Fishermen to continue 'blockade' of non-Irish vessels


Fishermen at harbours in the south-west intend to continue their ban this week on landings by non-Irish vessels in protest at the European Commission's handling of the Irish Box issue.

The unofficial ban came into force late on Friday night in Castletownbere, Co Cork, and was supported by the Kerry harbours of Dingle and Fenit. The onshore "blockade" will stay in place until the three industry organisations meet the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Ahern, on Thursday, according to Mr Ebbie Sheehan, a skipper and trawler owner in Castletownbere.

"If there is a positive outcome to that meeting, we may discuss lifting it. Otherwise, the protest will escalate," Mr Sheehan said.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources had no comment to make on the action yesterday.

The united industry organisations have emphasised that they did not initiate the protest and say that they are keen to "stick to the legal route".

All three organisations intend to meet the Minister in Dublin together, in spite of attempts to separate them, said Mr Seán O'Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation (KFO).

Mr Lorcan Ó Cinnéide, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation (IFPO), said that he sympathised with the fishermen. "Intense frustration is felt by fishermen around the west coast over the two issues of open access to the Irish Box from January 1st and the new 'days at sea' restriction imposed on whitefish vessels from Co Galway up to Donegal - a move which may also put even further pressure on the 50-mile biologically-sensitive \ Box area. But we don't want to cut off our noses to spite our faces here, and there is a need to maintain the high moral ground, which we have."

Up to yesterday, no vessels had been physically turned away from the three harbours, as much of the Spanish fleet will have tied up over the Christmas period. However, agents for Spanish and French vessels were made aware of the protest and fishermen indicated that suppliers to non-Irish vessels would also be boycotted if they made attempts to service vessels landing elsewhere.

During the last such protest in early November, before the visit to Ireland of the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Dr Fischler, several French-registered Spanish vessels opted to land in Galway docks. Although Spain is a key market for Irish-caught fish, the protest organisers believe that full access by Spanish vessels to the Irish Box will make this factor irrelevant. "We will have nothing to send there in a year," Mr Sheehan said.

"They spend nothing here in Fenit anyway, going for the cheapest fuel prices and bypassing the local dealer," Mr Liam O'Sullivan, a fisherman in Fenit, remarked yesterday.

"Most of this fish is just trans-shipped to Spain. If it was processed here, that would be something. But all we will be losing is a few pound in harbour dues. That's why one box of Irish-caught fish is worth far more to the local community than 1,000 Spanish-caught boxes."