Sea of heartache
Some of the 15 Kilmore trawlers grounded by the Sea Fishery Protection Authority, have returned to work after the owners, O'Flaherty Brothers gave a written agreement to abide by fishing rules.
The trawlers which employ 100 fishermen were ordered to port on Friday, November 15 for alleged over-fishing after their quotas ran out.
Directors of the family-run company met SFPA officials in Cork last Tuesday and undertook to sign an affidavit agreeing to uphold the law.
The Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Marine Simon Coveney spoke in the Dail on Wednesday about the dispute.
Deputy Coveney defended the unprecedented step taken by the fishery authority in ordering the Kilmore trawlers to cease fishing.
He said the action was taken due to the high level of infringements by O'Flaherty Brothers vessels.
The following day (Thursday), the Minister, accompanied by departmental officials, met O'Flaherty directors, skippers and fishermen at the Department of Agriculture offices in Johnstown Castle.
Deputy Coveney listened as angry fishermen aired fears about the threat to their livelihoods from inadequate Irish fishing quotas.
'He sympathised with us but didn't offer any real hope of change,' said company director Seamus O' Flaherty.
'He said we would have a new annual quota regime in January but we're still looking at a situation where there is not enough quota to keep a business viable and pay wages,' he said.
Mr. O' Flaherty said there is 'practically no quota left for this year.'
Some O'Flaherty trawlers which have a small amount of quota left, returned to sea last Thursday night.
'They will run out of it within a few days,' he said, adding that next month's quota won't sustain the boats for very long either.
Wexford T.D., John Browne has proposed that Ireland obtain unused quotas from France but Mr. O' Flaherty believes this is a non-runner.
'They won't want to hand their quotas over to anyone unless they can get a swap and we've nothing to swap,' he said.
Sending trawlers out for non-quota fish is not economical, according to Mr. O' Flaherty.
'Some of the boats decided not to go out. They didn't see the point in just fishing for non-quota fish. It wouldn't pay for the fuel.'
In total, about half of those employed on O'Flaherty trawlers returned to work last week, including the crews of two scallop boats which have a separate quota.
'The boats will probably stay out for a few days until a point where it becomes uneconomical, where they are dumping more than they are keeping.'
The main quota fish are monkfish, megrim, sole and plaice.
Mr. O' Flaherty said that prior to the SFPA direction, some of the company's trawlers continued to fish outside of quotas in recent weeks.
'We were logging everything we were catching instead of throwing it over the side.
'Some boats had been doing that for a while. They logged the fish so everyone knows what was caught. There was nothing hidden.'
He said the SFPA decided to 'take exception' to this.
Mr. O' Flaherty said the fishermen are facing an uncertain future.
They are unable to sign on the dole as they are self-employed and will just have to make do or consider other options.
'This situation has been brewing for a number of years. A good number of fishermen from Kilmore have gone to the North Sea to work on supply ships for oil rigs.'
'We'll just have to miss a couple of payments to the bank which we have never done in 20 years.'
Mr. O'Flaherty said the fishermen who met Minister Coveney last week left him in no doubt that 'its an absolute catastrophe for them and their families.'
In relation to the infringements referred to by the Minister in his Dail address, Mr. O' Flaherty said the company had no convictions in the past two years.
He said charges in relation to many of the incidents were either dropped or had not proceeded.
'What really angers me is that they are more interested in being seen as good boys in Europe than fighting for national justice,' he said.