Irish fishermen confirmed they are to mount major protests off the south-west coast in a bid to prevent the French navy staging military exercises later this month in important fishing grounds.
The protests will mirror the demonstrations planned by west Cork fishermen last January to disrupt planned military exercises by the Russian navy in fishing waters off the south-west coast.
Those planned demonstrations eventually prompted the Russian navy to move the exercises some distance away from Irish waters.
Now, the Irish South and West Producers Organisation (ISWFPO), based in Castletownbere, Co Cork, confirmed it is formulating a plan of action to prevent what it calls “the potential catastrophic environmental damage” from the proposed French military exercise.
French naval forces are planning an exercise for June 23-25 off Ireland’s south-west coast. The manoeuvres are understood to be bigger in scale than those proposed by the Russian navy.
France’s Marine Nationale ranks as one of the most powerful navies in the world with almost 100 vessels in its fleet. They have been engaged in intensive training over the past 12 months.
A marine notice was issued by the Department of Transport last week which warned the exercises will involve the firing of missiles and rockets and that Irish vessels and mariners should avoid the areas involved.
Last December, the French navy undertook a special exercise called Polaris aimed at preparing for the threat of high-intensity combat.
The latest exercise is understood to be called Squale and will focus primarily on anti-submarine warfare training.
Irish fishermen are now demanding that the French give an assurance the navy will relocate the planned exercises well beyond Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
ISWFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy said fishermen had genuine concerns about the effects of such major live fire exercises on fish stocks.
“We know the impact of military sonar and live missile launches have the potential to severely disrupt the annual migratory path of fish and dramatically interrupt the breeding season of mackerel and other migratory fish species,” he said.
“The Albacore tuna fishery is opening for Irish vessels on June 23 in the waters of our continental shelf which could potentially be disrupted by these live fire exercises whilst also we believe this will cause untold damage to marine wildlife like whales and dolphins that are greatly affected by underwater noise.”
Mr Murphy said fishermen are already “at the pin of their collar” as fuel prices have increased from 30 cent per litre to €1.20 and allowing missile fire exercises to take place in protected waters “doesn’t make sense”.
“We’d like to know, from the French and from our own Government, are these missiles going to be fired up into the air, will they be recovered? You know fishermen are struggling as it is with high fuel prices, and we have massive amounts of fuel energy and resources being used in these exercises. I think they are not appropriate, and I hope that the public will stand with us and voice that as well,” he said.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr Murphy this morning added that he hopes the French Ambassador to Ireland will offer to meet with his organisation in the same way as the Russian Ambassador Yuriy Filatov did previously.
He added: “Yes we would be expecting, like the Russian Ambassador, that the French Ambassador, if he hears us this morning, would give the same opportunity to us in the industry to meet and speak with him and maybe allay our fears and maybe again put it to him directly what our concerns are and why we believe, like the Russians, they shouldn’t be doing this in our EZ.
“There’s enough pressures on the fishing industry in Europe without these exercises and I don’t understand why they have to take place.”