20 March 2020
By Elaine Murphy
Minister Creed meets fishing industry representatives on the impact of COVID 19 on the fishing fleet and processors
Today the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Micahel Creed T.D., met by teleconference all the main representative groups for fishing, representing both the off-shore fleet and the inshore fleet and processors. There was a full review of the particular challenges facing the fisheries sector.
Minister Creed said, “I had a constructive meeting with representatives of the fisheries sector dealing with the unprecedented challenge as a result of COVID 19. It is very clear that, as with many other sectors, the fisheries sector is facing very difficult times as its traditional markets both in Asia and now in Europe have been effectively closed. The bad weather earlier in the year has resulted in lower than normal catches and therefore both the crew and vessel owners were already in a disadvantaged position.”
The fishing industry representatives provided the benefit of their wide range of knowledge and experience in reviewing possible options that would help support the continuation of fishing and the provision of fish to the market, in particular the Irish market.
Minister Creed explained, “The main focus of this meeting was to discuss and understand the situation on the ground and to consider possible measures that would allow fishing to continue so that this important source of food would contribute to keeping food on the tables of our citizens, keeping those working in the sector in their jobs and sustaining, where possible, economic activity within the sector. The measures examined included finding additional means to bring Irish whitefish to the Irish market and the potential to use temporary storage of fish.”
In terms of diverting whitefish to the home market, this will involve working with processors to adjust supply to the home market and replace product previously prepared for the export market. In that regard, the Minister has asked BIM to work with his Department and industry and provide practical support for the necessary changes.
Minister Creed wrote to Commissioner Sinkevičius on Monday last seeking changes in EU regulation that would support the sector during this crisis. The EU Commission has been considering this during the week.
Minister Creed stated “I consider that we need to give further consideration at EU level to introduce a new support mechanism for the sector that will allow fish to be stored on a temporary basis and be quickly re-introduced onto the market. I am pleased that the EU Commission has indicated a willingness to consider this further.”
The Minister has also asked the Commissioner to consider the question of EU aid to operators to cease fishing on a temporary basis during this crisis. The Minister noted that the measures put in place by the Government for both employers and employees including the extension of a payment holiday in respect of mortgages and the payment to job seekers will also be available to the fishing sector and to owners and crew of fishing vessels. As discussed at the meeting, the Minister is not proposing that a tie up scheme is introduced at this time, as the main focus at this point is to work to continue to support the supply of food. In line with this, normal service is continuing at the six State-owned Fishery Harbour Centres at Castletownbere, Dunmore East, Howth, Killybegs, Dingle and Rossaveal.
Finally Minister Creed said, “It was clear to me that the fishing sector shares the concerns of every citizen and is committed to mitigating the health risk for all including sectoral workers. I appreciate that as food suppliers they have a special role and are committed to doing their part during these difficult times. The Government is fully appreciative of this considerable effort and I will provide necessary supports to the sector over the coming period.”