The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) has moved to clarify why they have concerns about both the operation and oversight of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA). IFPO chief executive, Aodh O Donnell says their primary interest is to ensure that Ireland has fit for purpose controls which are fair to everyone.
“Our current focus is on two main areas: inspections and accountability. We are concerned that the information offered by the SFPA – in their annual report or on their website – does not offer sufficient transparency regarding the level of physical inspections, in particular. These statistics provided by the SFPA appear to be based only on catches landed in Irish ports. They don’t appear to reflect the number or level of catches from Irish waters which are landed elsewhere.”
“For example, the SFPA figures for 2022 show just 50 landings of catches from Norway vessels to Irish ports. Given the high level of Norwegian fishing opportunities in Irish waters, it’s likely that there are exponentially more Norwegian catches from Irish waters landed into other countries. This is the basis for our concern that the limited information from SFPA statistics may not reflect the full number of Norwegian or other foreign vessel catches in Irish waters.”
“We also have ongoing concerns about the level of physical inspections carried out on Irish vessels, compared to foreign vessels. The SFPA’s 2021 annual report shows 69% of physical fishing vessel inspections were carried out on Irish vessels whilst 82% of the SFPA non-landing administrative controls were of Irish vessels. Given that only around 15% of fish caught in Irish EU waters are caught by Irish vessels, this would appear to be grossly disproportionate. It may reflect under-inspection of non-Irish vessels if this is case. “
Mr O Donnell says the SFPA’s 2022 report failed to provide comparative data on what percentage of inspections were carried out on Irish vessels. “Furthermore, their website statistics for 2022 fail to distinguish between physical inspections and administrative ‘controls’. Administration controls are simply e-log book queries, as far as we know, but are being counted as inspections in 2022 figures.”
“Most notably, statistics on inspections of vessels which fish in Irish waters but do not land their catches in Irish ports remains missing from both the 2022 annual report and the website statistics. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the SFPA to offer greater transparency on how controls and inspections are applied to all of those fishing in Irish waters. Otherwise, the Irish fishing industry has to question whether there is a level playing field in Irish fisheries controls.”
Mr O Donnell says in the interests of sustainability, there needs to be a more productive relationship between the SFPA and the fishing industry. “But this is a challenge while there are so many unresolved issues, such as inspections, by-catches and concerns over the recording procedures in weighing system regulations. The bottom line is that there needs to be greater independent oversight of the SFPA at Government level in Ireland and at present there is none.”
“We acknowledge that the SFPA is subject to European Commission audit in how they oversee the implementation of EU Regulations. But Minister McConalogue has stated in the Dáil that when it came to all operational issues concerning fisheries control, as a matter of law, he is “expressly precluded from getting involved in operational matter.” And this is the core of our concern – accountability at Governmental level.
“We believe this must change as a matter of urgency, and fear that the SFPA will not move to address the operational concerns we have unless they can be held to account at national level. We are not alone in these concerns. A key recommendation of the 2020 Price Waterhouse and Coopers Report into the SFPA, , had this to say”:
“The SFPA ….does not have the support or direction of an independently established board. While the 2006 Act does not provide for such a board, and the Act itself is outside the scope of this review, establishment of an Advisory Board, nominated by DAFM, comprising members with expertise and/or professional experience in senior administration, public sector governance requirements and management, not related to the sectors regulated by the SFPA, to assist the management in strengthening the capabilities of the organisation, may be something that the parent Department may wish to consider, particularly given the nature and scale of the change programme envisaged in this report.
O Donnell says the IFPO fully supports the creation of an effective Advisory Board. “However, it must also have the requisite resources to monitor control and enforce best practice in our waters for all vessels including those foreign vessels that process at sea and third country vessels. Such a move would help mend the divisions between the SFPA and the fishing industry and help secure a more effective fishing control environment into the future.”