Killybegs group challenges refusal to approve new fish weighing system

Judge notes applicants claim fishing vessels have to endure longer waiting times because of inadequate weighing systems

Mr Justice Garrett Simons this week granted leave to Pelagic Weighing Services Ltd (PWS) and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) to take judicial review proceedings against the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni

Mr Justice Garrett Simons this week granted leave to Pelagic Weighing Services Ltd (PWS) and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) to take judicial review proceedings against the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni

 

A dispute over a refusal by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to approve a new state-of-the-art conveyor belt fish weighing system installed at the pierside in Killybegs port has come before the High Court.

The dispute centres on whether the Authority was entitled to refuse approval last December on the basis that the weighing system, known as a flowscales, must be owned, operated and used by a public body.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons this week granted leave to Pelagic Weighing Services Ltd (PWS) and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) to take judicial review proceedings against the Authority.

Having been told of a separate but similar case, and noting the applicants claim the refusal of approval means fishing vessels landing fish at Killybegs have to endure longer waiting times because of inadequate weighing systems, he returned both cases to later this month.

In seeking leave, David Conlan Smyth SC, for the applicants, had argued there was no basis for the Authority’s decision the flowscales system must be owned, operated and used by a public body.

In the proceedings, it is claimed PWS was constituted for the specific purpose of procuring the manufacture and installation of the flowscales system at Killybegs port and the KFO represents the interests of fish producers and the fishing industry.

It said the system was devised in response to the Authority’s December 2019 announcement it proposed to reintroduce weighing on landing for 5-7.75 per cent catches of pelagic fishery products landed.

The applicants say that announcement caused “significant concern” among the pelagic fishing industry in Killybegs and a working group of interested parties was set up to devise a means of satisfying the requirement to weigh a certain proportion of fish on landing.

The applicants say it was initially contemplated, at least by private industry, the flowscales would be built with public funding and would be owned and controlled by the Authority.

The Authority had been involved with the Working Group but withdrew in June 2020 in light of certain legal proceedings then in being, they say. However, it continued to engage concerning the design and approval process, it is claimed.

The rest of the Working Group decided, given the importance of the issue, the flowscales should be built and PWS was established and put in sufficient funds by the interested parties to do that. The flowscales had cost some €409,000, excluding VAT, to construct.

It is claimed the Authority acted outside of its powers, the relevant regulations and Irish and European law in determining on December 4th last the flowscales must be owned, operated and used by a public body and in refusing the PWS request for approval for the flowscales.

It is also claimed the Authority acted in breach of fair procedures, arbitrarily, unreasonably and irrationally in refusing approval to PWS for the flowscales or in refusing to determine the PWS application on the basis of its view concerning public ownership of the system.