EU critical of ‘severe’ weaknesses in Ireland’s fisheries controls
Draft audit highlights flaws in controlling factories and mackerel and herring fleet
The audit was conducted last March in Killybegs, Co Donegal, where the largest volume of fish is landed
Ireland’s fishery protection controls suffer from “severe and significant weaknesses” with a lack of “effective” enforcement and penalties, according to an as-yet unpublished European Commission investigation.
The draft audit, which has been seen by The Irish Times, has examined controls in place to protect mackerel, tuna, herring and blue whiting stocks in Irish-controlled waters.
It also highlights a “complete lack of control” over the illegal capture of bluefin tuna by sea anglers off the west coast.
The audit from the European Commission’s directorate-general for maritime affairs and fisheries says a lack of investment in fishery protection means that Ireland met just one of eight benchmarks to “fully inspect” landings of bulk pelagic (mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, blue whiting) species in 2017.
It says this “undermines the ability to ensure an effective control system”.
It focused on both weighing systems in the seven factories in Killybegs, and monitoring of the fleet of vessels, some of which were found to have under-recorded storage capacity in a survey conducted for the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in 2014 and 2015.
It notes that “no infringements have been cited by Ireland for this non-compliance, nor has any enforcement action been taken against the vessels”.
While it notes the SFPA’s statement that prosecution would be the responsibility of the Marine Survey Office (MSO), it says the authority had “not alerted, nor raised concern with, the MSO regarding these discrepancies”.
It says there has been “no attempt made by the Irish authorities to quantify the level of historic under-reporting of pelagic catches”, and estimates this could amount to 8,450 tonnes or nearly 13 per cent of the Irish quota for 2018 if the fleet conducted five trips a year, at full capacity.
Weighing systems in factories are also scrutinised, with the draft report noting that the SFPA had significantly increased control of weighing in the bulk pelagic fisheries due to” diminished trust of the industry”.
It records three cases of suspected manipulation of weighing systems, one of which – against Norfish Ltd, in Killybegs – was successfully concluded in 2017.
Remote monitoring via live video link was completed by the SFPA in 2015, but the Irish authority recognises “that weighing in premises is inherently difficult to control”.
It says weighing should ideally be done at point of landing, and says there were “compelling arguments for the SFPA, if not to revoke the ability to weigh in premises entirely, to limit that privilege to only those operators not previously convicted or suspected of having been associated with the manipulation of weighing systems, or of misreporting catches in general”.
It says previous EU audits had highlighted the lack of automated crosschecks of data in Ireland.
It also records the pressure on SPFA inspection staff, holding a dual role of seafood health officers and fisheries control officers which, it says, “clearly creates a significant draw on resources”.
Separately, the audit cites evidence from Inland Fisheries Ireland that a “targeted” recreational fishery for bluefin tuna had developed along the west coast of Ireland, with “numerous chartering companies advertising trips for tourists over the internet”.
It says there was evidence that some catch was being kept, landed and offered for sale in breach of regulations, given that Ireland has no quota.
Irish commercial fisheries may land up to 5 per cent bycatch of bluefin tuna, but there was no such leeway for sea angling vessels, it notes.
It also highlights issues regarding landing of albacore tuna and bluefin bycatch by Irish vessels into Spanish ports in 2017.
Ireland has been asked to respond to the draft audit, and the European Commission says the State’s follow-up was “imperative to address such shortcomings as a matter of urgency”.
Outstanding issues arising from previous audits also needed to be addressed by Ireland, it says.
The SFPA said it had reviewed the draft report, which is carried out under a regular EU audit programme for member states. It said it had submitted comments to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on those aspects that fell under its remit.