The environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment has responded strongly to the Federation of Irish Fisherman's call for the reduction of penalties for illegal fishing.
The Chairman of the Federation of Irish Fishermen Michael Walsh has claimed that ‘fishermen are being pursued like criminals and risk prosecution for trying to make a living' because of the ‘minefield of legislation'.
FIE claims that under the previous legislation Irish fishermen were apprehended breaking EU laws 138 times in 2005 but were fined just €417 on average.
‘While Irish fishermen constantly claim that Spanish fisherman are treated more leniently, in 2006 more than 3,000 prosecutions were initiated in Spain while there were only 26 prosecutions in Ireland.'
• Irish vessels landed more than 40,000 tons of mackerel through secret pipes under the quays at two Scottish ports between 2001 - and 2005, resulting in cuts in Ireland's quota.
• Two large Irish trawlers were apprehended unloading a huge catch of mackerel into a fleet of 20 lorries waiting at a west of Ireland quayside in 2005. Each lorry was driven by a number of people in sequence to break the chain of evidence and make prosecution impossible. The ‘blue box' used to track by satellite the movement of the fishing vessels had been tampered with and showed the location of the vessels as 25 miles off the Irish coast. This is organized crime.
Ireland's own Marine Institute pointed out in last year's ‘Stock Book',
• mackerel and blue whiting are currently overexploited
• stocks of cod, whiting and spurdog, and in the Irish sea sole, are severely depleted
• in the Celtic sea cod, plaice & herring are depleted
• the move towards deep water fishing for slow growing species is totally unsustainable
• in inshore fisheries the fishing power is in excess of what the resource can sustain
The new legislation was introduced because under Irish and British law it is not possible to introduce effective administrative fines which would act as a deterrent. Serious fines and the power to confiscate catch and equipment cannot be imposed administratively under the terms of our Constitution.
The recent Report of the European Court of Auditors which states that the Commission has launched infringement procedures against this country because of the unreliability of catch data.
‘Ireland is already being prosecuted by the Commission for its failure to accurately reflect its catches. To lessen the penalties for illegal fishing would encourage moves within the Community to suspend payments of Community aid in the fisheries sector, a result that would help no one.'
A spokesman for the group pointed out that the recent Crawley Report points a way forward for the hard-pressed fishermen.
‘Efforts should be concentrated on implementing its recommendations for market development and innovation to enhance competitiveness, restructuring of the fleet and the processing industry and fisheries management.'
Verification and further information:
Tony Lowes 027 73131 / 087 2176316
Letter to Minister Coughlan: