‘The future is very scary’: Fishermen and women voice concerns for industry

Brexit-related cuts and pandemic price drops causing income losses

A flotilla of fishing vessels is sailed up the Liffey on Wednesday to protest against large Brexit-related losses outside a sitting of the Dáil at the convention centre.

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William Power joined a flotilla of fishing vessels that sailed into Cork Harbour last month in protest at dire conditions in the sector. Now he is bringing the protest to Dublin as fishermen and women confront Brexit losses that have left coastal communities in fear of economic collapse.

“This protest is really all about fishermen and women fighting for a future for their families,” said Mr Power (45) of Castletownbere in Co Cork, who first went to sea 29 years ago.

“I was born and raised with fishing. It’s who I am and it was a dream come true for me and my family back in 2006 when I bought the boat. But now with Brexit, Covid and a Government that is all but ignoring our industry, the future is very scary.”

Flotilla at Dublin Port on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson
Flotilla at Dublin Port on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Much as he would love his two young sons to take over the business “if that’s what they want”, strains on the industry have left him questioning whether that would be a good idea at all. “Right now I don’t want this life for them.”

In the Cork protest fishermen and women delivered a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin in which they called on the Government to protect their communities and secure the fishing industry for the future.

Many say the outlook is bleak, as Brexit and new rules on weighing fish begin to bite after sharp, steep pandemic-related price cuts.

“When the UK decided to leave the EU, at the very moment the result of the referendum was announced I knew that the Irish fishermen we going to face trouble. Fishermen are after all second-class citizens as far as the Government is concerned,” Mr Power said.

“We, and I mean the people of Ireland, have the most fertile fishing ground in all Europe, and right now Irish fishermen and women can catch just 15 per cent of the fish that are abundant just a few miles off our coast.”

Flotilla at Dublin Port on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson
Flotilla at Dublin Port on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Coronavirus has piled pressure on Mr Power, who fishes for white fish such as hake and haddock, as he struggles with rock-bottom prices.

“When Covid started all the restaurants across Europe closed and overnight demand and prices dropped by over 50 per cent,” he said.

“At the moment we are getting – on average – €1.50 per kilo for hake. That’s 50 per cent of the price pre-Covid.

“Add to that the lack of crew members [and] the new quotas for Ireland, which are dropping all the time, and it is getting more and more difficult to make a living. Not just for me but for my crew and so on down the line in every fishing community across the country.”