Ireland had to rely on EU ship to patrol fishing waters due to Naval shortages

One third of fishery patrols cancelled by Naval Service so far this year

Ireland had to rely on a European Union ship to help patrol its fishing zone for the first time this year due to the current dire condition of the Naval Service.

The Irish Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFCA) requested and received the support of the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) in patrolling Irish waters on four occasions between January and March in 2021.

This was considered necessary because “the Naval Service could not commit to increase its patrol days at sea under a joint-EU initiative co-ordinated at EU level by EFCA.”

It was the first time Ireland had to rely on the EFCA’s vessel.


The revelation was contained in a blunt assessment from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to the Commission on the Defence Forces which is examining the future role and capabilities of the Irish military.

Fishery protection is the core role of the Naval Service, which has been hit particularly hard by the manpower crisis impacting the entire Defence Forces.

Last year there was a 25 per cent decrease in the number of fishery patrols carried out by the Naval Service compared to 2019.

According to the submission, the situation has continued to deteriorate this year, at the same time as the departure of the UK from the EU has increased the need for fishery patrols in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone which extends to 200 miles off shore.

As of mid-May, 32 per cent of 405 patrol days have been cancelled by the Naval Service in 2021. This includes 86 days cancelled due to personnel shortages (including some caused by Covid-19) and 44 cancelled due to mechanical issues.

Four of the Naval Service’s nine vessels are currently out of action, including one which is undergoing a refit.

“The high-level assessment of the level of Naval and Air Corps activity in fisheries control operations is that it has been reducing over the past number of years,” the department said in its submission.

The European Commission recently ordered a formal administrative inquiry into Ireland's ability to enforce European fishery regulations. It found Irish systems to be "unsatisfactory". As a result the Commission "put forward a specific package of measures to address the issues raised," the department said.

These findings are under “active consideration” by the Government ahead of negotiations with the Commission on the matter.

Ireland’s fishing waters are the most productive in the EU and the State has a legal responsibility to monitor and control fishing activity in its 200 mile exclusive zone, the department said. The Naval Service and Air Corps also have a “legal responsibility” to monitor the zone.

Almost half a billion euro worth of fish is landed each year from the Irish zone, with Ireland taking 42 per cent of this by weight, according to the department’s submission to the Commission on the Defence Forces,

“It is essential that there is strong and effective monitoring and control of the outtake by all vessels, Irish and non-Irish, so that the stocks are fished sustainably” it said.

Overfishing will have serious short-, medium- and long-term consequences on the Irish fishing industry, which employs 14,000 people and is worth €653 million in exports, it said, adding that the Irish fleet is “highly dependent” on fishing within Irish waters.

“Our fleet do not have options to move to new waters as our quota shares are primarily restricted to the fish stocks in Irish and UK waters.”

In 2019, less than half of boardings by the Naval service related to Irish vessels. Spanish vessels accounted for 30 per cent, French for 11 per cent and UK vessels for nine per cent.

In response to queries, the Department of Defence said Covid-19 has impacted the number of patrol days carried out this year. Although sea operations were impacted, the Naval Service’s Fisheries Monitoring Centre has continued to monitor Irish waters 24/7, it said.

A spokeswoman added that The Naval Service “liaised closely” with the EFCA ship while it operated in the Irish zone.

This article was edited on June 4th, 2021.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times