The Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation have compiled a submission to Government on a strategy for action and investment in Irelands Seafood Sector.
In the submission they set out a 12-point recovery strategy from now until 2025, covering three phases: industry survival (2021-2022), industry recovery (2022-2024) and, finally, industry growth and internationalization (2024-2025)
A strategy for action and investment in Ireland’s seafood sector
A Submission to Government by the Irish South & West Fish Producers’ Organisation
Ireland’s seafood sector industry has huge potential for sustainable, community–based recovery in coastal areas most affected by Covid-19. Under the National Development Plan and the Recovery Plan, it should be a prime candidate for investment:
Unlike most other sectors, seafood failed to benefit from Ireland’s pre–Covid recovery. Investment, employment and activity declined at a time when these were booming in other sectors between 2015 and 2019.
Action: Raise investment available by grant aid from maximum 40% cap to 75%.
Loss of access to fishing waters will reduce the catch from €251.6 million per annum to €208.6 million per annum. So even before Covid, the industry was set to shrink by one fifth. New fishing opportunities – particularly in high–value species like bluefin tuna and swordfish – must now be obtained to compensate for this.
Ireland’s global reputation for sustainable food excellence and growing world and EU demand creates huge opportunities. Major investment is needed to increase value–added, as recommended in the 2014 Focusing the Future Report. 1.5 per cent of GNI*1
Action: Target an increase in Government investment from €177 million in 2019 to at least €330 million in 2021 to correct previous underinvestment.
The scars of Brexit will be more permanent and harder to heal for fishing than for other sectors due to a loss of fishing waters, quotas and entitlement to catch fundamental stocks.
As other fishing nations adjust to a loss of access to British waters, they will divert their superior fleets to fishing in Irish waters. Ireland’s fleet needs significant investment to compete with this (see the ISWFPO submission to “Review to Renew” consultation).
Despite greater need– the need for fishing crews to share confined spaces – Covid aid to the fishing sector has been lower than other food sectors and poorly designed, with low industry take up. Investment in a sustainable, pandemic–resilient fleet is an urgent necessity.
Consistent with the Government’s aim for a spatially balanced “town/village centered” recovery across all of Ireland, our fishing industry must be far more regionally balanced than is now the case.
Action: Government must grasp the opportunity to invest in a new, environmentally sustainable, Covid–compliant and proportionately sized (to industry potential) fleet. Investment must ensure regional balance consistent with a “town-centered” recovery.
Action: Government and industry must set out a jointly agreed vision – a comprehensive Seafood and Marine resource strategy – to grow seafood and seafood consumption to promote a sustainable recovery and healthy population.
Action: Government must ensure Ireland’s fishing industry receives its fair share of the June 2020 EMFF enhancement. Legacy TACs and quotas must be renegotiated and reset.
Action: Government and industry should agree a fair, proportionate benchmark for our industry fleet and employment based on population, shoreline and growth potential .
Action: Government must not just support fishing but embrace its potential to deliver the key Programme for Government goals of climate action, health promotion and rural–based recovery. Through the development of more diverse fish stocks in Irish waters, this potential can be realized in a sustainable manner.
Why We Must Act Now
Rural and coastal Ireland is facing a crisis. A crisis of similar magnitude to the great depopulations of the past. Already denuded by the pull of urban Ireland, coastal communities have – despite a modest recovery pre-Covid – been further decimated by Brexit and the ravages of lockdown. Compared to other affected sectors, the Fishing industry has perhaps suffered the most because of its dependence on hotel and restaurant–led demand, the logistical difficulties of spatial distancing on fishing vessels, and decades of underinvestment and neglect.
A legacy of under-investment
Gross Domestic Fixed Capital Formation
Domestic consumption (BIM data)
Exports – imports
Government investment in the fishing industry (BIM data)
Source: CSO, BIM. *Gross National Income (modified). A more appropriate measure for domestic economic activity.
As above clearly shows, growth in investment in the fishing industry by Government in 2019 – despite strong growth in both GDP and GNI* measures of the economy – was half the rate of economic growth and very significantly short of overall investment in the economy. As a result, the industry has suffered in several ways:
- In a year where GDP2 rose significantly, Ireland’s seafood GDP fell by 2 per cent year-on-year in 2019, from €1.25bn to €1.22 bn (Bord Iascaigh Mhara, 2020).
- From 2,127 vessels in 2018 the fishing fleet shrank to 2,022 in 2019, or by 4 per cent (Bord Iascaigh Mhara, 2020). The number of polyvalent boats over 18 meters in length had already fallen from 280 to 164 between 2006 and 2016 and is now set to fall even further as a result of reduced quotas and opportunities for Irish Fishers.
- Compared to a 3.5 per cent rise in overall employment, direct fishery employment fell from 3,231 to 3,033 in 2019, or by 6.1 per cent (Central Statistics Office, 2020).
Shrinking investment and exports
- In contrast to a €69.6bn3, or 75 per cent, rise in overall annual investment flows in the Irish economy during 2019, investment in seafood fell from €267m to €258m in 2019, a fall of 3.4 per cent (Central Statistics Office, 2020)(Bord Iascaigh Mhara, 2020). Net exports declined from €322m to €285m in 2019 in contrast with most other sectors.
These trends preceded the impacts of Brexit and Covid which have, since 2019, wreaked further devastation:
- Whereas other sectors will suffer mostly transitional – although serious – impacts from Brexit, the seafood sector’s loss of access to UK waters is existential and permanent. As well as reduced capacity to generate raw material, this brings more EU vessels into Irish waters, displacing Irish vessels in our own waters and drastically cuts Fishing opportunities for Irish Fishing vessels in both UK and Irish waters.
- The agreement of December 24th 2020 with the UK poses significant uncertainty as it only lasts for five and a half years. Long-term investment requires a more permanent approach.
- The contrast with Brexit supports given to the beef industry is marked and – given the greater healthiness and climate friendliness of fish compared to meat – inconsistent with the PFG.
- Factors including confined spaces on fishing vessels and the fact restaurants and hotels are a major buyer of fresh fish (and therefore the closure or partial closure of these businesses has had a significant impact on demand), makes the impact of Covid on seafood more existential.
- The contrast with Covid supports to the beef industry is instructive as is the failure of the Temporary Tie Up scheme to attract any significant degree of industry buy-in.
- Involving industry representatives in designing measures to drive the recovery is imperative. A clear and spatially balanced industry stakeholder dialogue is needed to drive policy.
In 2014 the Shelman Report recommended investment in Ireland’s seafood industry to improve its scale, increase its quantity of value-added products, and expand its global reach. As the analysis above demonstrates, these recommendations were – despite robust recovery and tax resources between 2014 and 2019 – never realised. This must now be rectified as a matter of priority. The fundamental reason for this failure to drive investment in Ireland’s Seafood industry is grounded on the unmentionable – we are precluded from growing our own industry and availing of the wealth around our own coastline as a result of Common Fishery Policy of “Relative Stability” embedded since 1983. This protects coastal communities of the EU mainland that – unlike Ireland’s coastal economy – enjoy other sources of economic advantage. Instead of punishing Europe’s most peripheral coastal economies, policy should assist them.
Action: Increase in Government investment from €177 million (2019) to at least €330 million to correct past underinvestment, using the €10.1 billion capital spend for 2021.
Priority should be given to upgrading the ageing polyvalent fleet to build a Covid–compliant, climate–sustainable and regionally balanced fleet.
It shouldn’t be happening.
For several reasons, Ireland’s seafood industry is one of vast potential:
- Ireland’s geographical position means our waters stretch to the continental shelf. This means we have the most productive fishing waters in Europe, if not the entire northern hemisphere.
- Ireland’s global reputation for producing fresh, sustainable and safe food produce, and our significant coastline of clean, accessible seawater.
- EU per capita consumption of fish is, at 24.4 kg per person per annum, low by global standards (European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products, 2020). EU consumption convergence with global norms will lead to growth in demand. With 20 per cent of EU waters, Ireland is well placed to serve this need if investment in upscaling and technology is made.
- Irish consumption (23.1 kg per person per annum) is lower still, and well below potential (see next subsection). Targeting increased fish consumption is environmentally sustainable. Fish consumption is also healthier and more consistent with Paris Climate targets (see below).
With natural advantages other EU countries do not enjoy, and with the potential and need (for human health and climate action reasons) to increase European fish consumption, Ireland is ideally positioned to lead Europe in responsible, sustainable fishing.
Action: Government and industry must set out a jointly agreed vision to grow seafood and seafood consumption to promote a sustainable recovery and healthy population, drawing on and integrating Harnessing our Ocean Wealth (2012), the Shelman Report (2014) and other reports and adapting them to the implications of Brexit and Covid-19.
The enhancement of the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) in June 2020 occurred before Ireland had formed a Government. Government must now engage actively with the EU to ensure that Ireland retrospectively gets its fair share of the more than €500 million in additional funding that was allocated as a result of Covid-19. At the same time, the legacy of fixed Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and Quotas set in the 1980s must be addressed to put Ireland’s fishing industry on a level playing field compared to French, Dutch, Belgian and Spanish fleets.
Action: Government must proactively engage with the EU to both ensure a fair allocation of the June 2020 enhancement of the EMFF as a result of Covid-19, and also to revisit outdated restrictions on Ireland’s TAC and quotas.
A comprehensive 12-point industry plan should be committed to and implemented (see below for details).
Where we could be: Ireland and Portugal compared
A good way to contrast the current state of Ireland’s seafood potential is to contrast it with Portugal. Although Portugal has double Ireland’s population, Ireland has a significantly longer coastline and Ireland’s GDP per capita is three times that of Portugal. Yet Portugal’s per capita consumption of fish is nearly three times larger, its fishing fleet almost four times larger and its industry employment level over five times larger than those of Ireland.
Action: Government and industry should agree a benchmark size for Ireland’s fishing fleet and level of direct employment, based fairly and proportionately on Ireland’s population, shoreline, Maritime Resources and potential to grow consumption.
Ireland and Portugal compared
- Coastline 1,793 km
- Population 10.2 million
- GDP per capita as % EU average 76.7 %
- Per capita fish consumption 60.9 kg per person per annum
- Total number of vessels 7,8253a
- Numbers employed in fishery 16,2084b
- Coastline 4,577 km
- Population 5.0 million
- GDP per capita as % EU average 220%
- Per capita fish consumption 23.1 kg per person per annum
- Total number of vessels 1,9433a
- Numbers employed in fishery 3,0493
Sources: OECD, EU Commission
Seafood = Sustainable, Healthy, Local & Diverse
Seafood = Sustainable recovery
As a leading study (Parker, April 2018) shows, global fisheries account for just 4% of carbon emissions related to total food production5 and the carbon footprint of CO2 emitted per kilogram of protein is substantially lower for fishery products than for pork, lamb or beef.
And yet, compared to investment in Ireland’s beef and dairy sector, far less environmentally sustainable sectors, fishery remains substantially under–invested in.
Investing in Ireland’s fishery industry is therefore essential to securing the Programme for Government’s (PFG) commitments on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 as targeted by the 2020 Climate Change Bill. The PFG commits to, among other areas, the following:
- Carbon emission reductions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
- Developing a new integrated marine strategy
- Improving biodiversity
In several reports (Bord Iascaigh Mhara, 2018) Bord Iascaigh Mhara has stressed the importance of and potential for Ireland’s seafood industry to advance the agenda of environmental sustainability. Initiatives such as the promotion of Origin Green in the industry, organic certification, fishing for litter and co-ordinated aquaculture management systems demonstrate a growing commitment to preserving the environment that needs now to be matched by a commitment to preserving jobs.
However in its recent report to government, the National Biodiversity Forum has highlighted the potential damage to biodiversity from our food industry. The Fishing industry will be a willing partner in this but success in this area requires investment and consultation as well as action by industry.
Ireland’s strong commitment to environmental sustainability means it is imperative that we show an example to other EU member states by leading the responsible fishing of Irish waters. This requires investing in Ireland’s fishing fleet.
Seafood = Healthy recovery
The Programme for Government (PFG) has stressed the importance of focusing not only on economic goals as a metric of success, but on quality-of-life indicators, including public health.
Successive studies have shown that the benefits of eating fish include increased brain capacity, benefits to unborn children, and a possible reduction of risk for a range of disorders, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression (Bord Bia, 2020).
Seafood = Local, people-centered recovery
According to one study, over half a million people in the Republic of Ireland inhabit Ireland’s coastline economy (Curtin, 2018).
This significant population is equivalent to the population of Dublin city. It is dispersed however and therefore benefits less from Ireland’s success in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and from other industries where population clustering is an advantage.
Unlike the coastal economies of other countries – Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France – these coastal populations do not enjoy the advantages of climate, in terms of facilitating large tourist industries (as in Spain or Portugal) or geographical advantages that facilitate economic and commercial ports (as in Belgium and France).
As well as being deprived of the advantages of their peers in other coastal parts of Europe, these communities are now witnessing the removal of oil and gas exploration and storage as an economic activity.
Seafood and tourism activities related to the natural and marine environment, such as Agri-tourism, together constitute the one single advantage and chance for economic survival that these communities have left. They must not have that taken away as well.
Seafood = Diverse recovery
As well as being environmentally sustainable and healthy, the seafood industry is also diverse in more than one respect: It is one of Ireland’s most diverse food sectors in terms of the destination of its exports. It is also an industry committed to gender diversification.
Last but not least, it is part of a marine economy that has vast potential to diversify its product base into higher, value–added branded products, ranging from processed foods to cosmetics and health products.
While dependent to a significant degree on UK waters for access to fishing waters, the fishing industry is far less dependent than other sectors on UK markets.
In contrast to meat products, which depend upon the UK for almost half of all exports (CSO), fishery exports to the UK constitute a significantly smaller proportion of total exports.
Another encouraging factor for Ireland’s seafood sector is the recent growth in exports to Asia, where per capita consumption is significantly higher than in the rest of the world.
Asia’s – and particularly China’s – growing economic importance, together with the post-Covid-19 heightened consciousness of the importance of healthy and sustainable fish produce, presents Ireland with a significant opportunity to expand production and exporting.
Seafood: A well-diversified industry
Through the “Women in Seafood” initiative of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the seafood industry has consciously embraced and is pursuing the objective of gender diversity.
By growing and investing in this sector, Government can provide more women with the opportunity to participate in a natural, sustainable, community and family-oriented industry.
If Government invests in upscaling, and research and innovation – to improve the industry’s value–added – then there is enormous potential for seafood to become part of an integrated maritime economy, encapsulating not just fresh fish, but, increasingly, high, value-added processed fish, cosmetics, and health products of strong appeal to high–income consumers.
Species diversity must also be enhanced. As species like bluefin tuna, albacore tuna, swordfish, sardines and anchovies migrate northwards, Ireland must be given a fair chance to access them in a sustainable way. The Marine Institute should update government and industry on the potential for sustainable development of these species.
Saving Seafood: A 12-point, 5-year Recovery Strategy
The challenges facing Ireland’s seafood and fishing industry are vast. But so is the potential. As the Government prepares to invest in the localised and sustainable recovery of the Irish economy, the time is now ripe for this most localised and sustainable of industries.
Below we set out a 12-point recovery strategy from now until 2025, covering three phases: industry survival (2021-2022), industry recovery (2022-2024) and, finally, industry growth and internationalization (2024-2025).
The overlap between the periods enables flexibility when it comes to future shocks and unforeseen developments, as well as differing challenges across the different subsectors of the industry in question. This approach provides a flexible conceptual toolkit with phases that will enable the strategic identification of separate steps – some needed urgently, others important but more relevant to the medium or long-term – to ensure the Irish seafood industry becomes all that it can be.
Ensuring survival 2021-2022
Step 1: Design and delivery of a comprehensive industry rescue plan as an urgent priority for the 2021-2022 period. This should be part of the integrated marine development plan eenvisaged in the Programme for Government. This must be a substantial plan that:
- Corrects past underinvestment.
- Reflects the importance of the Fishing industry in the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill.
- Clearly recognizes and proportionately allocates resources to realise the industry’s full potential.
- Prioritises spending in the following key areas.
Step 2: Identify and negotiate a fair allocation of Ireland’s share of the additional revenues from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund allocated in July 2020.
Step 3: Target and negotiate a modernization of Ireland’s fishing fleet – and fishery employment – from the current level of less than 2.5 per cent to a share more consistent with Ireland’s EEZ share of EU fishing waters. While a fully proportionate fleet share is neither realistic nor desirable, the current low percentage is too low. Portugal should be used as a benchmark.
Step 4: Design and deliver a comprehensive plan to address the industry’s needs in relation to Covid-19, replacing the Temporary Tie Up scheme with a comprehensive and properly negotiated package of investments and supports to make Ireland’s fishing fleet pandemic proof and environmentally sustainable.
Designing recovery 2022-2024
Step 5: Develop (in consultation with industry over the remainder of 2021) and deliver from 2022 a comprehensive marine and seafood strategy to replace Our Ocean Wealth, as promised in the Programme for Government (PFG). This should contain several steps including:
- To design and deliver a systematic drive to gather all scientific data on the changes to the make-up of stocks in Irish waters in recent years as a prelude to a significant negotiation drive – at both EU Council and Commission levels and within ICAT – to enable Ireland to benefit from increased allocation in species such as bluefin tuna, albacore tuna, swordfish, anchovy and sardines, whose populations have increased.
- Ensure regional growth and recovery is balanced and monitored. Identify fishing ports along Ireland’s coast for strategic investment and development to ensure the recovery benefits the entire country equally.
- Include the establishment of permanent and well–resourced structures for industry consultation.
- Unambiguously and clearly set out a vision of Ireland as a leading EU fish–producing nation. Renew commitment to the 2014 Shelman report.
- Be integrated – for investment planning purposes – with structures and initiatives for regional recovery and planning such as rregional versions of Project Ireland 2040 and regional, county and local development plans.
- Be consistent and aligned, or merged, with the Project Ireland Marine 2040 as promised in the PFG. Detail and quantify planned increases in industry investment levels.
- Emphasise Ireland’s green food brand and sustainability advantage as a key to a global marketing drive for Irish seafood and recognize that to credibly market this advantage globally Ireland must have a fleet that is upgraded to be consistent with the goals of climate action and Covid/pandemic resilience. Additionally, large climate adverse fleets fishing in Irish waters must be actively discouraged.
- Greatly enhance the Fisheries Local Area Group programme in line with the PFG’s commitment to a localized “town centered” recovery.
Step 6: Engage with the EU in renegotiating the Common Fisheries Policy and negotiate associated annual quotas that balance a commitment to maximum sustainable yield principles with Ireland’s rightful aspiration as an island nation lying – separately and apart from EU mainland waters – to be one of Europe’s leading fish producers.
Step 7: Identify industry investment requirements to meet emerging EU commitments on marine pprotection and coastal blue carbon and ensure these are adequately resourced through Government and EU investment.
Step 8: Promote – in collaboration with the EU – an aggressive drive to increase per capita fish consumption in Ireland and across the EU.
Achieving Growth and Full Potential 2024-2025
Step 9: Develop – in consultation with industry over the remainder of 2021 – and deliver from 2024 a comprehensive plan for research into and development of innovative and new value–added product lines with high potential amongst high–income consumers, including:
- High, value–added processed seafood
- Seaweed based cosmetic and health products.
- Maritime cuisine and Agri-tourism
This step should be conducted in tandem with step 10 (see below).
Step 10: Develop – in consultation and collaboration with ‘Team Ireland’ and Bord Bia / Bord Iascaigh Mhara – a comprehensive market penetration strategy and plan for high income, high fish consuming markets and demographics, particularly in Asia.
Step 11: Set a clear and ambitious targets for industry employment in 2030. Using the industry consultation mechanism identified in Step 5 (see above), ensure a supportive policy ecosystem exists to deliver skills, research and innovation (this will entail collaboration with third–level educational institutions) investment and, where relevant, partnerships between Irish fish producers and larger multinational companies and larger indigenous companies
Step 12: Conduct a strategic review and restructuring of the architecture of institutions governing the industry to ensure effectiveness, efficiency, fitness for purpose, good governance and an avoidance of duplication and conflict of interest.
1 GNI* = Gross National Income (modified). This measure is seen as a more appropriate measure of the domestic economy than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
2 Bord Iascaigh Mhara statistics report Gross Domestic Product and not Modified Gross National Income.
3 This performance was affected by flows of intellectual property but is reported for consistency with use of GDP (see footnote 1).
4 (a) Data taken from EU Commission sources (Science Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, 2019) and, due to differences in compilation methods, may differ from previously quoted data.
(b) Data taken from OECD data for 2018 and, due to differences in compilation methods, may differ from previously quoted data.
5 Compared to 5.0 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted by agriculture and livestock production in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) database for 2011, emissions from fisheries accounted for less than 0.2 billion tonnes.
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