Permit scheme for migrant fishing crew in new year – Coveney

Annual fish quota talks in Brussels to extend ban on discards to several whitefish species

A Government scheme to give up to 500 “non-European” crew permits to work in the Irish fishing sector will be in place early in the new year, Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has promised.

Mr Coveney, who is in Brussels for annual EU fish talks, said that crew will be provided with adequate health cover for the duration of contracts.

Crew from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are already working on Irish vessels will be given preference for the first three months of the scheme, and all employees will be guaranteed the national minimum wage “as a minimum”.

They will be repatriated when a contract finished if not rehired, according to the report of the taskforce on migrant workers in the fishing industry which Mr Coveney initiated in the wake of a year-long investigation by the Guardian.

The newspaper claimed that illegal African and Asian migrant workers have been “routinely” used as cheap labour on some Irish fishing vessels – a charge which fishing industry organisations took issue with, stating that it had long sought a permit scheme to deal with crew shortages, and any such abuses would relate to a “minority” of vessels.

Mr Coveney paid tribute to the Migrant Rights Centre and the International Transport Workers’ Federation for their representatives’ input, and said he had been “greatly encouraged” by the “engagement” of fishing industry organisations.

Mr Coveney said that this week’s annual fish talks were made far more complex by the ban on discarding fish, which is to be extended on a phased basis to the whitefish fleet from January 1st.

‘Quota uplift’

The ban, already in place for pelagic vessels catching mackerel and herring, will be extended to three species of whitefish - prawns, whiting and haddock - from the new year.

The prawn fishery is worth €50 million in annual landed value, Mr Coveney said, but the European Commission was allowing for a "quota uplift" or proportionate increase in quota to allow for those fish that would have been thrown overboard in the past.

All such fish will now be sold on the open market, apart from juveniles,and Mr Coveney said that penalties and restrictions would be put in place to ensure that the system was not abused by boats landing far more than their quota of one species.

Irish Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Francis O'Donnell has said there could be early closures if quotas were exhausted due to "legal loopholes".

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times