Fishing sector requests access to report that says catches must be weighed portside

Sector critical of European Commission move which it says threatens produce quality

Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation: ‘It can’t work. You are really going back to the stone age in terms of weighing.’ File photograph: William Edwards/AFP

Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation: ‘It can’t work. You are really going back to the stone age in terms of weighing.’ File photograph: William Edwards/AFP

 

Efforts are under way for the Irish fishing sector to access a controversial European Commission investigation report that led to catches having to be weighed portside, rather than in factories.

Highly critical of the move, the sector insists the quality of produce is now under threat due to increased handling of fish and their removal from ice storage.

Tuesday marks the formal deadline for the certification of portside weighing scales, officially moving the process away from plants and auction halls, the long-standing approach favoured by boat owners.

Following a 2018 audit, the commission found Ireland lacked a “weighing system fit for purpose” and that what was in place was being manipulated. Its decision to revoke Ireland’s “control plan” removed permission for all fish to be weighed in factories.

Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), said the industry has been asking for access to documents without success but that Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalouge had committed to engaging with the commission on the issue. Legal action may otherwise be considered.

“We are being refused access to that audit. So here we are being crucified and we have no right to defend ourselves,” he said.

The findings of the commission’s “administrative inquiry” into Ireland’s capacity to apply common fisheries policy rules were set out to the Department of Agriculture and the Marine last December.

A spokesman said that under European law the relevant documents could not be made public.

“However, in light of recent revocation of the control plan and the ongoing process of engagement with the commission, it is considered that the context… may have changed,” he said.

“The Minister has asked his officials to seek the commission’s updated position on an urgent basis in respect of the release of the documents concerned. A response is awaited at present.”

Control plan

Separately, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) intends to draft a new control plan for consideration by the European Commission which would be applicable “to landings of most species, with the specific exception of landings of bulk-stored pelagic species,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, however, Mr O’Donoghue said the practicalities of portside weighing, which began in April, are an “unmitigated disaster”.

“It can’t work. You are really going back to the stone age in terms of weighing,” he said. “If you have a thousand boxes of fish, let’s say they are monkfish, and you have to weigh 100 per cent of them, you will have to take each of those boxes out on the portside, under the elements, take the ice out, put them in another box, weigh them, and put them into another box of ice. You will destroy them.”

In a recent Dáil debate, Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry questioned the logic of a system that threatened fish quality.

“Over-handling reduces the grading and makes it less exportable and less likely to achieve decent market prices,” he said. “This, in turn, impacts on the 16,000 employees of the sector, whether they be producers, the trawlermen out at sea, people involved in logistics backup or the processors in the factories.”