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Alarm in Irish lobster sector over Hogan's new US trade deal

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Grave CONCERNS: Lobster fisherman Patsy Mullins with his boat at Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Grave CONCERNS: Lobster fisherman Patsy Mullins with his boat at Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Grave CONCERNS: Lobster fisherman Patsy Mullins with his boat at Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Irish lobster fishermen are warning that they face a "wipe-out" as a result of an EU-US trade deal negotiated by former Irish commissioner Phil Hogan.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine says Ireland is "still considering" the full implications of the "mini-deal", which was welcomed as "mutually beneficial" by Mr Hogan and US President Donald Trump's trade negotiator Robert Light- hizer. The two men concluded the deal on August 21, two days after Mr Hogan attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden, Co Galway, which led to his resignation last week.

The EU has agreed to eliminate tariffs on imports of US live and frozen lobster for five years, in return for halving of tariffs imposed by the US on certain EU products, including ready meals and crystal glassware. The US exported more than $111m-worth of lobster to the EU in 2017.

Ireland's National Inshore Fishermen's Association (NIFA) has condemned the deal, saying it will have a serious impact on prices for an Irish export-led fishery which has been the last surviving mainstay for a hard-pressed inshore fleet.

Co Clare lobster fisherman Patsy Mullins, who is one of over 40 members of the Galway Bay Inshore Fishermen's Association, said cheaper US imports would further force down the price of Ireland's "blue lobsters", exported mainly to France. The French market for Irish-caught lobster is valued at €14m to €15m annually, according to Bord Bia.

Fresh lobster can sell at €32 per kg during the Christmas peak, or around €25 per kg during Easter, and a minimum of €14 per kg.

However, prices fell to €12 per kg after the Covid-19 restrictions closed restaurants and upended supply chains.

A temporary government tie-up scheme for the Irish whitefish sector was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail", with only two per cent of the fleet being approved in the first month.

"I am 42 years fishing, but this EU-US deal is really going to hit younger shellfish skippers badly," Mullins said. "If lobster drops below €10 per kg, then skippers will be forced to put out more pots,"he warned.

"Decent prices allow boats to fish less, and is better for stocks. This deal flies in the face of our sustainable aims.

"The 800 boats left in the inshore sector have been hard hit, but lobster fishing has kept money coming into peripheral areas where there are few employment alternatives."

Bord Bia European seafood and French market manager Finnian O'Luasa said the US-Canada lobster is "not the same species". The European lobster "is far more appreciated in the European market", fetching a higher price.

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He quoted the average selling price for the EU lobster on the Rungis seafood market in Paris at €28-€30 per kg in July, compared to €26 per kg for Canadian lobster.

"Although cheaper US lobster will put more price pressure, the market will remain segmented with the EU lobster having greater recognition, able to maintain a higher market position," O'Luasa said.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said it "continues to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on key destinations for Irish food exports" and works with all sectors "to develop responsive measures".


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