Penalty point system for fish quotas is thrown into chaos
The operation of an EU 'penalty points' system for fish quota breaches has been thrown into chaos, after it emerged one member state refused to impose penalties for a trawler caught fishing in Irish waters without a quota.
Irish fishermen expressed outrage at the revelation that the unnamed Danish vessel was fishing without a quota in Irish waters and then retrospectively applied a quota-swap agreed with another EU member state.
Denmark has since indicated to Ireland's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) that it is unwilling to apply penalty points to the licence held by the factory ship's operators.
The vessel was boarded by the Naval Service in Irish waters while fishing for herring in the Celtic Sea.
The SFPA became aware that the vessel did not have an appropriate quota and notified the Danish authorities.
However, Ireland has learned that, to date, no penalty points have been applied to the operator's licence.
Irish fishermen, who are subjected to tough sanctions for any breach of EU fishery regulations, warned the incident underlined the unfair advantages enjoyed by factory ships and trawlers from other EU member states.
The incident, highlighted by 'The Skipper' magazine, will now be raised by fishing industry officials with Marine Minister Simon Coveney.
"One of the primary concerns of the Irish fishing industry is the lack of a level playing field between Irish vessels and those from other member states fishing in Irish waters," warned Eibhlin O'Sullivan from the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation.
"This is particularly from a control and enforcement point of view. The issue of the lack of a level playing pitch is something we have raised directly with EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella last month," she added.
The SFPA remains in ongoing contact with Danish authorities over the issue.
"Under EU law the final steps necessary for the assigning of points to a fishing license remain a matter for the competent authority of the flag state," a spokesperson said.
"In this instance, the flag state has indicated that they are unwilling to progress the matter."
Irish fishing industry sources indicated that the Danish authorities consider the matter resolved now that a quota-swap was agreed to cover the catch involved and no points will be applied to the licence.
However, the SFPA said it considers the matter to be extremely serious.
"The SFPA maintains that no quota existed at the time of the fishing," said the spokesperson.
The scale of illegal fishing in Irish waters has become a matter of increasing concern, with the Naval Service, working with the SFPA, using new high-tech patrol vessels and aircraft to monitor fishing grounds.
The Naval Service's three new patrol vessels, purchased at a cost of €162m, with two now delivered, are capable of using drone aircraft to extend surveillance capabilities.