Fishing organisations have condemned blockades by fishermen in Dingle and Castletownbere, preventing foreign-registered trawlers from landing fish, describing the actions as "unnecessary, alarmist and without any reasonable nor rational foundation".

Amid fears of potential Covid-19 transmission in the towns, the fishermen are preventing foreign-registered trawlers from landing catch.

For the last number of days, up to 30 fishermen blocked the entrance to the pier in Dingle with their vehicles, denying access to a number of Spanish-registered trucks which had travelled from the continent to collect fish.

On Monday, two French-registered trawlers were forced to abandon efforts to land fish at the west Kerry town.

The fishermen say they will also prevent crew members of foreign vessels from entering the town. Similar action has been threatened by fishermen in Castletownbere if foreign vessels attempt to land catch in the west Cork port.

A statement on behalf of seven of Ireland's fishing organisations said that they were satisfied with Covid-19 measures introduced by the authorities and added that actions of the fishermen could cause significant damage to relations with other European fishing nations at a time when fleets should be supporting one another.

"However, juxtaposed with that obligation to protect human health is the need to maintain a supply of seafood to both the Irish and European markets and preventing trawler access to Irish ports means a critical food supply is put in jeopardy. 

"The organisations emphasised that they enjoyed cordial and professionally sound working relationships with their French and Spanish counterparts, as well as with the wider European industry, but protests such as those which had taken place in Dingle and Castletownbere in the last 48 hours were not in anyone’s interests and should not be repeated."

The statement has been issued on behalf of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation (ISEFPO), Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), Castletownbere Fishermen's Co-Op, Clogherhead Fishermen’s Co-Op, Galway and Aran Fishermen’s Co-Op and Foyle Fishermen’s Co-Op.

It’s understood Department of the Marine officials and the Dingle fishermen are now in negotiations, and that the establishment of a dedicated landing zone for foreign vessels on the pier is being proposed.

Under the proposals, crew members from the foreign-registered vessels will also be requested to remain in the zone or on their vessels while their catches are being landed.

Robert Brosnan said the fishermen had mounted the blockade in order to protect the town.

"This is a serious public health issue," he said.

"In recent weeks, we've had these foreign trawlers docking at the pier and the crew members go wandering around the town and around the shops. There is no social distancing by them and people in this small town are very worried by large groups of strangers coming in from countries which are highly contaminated by Covid-19.

"The Government has said that people coming in to this country from abroad should self-isolate for 14 days. That's not happening with these foreign trawlers. They are wandering freely in groups throughout the town and it's terrifying local people."

In a statement, the Department of Health said that screening at ports is currently not recommended by the World Health Organisation or the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

While the Government is instructing individuals entering the country to restrict their movements for 14 days, the department says essential supply chain workers such as pilots, hauliers and maritime staff, who are not showing symptoms, are exempt from these restrictions.

The HSE has indicated that all foreign-registered vessels had a duty to comply with a recently issued marine notice which states that all vessels must submit a Covid-19 Maritime Health Declaration in advance of arriving into an Irish Port.

A statement read: "Marine Notice 06/2020 was issued by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on behalf of the HSE giving instructions to ships and their agents in the event of someone displaying Covid-19 like illness on board and informing the Ship's Master of 24/7 medical contact details in such an instance." 

However, fishermen are calling on the HSE to place officials at Irish ports to inspect foreign-registered vessels and to ensure they are complying fully with the marine notice.