Gardaí and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) are investigating weighing systems at a Donegal fish factory which has had its permit suspended on the eve of the herring season.
The authority confirmed to The Irish Times that it had suspended the factory's weigh permit, pending "the outcome of inquiries" involving its officials, the Garda and the National Standards Authority of Ireland.
The authority said it was the first time that a permit for this particular premises had been temporarily withdrawn.
The company, Sean Ward (Fish Exports) Ltd in Killybegs, has been one of the port's largest processors and exporters of pelagic (herring/mackerel) fish and employs up to 80 staff at its peak.
A spokesman said the company was “ co-operating fully with the SFPA” and it was also conducting an internal investigation and was “ hopeful of a speedy resolution of the matter”.
The factor was founded in 1998 and lists a Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainability.
EU fishery regulations require all fishery products to be weighed immediately on landing.
The State authority said that a derogation allows the weighing to take place after transport , typically at processing establishments, provided it is “satisfied with the accuracy and correct use of those weighing systems”.
“As the matter is ongoing, no further comment can be made at this time,”the SFPA said.
The Killybegs factory is the third Irish processor to be the subject of inquiries in the past two years.
Earlier this year, the SFPA suspended a permit for a Co Kerry fish factory and initiated an inquiry into allegations that weighing scales were tampered with.
In that case, a video was sent to its offices which prompted the investigation. The permit has recently been restored.
The SFPA was established as the State’s independent fisheries control authority in 2007 and is responsible for regulation of seafood and sea fishing within Ireland’s 200-mile limit. It works with the Naval Service and is based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, with offices in the major ports around the coastline.
Last September, the authority wanted 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 authority said it wanted all pelagic (herring/mackerel) fish to be weighed on the pier, until a new “tamper-proof” system of weighing in factories could be introduced.
However, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association warned of overreaction, and said at the time that fish quality could be affected if it was weighed on the pier.