Donegal fishermen unable to put to sea as fuel costs triple, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn claims

Donegal fishermen are unable to put to sea as a result of a huge increase in fuel costs that has seen prices triple, it was claimed in the Dáil on Thursday.

Buncrana-based Sinn Féin T.D. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn spoke of a 'serious crisis in the fishing industry' due to increased the costs.

He urged his Inishowen colleague, the Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to lobby the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius on behalf of local fishers.

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Deputy Mac Lochlainn said: "The inshore and offshore fishermen to whom I speak, including those in County Donegal, are telling me that with prices tripling, they just cannot afford to go to sea."

Greencastle harbour.
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The Buncrana TD. pointed to direct subsidies provided by France and Spain to their fishing industries and called for similar action in Ireland.

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He acknowledged a voluntary tie-up scheme was introduced for the fishing industry after to help ameliorate significant quota reductions under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement that hit Donegal mackerel fishers particularly hard.

But he urged further direct support to address the rise in fuel costs.

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"Spain has now announced €68 million in support for its industry, including a range of interventions. Apart from a tie-up scheme, which is linked to the existing Brexit adjustment reserve fund, what is the Minister doing for people in the fishing industry? They cannot go to sea.

"This impacts on food supply. This impacts on an industry that has been hard hit by Brexit, as the Minister knows. Some 60 boats will decommission. We are down to 30% of what the fleet needs to be above 18 m. This industry is already in crisis. This will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. What is the Minister going to do?" he asked.

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The minister said he was aware of the increase in fuel costs and the effect it is having on fishers.

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He told the Dáil that he had spoken to Commissioner about the matter.

"I emphasised to the Commissioner that these increased fuel costs come on top of difficulties that had already been created by COVID-19, as well as, of course, the impact of the quota reductions under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

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"I called on the Commission to urgently examine and approve measures through flexibility within the European programmes and fisheries funds that would allow funds to be allocated towards the challenges facing the industry, particularly the fuel crisis."

The Dáil heard that on March 25 the Commission 'triggered a crisis mechanism of the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, EMFAF, recognising the Russian military aggression as an exceptional event that is causing market disruption and thereby making it possible for member states grant two types of financial compensation to mitigate the impacts of costs stemming from market disruption and specific storage mechanisms'.

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Responding directly to Deputy Mac Lochlainn's call for state subsidies for fuel, he said: "I have been listening and working and talking to fishers themselves, as well as their representatives, because this challenge is an emergency.

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"I did this as recently as six days ago. I will continue to engage with them on the challenges. As the Deputy knows, many measures are coming out of the seafood task force report, which will support all of the sectors. Through that, I have proposed a total of €425 million to support the sector this year and next year.

"I have outlined the details of the tie-up scheme, which I have submitted to the European Commission. This has been welcomed by the sector. Its impact will be that for one month in a three-month period a boat will not go to sea and it will get paid for that month.

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"The boats that go to sea will be able to fish that quota, which increases the quota they would have had by 50%. That has been welcomed by people in the sector. I will continue to liaise closely with them because it is an important sector, particularly for our own county. It is important that we work with them through this period of time. I will continue to do that."