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'This is our heritage': Fishermen threaten to blockade Ireland's major ports over new weighing rules

Fishermen say the new rules will affect the quality of the fish and impact their livelihoods.

FIle photo.
FIle photo.
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

IRATE FISHERMEN ARE threatening to blockade the nation’s busiest ports over an EU audit which resulted in changes to how landed fish are weighed and distributed, The Journal has learned.

Multiple fishermen have told us that over 50 skippers are planning blockades around Dublin, Rosslare, and Cork over what they described as “huge concerns” for the future of Irish fish quality. The fishermen also claimed the new rules will jeopardise their incomes in the future.

Members of several fish producer organisations have told this publication that the fishermen have long been thought of as a “soft touch” and that the plans for a blockade will show to both the EU and the Irish regulator, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SPFA), that they mean business. 

One fisherman, based in the southwest, said they have been left with “no other alternative” than to attempt to block Irish ports. The fisherman explained that the aim of the threatened blockade is to bring Irish ports to a “standstill” with “nothing coming in or out”.

The anger stems from an EU audit in 2018 which found that some Irish producers were manipulating weighing machines and earning more money. While the audit was carried out in 2018, it was only recently published.

The sanctions themselves were imposed on fishermen last month.

As a consequence, the SPFA deemed that the traditional weighing of fish at refrigerated distribution centres will stop. Instead, fishermen will be expected to weigh their catches on the pier side, something they say will lead to a decreased quality of the fish being bought in Ireland and abroad. 

One fisherman explained: “Let’s say what would happen is I land 50 boxes of cod and hake and monkfish. This is transported in a refrigerated van or container and brought to a station where it is weighed. What we have now is that we have to weigh stuff on the pier. It could be a gorgeous roasting hot day and the fish is sitting there. Then you have to contend with the seagulls doing what they do, defecating on your catch.”

The fishermen are extremely worried that the quality of the fish is going to be impacted by the new rules and that the high quality of food Ireland sends to the world will be diminished. 

“We have to do something like the blockade. I’m only off the phone with 50 skippers or so and we’re all furious. This is our heritage. I’m an older man. Money means nothing to me. There has to be something left to fish for the next generation,” the fisherman added.

Ireland is the only country in the EU to have this new system in place. 

At an Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and the Marine yesterday, various groups pleaded with the SPFA and the government to remove this new protocol.

Speaking at the committee, Andrew Kinneen of the SPFA conceded that the quality of fish would be affected but not so much as to be a risk to the consumer. 

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“There’s no doubt there’s a risk that the quality of the fish may be affected by what I regard as extra handling but I would like to assure the Senator [Tim Lombard] that it wouldn’t come to the point, to my knowledge anyway, that you would be talking about a risk to human health,” he said.

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