Fishing group to meet Russian ambassador over naval drills

Fishermen plan to protest by continuing to fish the waters where exercises are planned

The fishing industry will ask the Russian ambassador in a face-to-face meeting if the Kremlin can change location for its planned naval drills next month to avoid Irish trawlers in the area.

Russia has notified the Irish authorities that its navy plans to conduct military exercises off the southwest coast in international waters but in the State's exclusive economic zone.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, will meet ambassador Yury Filatov at the Russian embassy in Dublin on Thursday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Russian embassy confirmed the meeting with the fishing group to allow them “to share their concerns about the upcoming naval drills in the Atlantic”.

Mr Murphy told The Irish Times that the Irish fishing trawlers planned to protest against the planned military exercises by continuing to fish in what are their traditional fishing grounds.

“Irish boats are not going to throw a net in front of one of these Russian warships and go trawling in front of them. They are going to fish their traditional grounds, hopefully away from where these exercises are taking place,” he said.

The Russian embassy has said that any attempt to interfere with the military exercises would be “reckless” and “an irresponsible act” which could put fishermen in harm’s way.

Mr Murphy rejected the idea that Irish fishermen were being “reckless” by fishing waters they have always fished. Fishermen had no intention of “poking the bear”, he said.

Tensions

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Russia should call off the planned military exercises, saying it would “demonstrate goodwill” that they wanted to de-escalate tensions at a time of concern over a potential war in Ukraine.

Irish MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly also voiced opposition to the planned Russian naval exercises, but said military exercises by Nato countries should also be objected to.

Ms Daly, a Dublin MEP, said there was “no evidence that Russia has any desire to invade Ukraine”, adding the Russian “mobilisation is clearly defensive”.

She claimed “Russian involvement in Crimea has the clear support of the majority of the population in that area”, referring to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.

Mr Wallace denied being pro-Russian – saying “I can’t think of one government I like” – but added that he does “fight the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese rhetoric”.

On plans by Irish fishermen to protest at sea during the Russian exercise, Mr Wallace said they “could be right” that the military exercise presents a threat to their livelihoods, but asked: “Why didn’t they protest about Nato [exercises] which go on a lot more regularly than the Russians do?”

A number of large Russian warships were spotted on Tuesday sailing towards Ireland ahead of the planned naval exercise.

Military experts believe the flotilla, which includes five ships, will be used in the drills some 130 nautical miles off the south west, an area within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The ships, which include one of the Russian navy’s biggest missile cruisers, the Marshal Ustinov, were spotted by a Norwegian air force reconnaissance plane moving along its northern coast.

Simple message

Explaining the rationale behind their planned protest, Mr Murphy said: “I am hoping he will take back our simple message, which is: we are trying to make a living here. We are fishing in this area. We would appreciate it if you didn’t come or shoot around us and put our boats in danger.

“Hopefully he will take that message back – a request, not a demand – to the powers that be.”

About 50 to 60 long-haul freezer trawlers can fish from prawns and monkfish from next month in the area about 240km southwest off the Irish coast where the Russian naval drills are planned.

Relocating the drills by 50km would move them away from the Irish trawlers, said Mr Murphy.

Howth fisherman John Lynch said: "We don't agree with the missile exercises and we don't know what damage it will have on the eco system and the spawning aggregation in the area."

The fishing groups have said that they have already lost fishing stocks because of Brexit and that even the loss of a week’s fishing due to the military exercises could have a significant impact.

Mr Filatov told reporters on Monday that the Russian navy would minimise any adverse impact on the marine life during the planned exercises with “three or four ships”.

He said the proposed exercises were not a threat to Ireland and had been “hugely overblown”.