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Protests block Spanish and French trawlers from unloading their catch over virus fears

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Determined: Local fishermen block the entrance to the pier in Dingle. 
Photo: Don MacMonagle

Determined: Local fishermen block the entrance to the pier in Dingle. Photo: Don MacMonagle

Determined: Local fishermen block the entrance to the pier in Dingle. Photo: Don MacMonagle

Spanish and French trawlers were forced to abandon attempts to unload their fish catch at a Kerry port after protests by locals over Covid-19 concerns.

All Irish fishing ports are now expected to close to foreign fishing fleets because of local protests over virus concerns.

The three vessels steamed from Dingle in Kerry to Castletownbere in west Cork last night in a desperate bid to unload their catch. But Castletownbere fishermen and locals vowed to mirror the protests of their Kerry neighbours and block any landings.

One Castletownbere fisherman said Spanish and French trawler skippers would be provided with whatever fuel and food they required to steam back to their home ports pending an end to the coronavirus crisis across Europe.

"If Irish fishermen cannot go to sea and are under strict social-distancing controls because of this virus, then why are Spanish and French fishermen allowed to land their catch and walk around ports for hours on end?

"There appears to be no effort to self-isolate or observe social-distancing controls despite the fact there are concerns some of these crews have travelled from France and Spain over recent weeks."

During peak fishing operations, Castletownbere's population increases by 25pc because of foreign fishermen in port. In Kerry, Robert Brosnan said the Dingle protest was not solely mounted by fishermen but represented "a cross-community demonstration" based on genuine health concerns.

"This is a cross-community issue - people are worried about their health and have not been given answers to the questions they raised about this," he said.

The protest followed complaints from local fishermen about the lack of assurances over how foreign fishing crews were complying with Covid-19 controls.

One Spanish trawler and two French vessels entered Dingle Bay yesterday morning to await high tide to unload their catch.

However, 25 Kerry-based fishermen and concerned locals gathered on the pier and said they would protest over any attempt to unload.

One Kerry fisherman said they had raised repeated concerns about the crews of foreign fishing vessels not adhering to strict social-­distancing protocols.

Further, they said they had sought assurances that none of the crews had travelled in recent times through Covid-19-hit areas of France and Spain - some of the world's worst virus blackspots.

Kerry fishermen said they mounted their protest having notified both the Dingle harbour master and the Health Service Executive (HSE) of their concerns. Gardaí monitored the situation but did not have to intervene.

Irish Independent