1. EU fisheries laws were broken 138 times by Irish fishermen in 2005
Irish fishermen broke EU laws 138 times in 2005 but were fined just €417 on average for each serious infringement of the European common fisheries policy.
Some of Europe's biggest fishing fleets paid even lower fines for infringements such as over-fishing, falsifying records and illegal fishing, according to new EU statistics.
Portuguese fishermen paid an average of €122 for each breach of the law, Finnish fishermen paid an average fine of €32, while Maltese fishermen paid no fines.
The European Commission criticised EU states yesterday for failing to implement tough laws to tackle illegal fishing, which, it says, threatens fish stocks.
The commission is concerned there has been a rise in the number of serious infringements to 10,443 in 2005, up from 9,660 in 2004, but there has been a fall in the level of fines.
The average fine imposed by EU states - in those cases where a financial penalty was actually levied - was €1,548 in 2005, down from €2,272 in 2004. The average fine in all the serious infringement cases was €1,038.
The report shows: six of the serious breaches of EU law in Ireland related to the obstruction of fisheries inspectors; 19 involved fishing without a licence;
one involved the deletion of identification marks on a vessel; one involved fishing under false documents; five for keeping on board illegal fishing equipment; six for using prohibited fishing gear; 17 for keeping on board prohibited species; 82 for failing to record or falsifying data in log books; and one failure to comply with EU rules on movement of fishing vessels. The biggest single fine paid in 2005 was €10,000.
© 2007 The Irish Times
The commission's report notes that the Government passed the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act last April to increase penalties for breaking the rules. It also announced plans to introduce new EU legislation to ensure that tougher sanctions are put in place.In reality- does anything ever really change in Ireland? Illegal dumping.Illegal quarrying. Illegal fishing. On and on it goes merrily.
Fleets of factory-ships from Europe and Asia are depleting fishing stocks on the west- African coast, forcing local fishermen to risk their lives by fishing further out to sea or moving into the business of people-trafficking.
BY THE FLICKER of candlelight, in a tent on the outskirts of Noudhibou in northern Mauritania, Addib remembers the night she received word that her husband had been killed. He had set off as usual before dawn on a five-day fishing trip at sea. The following evening, a neighbour came to tell Addib that her husband, and father to her six children, had been killed when a foreign fishing trawler had ploughed into his tiny wooden fishing pirogue, killing all seven men on board, just few kilometres from the coast.
"It's the will of Allah," she says, reflecting the fatalism of the region. "People here don't have the right to sit back and cross their arms. They must fish - it is the fate of the poor."
Until recent years, Noudhibou was an idyllic fishing port on the western edge of the Sahara Desert. A meeting of two worlds, where the endless sands of the desert met the turquoise blue of the sea, and nomadic tribes travelled from across the Sahara to trade with fishing communities on the coast. More importantly, it represented one of the world's last great fishing grounds, and the attention of the world's fishing fleets soon turned to the little-known bay, where the fish were plentiful and the restrictions few.
WITH MUCH OF the rest of the world's fish stocks under strict quota control due to severe over-fishing, Mauritania was an industrial fisherman's dream and some of the biggest fishing boats in the world paid what seemed like big money to a poor government in what became known as "cash for access" fishing deals. In 2005, China, which catches more fish than any other nation, gave Mauritania two fighter jets in partial compensation for fishing rights.
One of the first to do business with the Mauritanian government was the late Kevin McHugh, an Irishman and owner of the biggest fishing boat in the world, Atlantic Dawn. With nets twice the size of London's Millennium Dome, McHugh's factory ship could catch in one day what 10 local fishing boats would catch in a year.
Despite the well-documented controversy surrounding the construction of this super-trawler and the granting of its licence to fish, McHugh's trawler obtained the rights to cast its giant nets off the coast of Noudhibou. Trawlers from Korea, Portugal, Spain, China and the Netherlands were soon to follow suit.
As the number of foreign fishing trawlers increased, it became increasingly difficult for local fishermen to catch enough fish in the bay to earn a living. They began to fish farther and farther out to sea, for longer and longer periods.
Over time, the fish stocks depleted and the number of accidents increased. Most of the 200 deaths recorded in the final months of 2006 happened at night, when, under cover of darkness, some of the foreign fishing vessels came in to fish illegally in the protected waters close to the shore.
Abou Sarr, a former marine official, now living in Paris where he is secretary of the Mauritanian Association in France, explains that it is very hard to police the movements of these foreign fishing vessels when the poorly paid military personnel are often tempted by small bribes to turn a blind eye to any suspicious movements. Sarr suspects that the number of recorded deaths is merely the tip of the iceberg since the majority of men who set out fishing are migratory workers from Senegal and therefore not registered. He explains how the fishermen are vulnerable in their fragile wooden pirogues. "They don't stand a chance if they are in the path of a larger boat and sometimes they can even capsize due to the ripples caused by boats passing close by. Most fishermen don't know how to swim and hardly any own a life jacket."
ONE OF THE most striking consequences of this disaster for the local fishing fleet has been the switch in boat-use from fishing to trafficking migrants to Europe. This has resulted in thousands of Africans losing their lives while attempting to reach the Canary Islands from Mauritania in narrow, open boats, across the 600 miles of rough Atlantic.
Those who reach the Spanish islands often turn themselves in immediately. Under Spanish law, authorities have 40 days to determine the nationality of detained illegal immigrants and send them home. If they can't find out their nationality in that period - and many immigrants make a point of arriving with no identification and remaining silent in the face of questioning - they are turned over to the Red Cross and allowed to stay. Many find ways to make it off the Canary Islands and get to mainland Europe.
With the image of a prosperous life beckoning in "Fortress Europe", and a correspondingly bleak fishing situation back home, it isn't surprising so many Africans are willing to risk their lives attempting the crossing. As one young Noudhibou fisherman put it, "When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose'
• This article was funded by the Simon Cumbers Memorial Fund, a trust established in remembrance of the Co Meath-born journalist/ cameraman who was killed while filming for the BBC in the Saudi capital Riyadh in 2004
KATE CLARK AND ALAN O'CONNOR
© 2008 The Irish Times 3.09.08
THE EUROPEAN Commission has refused a request by the Government to allow the owners of 22 fishing vessels to increase the size of their boats to improve hygiene and safety.
The decision could cost the owners tens of millions of euro in compensation they are claiming for extra "tonnage" payments they have already made to improve their vessels.
Under the EU common fisheries policy, each member state has a maximum allowed tonnage for its fleet and vessel owners who want to increase the size of their trawlers must buy extra tonnage from other boat owners. However, the commission operates a scheme to enable owners to increase their vessel size purely for hygiene or safety reasons.
In 2001, the vessel owners applied to increase the size of their vessels but their application was rejected in 2003 by the commission as incompatible with the scheme.
The vessel owners successfully challenged this decision at the European Court of First Instance (CFI) - Europe's second-highest court. It found that the commission had "exceeded its powers" by adopting decision criteria that were not in line with rules agreed by EU member states.
The CFI annulled the commission's decision in April 2003 to refuse the owners' requests to add additional tonnage to their vessels and ordered it to pay costs.
Following the CFI ruling the owners of the vessels based in Donegal, Cork and Galway launched a legal action to receive compensation from the State for the improvements they had already undertaken on their ships.
This case was pending while the commission re-examined its original decision to reject the original application in 2001.
In a notice published yesterday, the commission said it was again refusing the requests by the 22 owners to increase their maximum tonnage because the Government was "not able to prove that the capacity increases to the vessels were necessary for safety reasons". It said new evidence showed that in each case, the applicant's vessel had a bigger fishing hold, more powerful engine and larger fishing gear than before they were improved.
The decision was strongly criticised yesterday by the solicitor acting on behalf of the 22 vessel owners. "None of our vessel owners have received any notification of this yet from the Department [of the Marine] or the commission," said Diarmuid Barry of DP Barry Co in Killybegs.
"It seems they have used the same procedure as before to refuse the requests despite the previous court decision."
A commission spokeswoman denied it was ignoring the court ruling by continuing to reject the application by the 22 vessel owners. "In fact it is the Irish vessel owners who tried to circumvent EU rules by hiding the true information from the commission," she said. "It is correct that the first commission decisions were not correctly argued and therefore we have sought to receive more information to have a better basis for our decisions."
The Government said it would comment on the commission decision today.
JAMIE SMYTH in Brussels.