From Socialist Voice, November 2004

Fishing industry

EU and government-sponsored decline continues

A recurrent theme in Socialist Voice over recent months has been understanding the consequences of our membership of the European Union, the processes that are under way, the direction in which the European Union is going, and its ultimate effects on our ability to make independent political and economic decisions. The fishing industry, as a potentially important and highly successful sector in the Irish economy, is particularly illustrative of the acutely negative costs of EU membership.
     Continuous regulations and bureaucracy emanating from the European Union are squeezing the life out of the fishing industry and damaging the coastal regions where the industry is at the economic core of local survival. While half of all fish consumed in the European Union comes from Irish waters, and while we can claim jurisdiction over more than 16 per cent of EU fishing waters, Irish fishermen and women are limited to catching only 4 per cent of the EU total.
     Such restrictions have had a knock-on effect, as total sea landings have fallen from 320,000 tonnes in 1998 to just over 245,000 tonnes in 2002, while fishing fleets have been considerably reduced. In Dingle four years ago there were 85 boats fishing out of the port; now there are 27.
     The result of such EU restrictions is that the other EU fleets have taken €120 billion worth of fish out of Irish waters since 1972, which in fact amounts to more than all the direct payments and structural funds to this island since our entry into the Common Market. While there may be a case for the right of fishermen from other countries to fish off our coast, there clearly has not been fairer proportionality in quota rights.
     The Irish government all the while has been content to accelerate the decay of the industry. The Department of the Marine is imposing such rigorous requirements on boats that they are making it virtually uneconomic to upgrade them. While this policy has been claimed to be a safety measure, some have rightly questioned whether the department’s tactics are to force fishermen out by making it impossible for them to continue, so that the state can avoid introducing any scheme to encourage fishermen to retire from the industry and pay compensation in a way that has been provided for farmers.
     Sadly, successive governments would seem to have been happy to tolerate a situation where Irish fisheries are treated not as a valuable natural resource but as something to be bargained away in EU circles for little return. Yet for a government apparently so eager to develop a “knowledge-based economy” as the key to the development of our island, it is a blatant contradiction that they have allowed our fishing industry to go to rack and ruin. For in developing our marine resources we could have an independent future, one that guaranteed jobs that could not be taken away from Ireland, because the resource is ours, on our shores.

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