Department, industry deny Dutch claim of fish quota violations


A CLAIM by a Dutch MEP that mackerel quotas are being breached by the Donegal super-trawler fleet has been disputed by the Department of the Marine and the industry.

A recent investigation by the European Commission found no evidence of discrepancies, the Department said, adding that the inspectorate had "found nothing to worry it".

Mr Joey Murrin, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation (KFO), also rejected the claim. He said the Dutch were "the original architects of fraud" in this sector.

"We still have a lot to learn to catch up with them," Mr Murrin told The Irish Times. If any EU investigation was to be conducted fairly, the Minister for the Marine should insist that all mackerel catching countries were inspected, he said.

The call on the Fisheries Commissioner, Ms Emma Bonino, to investigate "large disparities" between Irish figures for mackerel and horse mackerel and the actual imports and exports of these species was made by Mr Leen van der Waal MEP. He raised the issue after claims by the respected and very successful Dutch trawler owner, Mr Cornelis Vrolijk.

Mr Vrolijk runs one of the leading herring and mackerel companies in Europe, and has bought fish in Ireland.

In a report in this week's British Fishing News, Mr Vrolijk claims that the annual catch of horse mackerel - otherwise known as scad - by Ireland has grown "drastically" from 50,000 tonnes, reported in 1994, to 200,000 tonnes, reported in 1995.

However, only 800 tonnes of this fish - which is not yet subject to quota - could be traced to Ireland in May 1996. Mr Vrolijk claimed that the bulk of the fish is actually mackerel, but has been declared as horse mackerel to avoid quota restrictions.

Ms Bonino told Mr van der Waal that the Commission would start an investigation, according to Fishing News.

Given that mackerel has been fetching up to £800 per tonne and more, the Dutch are said to have hired private investigators to investigate Irish landings.

The Department of the Marine confirmed yesterday that it had been approached by an individual who did not give credentials, and therefore did not receive information. A Department spokeswoman said that all mackerel landed into Irish ports by Irish vessels was checked, controlled and recorded in official statistics, and it stood over these figures.

There had been significantly higher horse mackerel catches in recent years, as it was a non-quota species, she said. "With the total allowable catch for mackerel decreasing, the Irish fleet is concentrating on horse mackerel."

Mr Murrin said it was a "bite rich" of the Dutch to be pointing a finger at Ireland. The Minister for the Marine, Mr Barrett, should insist that all mackerel-catching states - Ireland, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden - be inspected before any accusations were made.

Ireland had been responsible for pushing the introduction of satellite monitoring of fishing vessels in the EU, yet those very countries which were complaining about overfishing were objecting to such controls he said.