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Fishermen angry over Brexit and new quotas are sailing into Cork to march on Taoiseach's office

“Surely we’re entitled to catch at least half the fish in our own waters?” a fisherman asked The Journal.

Image from iOS (2) Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

THE AGRICULTURE MINISTER has acknowledged that fishermen face challenging conditions post-Brexit, as a protest flotilla of fishermen gathered at Roches Point in Cork Harbour to protest against reduced quotas.

The fishermen are travelling up the River Lee to march on Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s office in Cork, where a letter from fishermen will be delivered.

Fishermen are protesting the conditions they face under the Brexit deal agreed before Christmas, which included a gradual decrease in quota amounts for Irish fishermen.

Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation told The Journal that “it’s all go at the moment”.

He said there were upwards of 60 vessels involved, which represented nearly half the demersal-fishing fleet. Some of the vessels started hooting as they passed a nearby naval base. / YouTube

“There are very little boats in our fleet, because that’s the plan of government.

Imagine someone spending hundreds of thousands of euro on refrigerators to keep fish at a premium quality, revoke the rights for fisherman to send fish to be weighed, so fishermen have to shake the ice off them at the docks to see what they actually weigh, this is what we’re up against.
If the worst happens, we’re going to be wiped out, so surely they have to put a value on these lads’ livelihoods.

When asked if he meant a redundancy package, Murphy replied that’s what it would be: “They don’t want to leave the industry.”

He said that the Irish fishing industry is worth €1 billion, and that the reduced quotas mean that they would lose €200 million overall, which would have a knock-on effect on other industries.

“Surely we’re entitled to catch at least half the fish in our own waters?” he added.

The Government has set up a taskforce to examine the issue.

Minister for Agriculture’s response

When asked about the protest on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Agriculture and the Marine Charlie McConalogue acknowledged that the Brexit trade deal will see quotas reduced to 15% on fishing quotas between now and 2026, which is the “challenge and pain” of what fishermen face.

“Obviously Brexit posed a massive threat to fisheries, a third of all the fish we catch was caught in British waters, so a no-deal would have been quite disastrous for the sector.

“But that’s not to take away at all from the outcome that has impacted fisheries in a way that it hasn’t impacted other parts of the economy.

“And that’s why I’ve established a taskforce to bring together all of the voices in the sector to advise the government how we can invest in the sector in the time ahead, how we can mitigate the impact that’s there and also maximise what is a tremendous marine resource we have,” he said.

Responding to the Minister’s comments, Murphy said: 

The minister says it’s ‘a challenge’. A challenge to me would be a soldiers climbing out of the trenches at the Battle of the Somme to face the machine guns, that’s the challenge, we’re being annihilated here.

“What’s he saying is ‘suck it up’, I don’t want to be disrespectful to a minister, but he’s being disrespectful to us.”

Fisherman Joe McGuinness told RTÉ Radio One that it’s “very frustrating when you see French and Spanish vessels fishing beside you [in Irish waters] that have 10 times the catch you do”.

“Every year the quota is cut,” he says. “It’s not enough to keep boats viable.”

Dinah Busher, whose trawler has sank, said: “We’re still in trouble, we still owe money. If we were a Spanish or French trawler we wouldn’t have owed as much money as we do now.

“My family is struggling. Standing here today, we’re proud to see it. They talk about the fish being in danger, but obviously its the fishermen that are the endangered in Ireland.”

Earlier this month, fishermen threatened to block the nation’s busiest ports over an EU audit which resulted in changes to how landed fish are weighed and distributed.

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