Warning fishing industry is on brink of collapse due to lack of Covid-19 support

A coronavirus warning sign on a fishing vessel in West Cork advises of contacting the skipper of the trawler before boarding the boat. Picture: Andy Gibson
A coronavirus warning sign on a fishing vessel in West Cork advises of contacting the skipper of the trawler before boarding the boat. Picture: Andy Gibson

Ireland’s €1.2 billion fishing industry is on the brink of collapse, according to industry representatives who say it has been decimated by the collapse in domestic and EU markets since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

But they also say the government’s lack of appropriate help could prove to be the final nail in the coffin.

The representatives point to the fact that Agriculture Minister Michael Creed recently announced more money for harbour repairs than for packages to help fishermen and women.

They also say a scheme he announced last week to help pay the costs of boats that can't fish because of the crisis is “not fit for purpose”.

They were speaking in response to the Temporary Voluntary Fleet Tie-up Scheme Minister Creed announced on May 8.

It allows for monthly payments proportionate to eight different sized boats up to 24 metres to cover fixed costs incurred while tied-up.

A tie-up scheme is being operated by countries all over the EU and in the UK.

But while other governments are paying out up to around €11,000-a-week, owners of fishing boats here will only get up to €6,000-a-month when the scheme starts next month.

“Minister Creed has been repeatedly told what the fishing industry needs to survive,” said Patrick Murphy of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation.

We need a retrospective scheme that helps fishermen out for what they lost out on at the start of the crisis.

“And we need a shorter tie-up period so that fishermen can still fish.” 

He said the minister and his officials have rejected “impassioned appeals” for specific Covid-19 support from a fishing industry which is “fighting for its very survival in the face of the pandemic”.

In doing so, he said, they have turned their back on the sector which is “on the brink of collapse”.

Hugo Boyle, CEO of the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation, said: “When you add up the costs the scheme is supposed to cover, the amounts offered are way short of what is needed.” 

Monthly costs for insurance, radio communications and other rentals, harbour fees, monthly leasing agreements and daily maintenance of an 18 metre boat could be as high as €4,000-a-month.

Under Mr Creed’s scheme, a boat owner would only get €2,000.

And while the tie-up schemes are on a weekly basis abroad, here boat owners have to commit to tie boats up for at least a month.

Shortly after announcing the tie-up scheme, Mr Creed announced a total of €3.1 million in funding for 58 development and repair projects on harbours and slipways owned by local councils.

The total value of his tie-up scheme is estimated to be around €1.6 million.

A department spokesperson said: “It is up to the fishing vessel owner to decide whether to tie-up or keep fishing and in line with the Government policy of keeping the food chain operating.

It is, of course, preferable that the supply to fish continues to satisfy available markets.

“In general, vessel owners want their vessels to be at sea and fishing.

“The scheme was capped at a maximum of 66% of each vessel size category in the fleet to ensure a continued level of fishing activity.

“It would be a positive sign if the take-up of this supplementary scheme is low and that the safety net provided through the scheme is used only by the minimum number of vessels that make a decision that it is not in their economic interest to put to sea.”