Fish processers and producers in Killybegs, Co Donegal, are calling for urgent action to prevent the loss of 450 jobs due to what they describe as the over-interpretation of EU regulations on weighting of fish landed in the port.
The call follows an incident yesterday in which the master of a Danish vessel, The Ruth, left the port with 1,200 tonnes of blue whiting on board which should have been landed and processed at Ward Fish Exporters.
The vessel was subject to a controlled weighting of the catch, but this was to be done in a way which Kenny Ward says would have made it unfit for human consumption.
A delicate fish, it needs to be kept suspended in chilled water with minimum handling, but Mr Ward says the authorities wanted the fish de-watered which would have damaged its quality.
According to Brendan Byrne, Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, the rules surrounding weighting of such catches were changed by the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency without advance warning.
Significantly though, he says, the rules were not changed by the EU and he sees the move as an over-interpretation of the regulations by the SFPA which, he says, will have a detrimental impact on the fishing industry here.
Five production lines lie idle in Ward's today when 64 people should have been employed processing the blue whiting, a low-cost, high protein food which is exported mainly to Africa and also to Ukraine where some of this catch was destined.
With 450 people employed in the sector, Mr Ward said that more job losses will follow and the reputational damage to Killybegs, which needs international vessels to land here, is disastrous.
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Other international vessels have already indicated that they will not be landing in Killybegs but will be going to other EU ports and this will impact across the board in Killybegs, according to Aodh O'Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation.
When these vessels land here, they use local services including net making and engineering companies as well as crews visiting restaurants and shops in the town he said and what's needed is a sensible approach to the regulations.
Mr Byrne says that this is not happening in any other EU country and there needs to be a political intervention with someone shouting stop before the industry is destroyed.
The SFPA said that in the case of The Ruth, the master of the vessel had been offered an industry-owned water separator which would preserve the quality of the fish, however Mr Byrne and others said there is no such thing in Killybegs.
The SFPA also said that it "has been actively working to secure approval of a formal Control Plan to enable the derogation of weighing of fishery products after transport in Ireland, which addresses significant EU Commission concerns surrounding Ireland's control measures and the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, particularly in pelagic bulk landings to Ireland, which resulted in the Commission's revoking of Ireland’s weighing-after-transport Control Plan in 2021.
"A formal control plan has now been submitted by the SFPA to the European Commission with a view to achieving permanent approval."