Fishing industry built on 'net of lies', say trawlermen
An Egyptian man who has worked on a number of Irish fishing boats over the last ten years has insisted that abuse in the industry is "very minor, but very real".
There has been mounting speculation as to the severity of the situation after an article in The Guardian newspaper claimed there was widespread abuse in the Irish fishing industry.
The UK publication has said people trafficking and slave-like conditions for migrant workers are endemic among the nation's trawler operators.
However, speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday Saburo Malouf said the problem has been "very much exaggerated".
"Yes, this problem here is very true. It is very real but very minor," he said, speaking from the cabin of a large trawler docked on the south coast.
"I have come across some situations where a boat owner has taken workers passports and will not give them back.
"They have also paid these people very poorly and not on a share of the catch. But for the most part, there has been little ill-treatment.
"I have heard these reports that say they are forced to live on the boat, that they only get three hours sleep, that they only get one meal. All these things are the same for us all, Irish, Portuguese, Indian, always the same.
"If the fishing is good no one sleeps, and no one eats, that is life on the sea," he added.
"All the people I know choose to live on the boats. Rent is too high here, you need things like a reference. The boats are comfortable; they have showers, toilets, heat, kitchens, the internet and even Sky TV."
The alleged abuses did not happen on any trawlers Mr Malouf worked on.
Meanwhile, one fisherman has said there are much bigger issues causing waves behind the scenes in the industry.
John Keating from Kilmore Quay, Wexford, said the nation's trawlermen are not discarding fish caught over their quotas back into the water as the law dictates. He says instead they are being brought back to shore and sold with fishermen not declaring their full catch in their log books.
Mr Keating, a devout Catholic whose religious beliefs sway him away from lying, said he morally can not throw good fish back into the sea nor can he lie about it.
"If I lie about it scientists will not know the true nature of our fish stocks and I see little point in wasting fish that have been caught in our nets," he said.
Twice last month, the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) confiscated hauls from Mr Keating after he reported catching more fish than his quota allows.
"I am too honest for my own good but I believe that nothing will be gained from lies," said the Wexford man who is now celebrating his 50th year on the sea.
"My quota is around €25,000, but to run my boats and pay my staff, I have to bring in around €60,000 worth of fish a month. I'm no longer able to fish legally."
Several other trawlermen agreed. "We throw nothing back unless we get a tip of an inspection. This industry is built on a net of lies," one man who wishes to remain anonymous told the Irish Independent.
"The minister says there are half-a-billion tonnes of fish being discarded back into the water every year. I can tell you here and now that there isn't."
Marine Minister Simon Coveney has rubbished the claims.
"We do unfortunately have hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish being dumped back into the sea," he said.
"They [fishermen] don't say that this is not happening; I engage with fishing industry all the time. They accept that there is a significant discards problem and they want it solved."