EU audit reveals ‘manipulation’ of fish catch weights in Ireland
Fish catches in Ireland are to be weighed at landing rather than at factories after an audit found ‘manipulation of weighing systems’ and underreporting by operators that interfered with control of fishing quotas, said the European Commission.
The EU executive has revoked its approval of a plan that allowed factories to be weighed following an audit of Ireland’s ability to follow the rules of the common fisheries policy.
Describing its decision, the commission said operators did not have a “weighing system suitable for its intended use”, that a 2018 audit identified “manipulation of weighing systems” and that the state had not taken appropriate action to remedy it.
An administrative investigation by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) of Ireland subsequently confirmed the findings of the audit.
The committee’s decision ended with immediate effect a derogation from the obligation to weigh landed fish catches that Ireland had benefited from until last week, and applies to pelagic fish such as mackerel , herring and blue whiting as well as demersal fish such as whiting and whiting. haddock.
An EU official told The Irish Times that the audit revealed “significant weaknesses in the effective monitoring of the weighing and recording” of catches.
“The European Commission has revoked the approval of the weighing control plan due to unsatisfactory application of the rules. We are in the process of ensuring that appropriate steps are taken to strengthen the Irish control system, ”the official said.
“A revocation of the Irish control plan means that operators in the fishing industry would be obliged to weigh all catches, including pelagic and demersal catches, upon landing prior to transport. This is in line with the default rules on the weighing of fishery products under European Union law. “
Irish fishing industry figures reacted angrily to this development, saying the obligation to weigh at landing points was onerous and would impose unmanageable costs on the industry.
“You have a lot of landing places all around the coast, any fish landed on one of those now has to be weighed to the point where it lands, which is totally impractical and will put the industry in the dark. stop, ”said Seán O“ Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organization, demanding that the situation be “rectified immediately”.
“How are you going to transfer all these ladders all around the coast to the dock?”
The SFPA said it will hold local meetings to ensure the industry is familiar with the required changes.
“Accurate weighing of catches remains the responsibility of the industry. The EU’s decision, however, will involve changes in weighing practices, ”SFPA President Dr. Susan Steele said in a statement.
“This decision is a clear marker of tighter fishing controls across the EU. The SFPA takes its commitments under the Common Fisheries Policy very seriously. “
The issue was raised with Agriculture Ministry Secretary General Brendan Gleeson during an appearance before Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy asked if the ministry intended to challenge the commission’s decision.
He suggested that either frauds were being committed that went undetected – although he noted that this would be “widely disputed” – or that the processes were not in place to give the commission the assurances it had. need.
Mr Gleeson said the department had taken a number of steps to increase the resources available to SFPA and had hired consultants to conduct a capacity review. It is trying to implement the resulting recommendations for now, he said, adding that a number of steps have been taken to improve IT systems.
He said the commission’s audit, followed by an administrative inquiry, indicated that “in some cases, in any event, they were not happy to rely on the effectiveness of the checks on the weighing. pelagic fish ”.
He said that was the basis for the commission’s decision to remove the waiver that Ireland had to allow the weighing of fish far from the point of landing.
Mr Gleeson said the SFPA and the department were still in contact with the commission on the matter and added, “I don’t want to say too much about this because I don’t think it would be helpful to the process.”
Mr Carthy asked again if the department would challenge the findings.
Mr Gleeson replied: “What we have now is a decision of the commission.”
He said the SFPA – which enjoys “absolute operational independence from the department” should offer “some sort of alternative to the existing control plan.”
“We will have to make sure that this is as reasonable and as achievable as possible for the fishermen, of course, but it also has to resolve the control issues that the commission has identified.