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Dunmore East fishermen tell Minister: 'Every year it's getting harder to make a living'

We spent a morning down in Dunmore East to hear what fishermen had to say to the Minister for the Marine.

AS THE MARINE minister visited the picturesque Dunmore East harbour on one of the hottest days of the year, he faced some searing questions about the future of the fishing fleet – including from a young fisherman who asked him to fight for more quota.

“Every year it’s getting harder,” another fisherman said.

A fifth generation Dunmore East fisherman told the Minister:

“All the problems go away if you get more quota.”

Around 20 fishermen gathered at the famous Co Waterford harbour to air their grievances with the minister and suggest ways of maintaining their livelihoods in what the minister admitted was a very heavily regulated industry.

Over the course of an hour, several fishermen raised their concerns, which included increasing the quota for a number of species; monitoring super-trawlers more heavily; questioning why other EU vessels are allowed to catch more of certain species than Irish boats; and asking for a better plan to encourage younger generations into the industry.

Back in June, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said he would meet with fishermen after 60 fishing vessels gathered in Dublin for a protest.

Trawlers depart 003 Trawlers leaving Dublin as they sail down the River Liffey. Source: Leah Farrell

The issues that drove this demonstration and another flotilla protest in Cork are a 15% phased drop in Ireland’s fish quota under the Brexit trade deal; and the recent requirement for fish to be weighed on piers instead of at factories, after Ireland’s monitoring plan was rejected by the European Commission in April.

McConalogue subsequently announced a tour of harbours and ports around the country to speak with fishers about their livelihoods, and a taskforce has been appointed to examine the issues. Its final report is due in September.

McConalogue, who is from the Donegal fishing village of Greencastle, has visited Howth, Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East, and Killybegs in the past two weeks, with visits to Cork planned for this week.

What the fishermen had to say

20210722_114803 Minister of State and Waterford TD Mary Butler and Minister Charlie McConalogue listen to crewman John Giles. Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

Among the issues the fishers raised were the unsafe conditions in the harbour, which is owned by the State. During the winter, the more extreme weather conditions coupled with the conditions at the harbour results in vessels and equipment being damaged.

The Department has plans to upgrade the harbour, but the plans aren’t finalised yet.

One of two young fishermen who were present told the Minister that he loves fishing, but said that it is increasingly more regulated. “Every year it’s getting harder,” he said.

Another young, small-boat fishermen called David listed a number of concerns he has – including the reduction in Ireland’s share of the mackerel quota, which is the biggest Brexit hit to the Irish fishing sector.

David, who has been a fisherman for seven years, said: “I was supplying restaurants [with mackerel] before, now they can’t get it.”

Requests to increase the quota for a number of species were raised a number of times, with fifth-generation Dunmore-East fisherman Brendan Leonard telling the minister: “You get quota, you alleviate all problems”.

“Quota is everything,” said John Lynch, formerly a Howth fisherman for 30 years, now the head of the Irish South & East Fish Producers Organisation.

He said that a specialist industry group needs to be set up to evaluate each quota separately to see what we can do: “I know we haven’t had great success at it in the past and we have tried, but let’s keep trying.”

What is a quota?

20210722_112804 Dunmore East harbour is one of six harbours owned by the State. Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

A fishing quota is the tonnage of fish that can be caught each year, and is sub-divided into quotas for specific species and areas.

Quotas are different from, but are usually based on, the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ for a species of fish, which is an ecological estimation of what proportion of fish can be caught to ensure stocks are not depleted to unsustainable levels.

The tonnage of fish Ireland is allowed to catch will be reduced by 15% by 2026 as part of the Brexit trade deal struck last year. This is worth €43 million a year out of the EU total of €180 million.

The loss of mackerel quota is estimated to be worth a hit of €15m in 2021, and €25m by 2026.

As around a third of all of Ireland’s fish are caught in UK waters, many fishers acknowledge that some of Ireland’s total would have had to go to the UK, but some have said it should have been closer to €20 million in value. 

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Dunmore East’s herring fishery ‘depleted’

398a59dd-e5de-4111-ac68-673d588fb23b Source: Department of Agriculture

In an interview with The Journal after hearing the concerns of local fishers, McConalogue said that being a fisher has become “an increasingly challenging lifestyle and profession”.

He said herring fishing was once the “heart and soul” of Dunmore East, and now the species is at “a very low ebb at the moment and can’t be fished in any serious way”.
Going back to the ’70s and ’80s there would have been 5-600 jobs in Dunmore East based on the herring fishery, but unfortunately over the years that fishery has become pretty much depleted.
“There isn’t any easy, short-term way of replenishing that fishery, it has to be allowed to regain strength and to become healthier before it would be able to reopen.”

He said that there was “a strong future for our fisheries sector” despite this, and that “it will continue to be an important part of our economy”.

When asked whether he had the support if his Cabinet colleagues to provide that future, the Minister said that there has been “recognition” at Cabinet that the sector has been affected more than any other by Brexit.

He said that he will be doing “all I can to fight the national case” for an increase in quotas at EU level, in upcoming discussions on the Common Fisheries Policy.

“That’s going to be massively difficult and massively challenging, but it’s certainly a fight I have been taking up at every EU Council meeting.”

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