A draft European Commission audit has found “severe and significant weaknesses” in Irish fishery controls.
The investigation, conducted by the commission’s directorate-general for maritime affairs and fisheries and seen by the Irish Times, found what its report calls “a complete lack of control” over illegal bluefin tuna fishing off the west coast. Ireland has been set eight benchmarks to inspect fully landings of bulk mackerel, horse mackerel, herring and blue whiting; but only met one of those benchmarks in 2017. The report places culpability for the flaws in Irish fishery controls on a lack of investment in fishery protection.
The audit into Irish fishery controls was conducted in March in the fishing port of Killybegs, County Donegal; where the largest volume of Irish fish is landed. It found some vessels had under-recorded their own storage capacity, allowing them to skirt fishing quotas by under-reporting catch sizes, and states: “No infringements have been cited by Ireland for this non-compliance, nor has any enforcement action been taken against the vessels”. While prosecution of weight non-compliance would be the responsibility of the Marine Survey Office (MSO), the fishing authority was found to have taken no action to report offenders to the MSO.
Under-reporting of catch weights could amount to an unreported 8,450 tonnes – nearly 13 per cent of Ireland’s 2018 quota – if the fleet conducted five trips per year at full capacity. The audit singles out three separate cases of suspected manipulation of weighing systems in factories and notes that Irish fishery controls over weighing systems have significantly increased due to “diminished trust of the industry”. Previous EU audits have drawn attention to the lack of automated data cross checks in the industry.
The report presents evidence of a recreational fishing industry based around catching bluefin tuna along the west coast of Ireland, with maritime charter firms offering tuna-catching trips online to tourists. The evidence shows some tuna caught on these trips has been kept and sold, in breach of EU quota regulations.
The European Commission has invited Ireland to respond to the report, saying it is “imperative” that the most glaring flaws in Irish fishing controls presented in this and previous audits be addressed as soon as possible.