the SFPA of generating a “full-blown crisis”, in spite of “prolonged and serious efforts” by the two organisations to resolve the issue.

The “crisis” is “in danger of shutting down the entire industry”, the organisations warn Mr Coveney. “We agree that there should be regulation to ensure there is no wrongdoing, but the SFPA does not seem to want to work towards a resolution.”

EU regulations require fish to be weighed at the place of landing, but Ireland received a derogation from this as fish have to be transported from the quay to factories.