A leading fishing organisation has welcomed a High Court ruling which has effectively led to a Department of the Marine ban of vessels over 18 metres fishing within the six-mile nautical limit being overturned.
Mr Justice Michael MacGrath this week ruled that the ban, introduced by way of a department directive in March 2019, was “void and had no legal effect” following an earlier ruling in July.
Fishermen Neil Minihane from Castletownbere in Co Cork and Tom Kennedy from Dingle in Co Kerry had taken a judicial review in the High Court against the directive and were successful in that action earlier this year.
In that ruling, Mr Justice MacGrath found the policy directive was a national measure designed to further the interests of inshore fishermen and protect ecosystems and he didn’t accept it was “disproportionate” in its impact.
However, he did find that the Department of the Marine had failed to properly consult with affected owners of vessels over 18 metres before introducing the directive and he found for Mr Minihane and Mr Kennedy in their challenge.
And this week he confirmed that the effect of his ruling in July was to render the directive void and without any legal effect, paving the way for the owners of vessels over 18 metres to resume fishing inside the six-mile limit.
The directive had stated that licences granted to sea-fishing vessels over 18 metres included a condition that such vessels were precluded from operating trawl or seine nets inside the six nautical-mile zone from January 1st, 2020.
The directive prohibited the fishing for species such as herring and mackerel, which are subject to quotas, but did allow fishing for sprat, which is a non-quota species, but subject to catch limits that could be set by the minister.
Mr Minihane and Mr Kennedy had argued their trawlers The Celtic Quest, the Fiona K III and the Ocean Venture II, all of which exceed 18 metres, were prohibited from fishing for herring and bull mackerel inside the six-mile limit.
This week's ruling has been welcomed by Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO), saying that the organisation had argued from the outset that the legislation was flawed.
“Mr Justice Michael McGrath has found in favour of the two applicants, Neil Minihane and Tom Kennedy that the ban on over 18 metre vessels fishing inside the six-mile limit was not good law,” he told The Skipper magazine.
“He has agreed with the applicants on seeking an order quashing the directive issued on March 5th, 2019 and that the directive was made in breach of fair procedures and/or natural justice and is void and/or of no legal effect.”
The directive had been specified by the department on the licence of vessels and the ruling will now require the recalling of licences and the issuing of new ones, returning the right to fish once again in their traditional grounds, he said.
Mr Murphy pointed out that the IS&WFPO submitted in 2019 to then-minister for the marine Michael Creed that the consultation process initiated by him was, in their view, fundamentally flawed.
“We noted in our submission to minister Creed’s public consultation that the scientific information being relied upon to enquire into any possible change in policy was, in our considered view, quite deficient,” he said.
“We requested specific individual studies be carried out on the activities of all fishing vessels which had traditionally fished in the waters lying inside of the six-mile limit and that were proposed to be excluded from fishing in that zone.”
And he said the IS&WFPO was now willing to assist the new Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue and his officials to introduce measures that will not discriminate against fishermen on the basis of their trawler size.
The IS&WFPO was calling for immediate scientific evaluation to calculate the biomass of all commercial stocks within the six-mile zone and until this was completed, “no quota figure should be set for this important fishery,” he said.
And he said they were seeking any future decision to take account of the socio- economic impact on coastal communities of any decision which forces vessels to tie up if they can no longer land fish into established local markets.