Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine Brian Ó Domhnaill, has today published legislation which aims to radically de-criminalise minor fishery offences by Irish sea fishing vessels.
Speaking at the launch of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill in Leinster House, the Donegal Senator said: “Ireland remains the only significant maritime jurisdiction in the European Union that has no administrative penalties, this Bill aims to change that.
“Irish Fishermen are subject to the third highest level of fines for fisheries offences in the EU. When the mandatory forfeiture of catch and gear are factored in they face extremely serious penalties for even minor or technical infractions. This Bill aims to bring Irish sanctions into line with European Union recommendations that a system of administrative penalties is efficient as a means of policing fisheries infractions.
“For example Spain, with the largest fishing fleet in the EU, has a sanctioning system in place that predominantly relies on administrative sanction while Portugal applies an administrative sanction system.
“The principle of administrative sanctions has been an established part of Irish constitutional jurisprudence since at least 1961. For example, Section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, says that if a member of a Garda Síochana has “reasonable grounds” for believing that a stated offence has been committed the member may issue a penalty notice requiring the payment of a specified fixed charge.”
The Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill proposes:
1. Stiff criminal sanctions for foreign sea fishing vessels which enter Irish exclusive fishing limits.
2. Administrative penalties for first and second fishery offences by way of a prescribed notice which also reduces the upper limit fine to €400 for the 1st and €800 for the 2nd offence.
3. The option for a person in receipt of a penalty notice to appeal same to the Minister within a certain period.
4. The establishment of an Independent Appeal Committee to be established by the Minister.
5. A Consultative / Advisory Role in relation to administering such offences for the following organisations;
a. Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI)
b. The Marine Institute
c. Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation
d. Bord Iascaigh Mhara
e. Sea Fisheries Protection Authority
f. Killybeg’s Fishermen Organisation
g. Irish South & West Fishermen’s Organisation
“This Bill aims to bring Ireland into line with other EU Countries while also supporting small local fishermen,” said Seanad Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Defence Denis O’Donovan.
“The Bill would eliminate the current system where fishermen are criminalised for very minor offences, but more extreme is the fact that the fishermen in every instance would run the risk of mandatory confiscation of gear and catch.
“The cost of such confiscation is frequently a multiple of how many times the fines are imposed and operates irrespective of whether a small trawler had committed two minor offences or a large factory ship had committed illegal fishing on an industrial scale. The current system also ignores that the catch and gear may be legally owned, and at all times were legally issued. For example, a log book offence which places a ship inadvertently outside their permitted grounds would result in mandatory forfeiture of catch and gear even though neither is necessarily implicated, embellished or employed during the commissioning of the offence.”
Senator Ó Domhnaill concluded: “The fishing industry employs 12,000 people in this country and is worth €700 million to the economy. The industry must be fully supported in every way. This Bill forms a step in supporting the Irish fishing industry through common-sense changes to draconian existing legislation.
“The first in a series of public meetings on this topic is being held in Donegal this weekend with more meetings along the South and Western coasts scheduled over the next month. These meetings are aimed at giving fisherman and coastal communities an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the Bill.”