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The Death of the Irish Fishing Industry, post Brexit

Updated: Mar 13

80 trawlers from the country’s 180-strong offshore fishing fleet could be eliminated if their owners agree to the Brexit Voluntary Decommissioning Scheme.

The €60 million scheme was established as a result of the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) which led to cuts agreed between the Irish Government and the EU to the amount of fish Irish fishermen can legally catch. These cuts have added to the burdens of Irish fishermen, with the recent additional large rise in fuel prices and other costs.

Destruction of Ireland's fishing industry

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation CEO Patrick Murphy stated that the numbers would be higher by the time entry to the scheme is completed. “I have been told that as many as 82 are going to go for it,” he said.

“But this isn’t just 82 ships being taken out of the fleet, this is not just families leaving the industry, this is also going to have a knock-on effect on associated industries. The remaining boats are going to struggle to find welders, painters, carpenters and other trades people because there just won’t be enough work to go round. People don’t seem to realise what is happening here. This is the death rattle of the Irish fishing industry."

Costs to fishermen

Alan Carleton, who has applied to decommission his family’s trawler Syracuse, said he could no longer afford to be a fisherman and also made the following points: “Two years ago, I would spend around €2,360 for fuel for an eight-day fishing trip. That cost is now €13,200 for the same trip.”

Although he expects to get about €800,000 to decommission, most of that will go to pay loans. “People don't realise the costs that are involved in fishing, or the fact that we have nobody who is really fighting our corner in Europe. We see other nations fishing in our own waters and being able to catch far more than we can.

Government subsidising certain other industries

In contrast, data centres, who now consume more power than all of Ireland's rural homes put together, are each entitled to state subsidies of €10,000 per month, under a new scheme and have been receiving subsidies for the past twelve years. These previously undisclosed charges for major energy consumers were instead added to household bills instead. This 'rebalancing' was the result of data industry lobbying. These industries require massive amounts of power, and employ few people operationally.

"No other industry has seen such a decrease in their numbers in this century."

- Patrick Murphy, IS&WFPO

Irish Fishermen versus Russian military exercises

In February 2022, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO) successfully lobbied the Russian embassy not to conduct offshore military manoeuvres near Ireland's fishing grounds. This was to the transparent embarrassment of the Irish Government, which had no means of monitoring the exercises even if it wanted to.

Small boat in the sea with pyramidal rock in background.
Photo by Karl MPhotography at

Irish Fishermen are apparently supporting Russia's war

“I have seen and heard some strange things from the Department of Agriculture over the years, but this is just off the wall. The very notion that any of us could be even remotely involved or associated with running arms to Russia is just crazy."

Now the Government is apparently asserting that Irish Fishermen are supplying Russia with munitions as they must declare they are not sending weapons to Russia before they can ‘agree’ to decommission. Fishermen and women who want to avail of the Government’s decommissioning scheme have to state that they are not exporting arms to Russia. The signed contract, in front of a lawyer, also stipulates they cannot be investors in Russian State-run financial institutions.

Statutory Declaration of non-arms shipment

Fishermen availing of the decommissioning proposal have to sign a Statutory Declaration in respect of the Brexit Voluntary Permanent Cessation Scheme. After declaring, the owner of the vessel to be decommissioned, the applicant has to confirm it is not doing anything to threaten Ukraine. As previously mentioned, the fishermen also have to confirm they are not involved in the “sale, supply, transfer or export to Russia of arms and related material”. The undertaking they sign references two European Union decisions relating to Russia and they date back to 2014, when armed hostilities between Russia and Ukraine begun. It might be added that an agreement signed under duress is not a valid agreement.

Rationalising a threat?

The IS&WFPO CEO Patrick Murphy theorised that these strongarm tactics may now start to apply across all contracts. “After the amount of money people get, and after bills have been paid off, those who go for the scheme will be lucky if they can buy a water pistol, never mind getting involved in the international arms trade with Russia.”

Fishermen who agree to the scheme will have to scrap and not resell the vessel. "In the case of big fishing boats, that could cost around €25,000. Given that many of the boats still have bank loans, by the time they are paid off, the fishers who go for decommissioning will have very little money left over.”

Grey stone building three stories high.
Leinster House, Dublin, the seat of the Irish parliament

Ministerial response: nothing

On 26th January 2023 last, in Dáil Éireann, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he would urgently meet with representatives of the Irish fishing industry to discuss their serious concerns about the Brexit Voluntary Permanent Cessation Scheme, more commonly known as the Decommissioning Scheme, and make changes to the scheme to address their concerns.

The Minister's reply was a restatement of the Government's position and that he had already met with the fishermen. The time period set by the Government was ample for ‘fishers’ to evaluate their own position.

Neither deputy referred to the extraordinary statement, with its implicit threat, that the fishermen are told to sign if they accept this ‘agreement’ from which they will derive little to no benefit., and the country not at all. At the start of this century, Ireland had a 400-strong offshore fishing fleet, but that will now be reduced to 120 ships. The Government is clearly counting that the communities involved are too small, and too politically powerless to reverse the policy.

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