In the midst of this unprecedented economic crisis where fishing restrictions are in place and markets have collapsed, fishing families must not be forgotten. I have very serious concerns that without financial support the future of fishing is in peril. A financial package targeted at these fishing families is vital to their existence. A €1.5 million financial package has been set up for fishermen in the North to cover fixed costs and provide monthly payments based on vessel size. A similar package needs to be set up here as a matter of urgency.
The weather over recent months has limited the fishing activity and landings of many fishermen. Cash flow has become limited for many. For them, the financial capacity to deal with extended periods of low or no profitability is limited, or in some cases does not exist. Some have reported loss and damage to fishing gear in recent storms which exacerbates this problem. Reduced activity and landings are making it difficult to gauge the impact of the current unfolding crises in global seafood markets however indications from Asian markets are poor.
First, sale prices for brown crab, which a huge number of fishermen in Mayo are very dependent upon, dropped significantly in the latter part of 2019. This was due, in some part, to the loss of direct export of product to China, but also processing prices in Ireland dropped significantly. There is currently no market for lobster.
Normally at this time of year, these fishermen would be engaged directly in fishing, but due to weather/Covid 19, many fishermen have not commenced fishing to date and it looks very unlikely that there will be any fishing in the weeks ahead.
Even with improved weather conditions, flight restrictions to almost every European country means that the movement of any live product out of Ireland does not look possible. This leaves fishermen in a very difficult financial position with no means of generating an income. “In a few weeks, hand-line mackerel fishery would be due to commence, and in the present climate the outlook for sale or transportation of any of this product does not look possible at this time.
Earlier this month the European Commission said “Our fishermen and women and our aquaculture farmers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of COVID-19, as the demand for seafood has experienced a dramatic slump. But let me say it loud and clear: the European Union stands with you through this crisis. Together, we will ensure that the EU maintains a strong seafood industry and thriving coastal communities, now and in the future.”
It is time for the Irish Government to stand with our fishermen. I have contacted the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine and asked him to implement a financial package here as soon as possible. Grant aid needs to be easy to apply for based on catch records and boat size so that no one who depends on fishing for an income is excluded.
The sustainability of our coastal areas is hugely dependent on a vibrant fishery and aquaculture sector.