The European Commission has issued a ruling that Ireland can’t be trusted to police its own fishing quotas under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, and the fishing sector will face significant Brussels-imposed penalties.
The ruling will remove a special law granted to Ireland that allowed fish to be weighed at Irish factories and not at the point of landing. The Commission argues that Irish authorities are not able to guarantee that fraud will be detected.
The law had been in place since 2012 following extensive lobbying by the Irish fishing industry. However, after a recent audit found that there was misreporting in the size of Irish catches and manipulation of the weighing systems, the European Commission has now ruled that fish caught by Irish fishermen must be weighed at the port of landing.
Additionally, Ireland will lose thousands of tonnes of fishing quota, and the European Union will be withdrawing as much as €40 million in funding to the fisheries sector as a result of the audit.
The Commission’s ruling says that Irish factories did not have a “weighing system fit for purpose” and that “the audit identified manipulation of weighing systems.”
“Moreover, although aware of these shortcomings, Ireland did not take appropriate measures to address such non-compliance, in particular by withdrawing the permission to weigh after transport,” they added.
“Therefore, Ireland could not guarantee an effective control of landed quantities of catches and minimise the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. The failure to ensure appropriate weighing also puts at risk the accuracy of the data reported that are essential for control purposes and monitoring of the uptake of fishing quotas.”
The audit estimated that Ireland had overfished its allowed quota for pelagic fish by over 40,000 tonnes, and pointed to 33 alleged cases of fraud in recording quotas or weighing controls, all of which were sent to the DPP, and none of which were prosecuted.
CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), John Ward, called the EU’s actions “absolutely crazy” and said that they have put the Irish fishing industry in a “tremendously difficult situation.”
“We’re holding an emergency board meeting over this and we are hoping to engage with the government,” said Ward.
“We have made loads of representations to the minister about this.”
Ward has disputed the results of the audit, saying that the fraud was mainly being perpetrated by major fishing operators.
“There was only one factory prosecuted in recent years,” he said. “We have no notion what files went to the DPP.”
Ireland’s former ambassador to Jamaican, Canada, and the Bahamas, Ray Bassett told the Express.co.uk: “This is another example of Brussels directly running sections of Irish society.
“The meekness in the Irish response is cringe-inducing. Instead of standing up for our hard-pressed fishermen, it would appear that our authorities see their role as merely implementing the dictates of Brussels.”
This move comes at a time when the Irish fishing industry is already facing a 15% reduction in fishing quotas post-Brexit.