Wednesday 21 August 2019

Chance missed on World Oceans Day

MINISTER FOR Agriculture, Food, and Marine, Simon Coveney, addressed an Oceans 2012 Coalition event held in Trinity College on Wednesday last to mark World Oceans Day.

Smack in the middle of European Fisheries Week whose theme was ' we want our marine biodiversity back', one assumed that Minister Coveney might have considered the slogan and offered some hope that finally a Government was going to take Ireland's marine environment seriously.

Historical tradition to the present day dictates that politics and the commercial sea fishing sector, and these two powerful groups only, decide how our fisheries and therefore to a large extent Ireland's marine environment is managed. To date their combined record is appalling with our inshore coastal environment, in particular the Irish Sea, decimated over the last 30 years. More than half of Ireland's commercially-targeted sea species are dangerously over-exploited, with some such as cod in the Irish Sea economically extinct.

With that backdrop, it would have been enlightening to see Minister Coveney show true vision and change the tack of tradition, something his party preached well before the election of last February. Sadly no, we got the same old EU/political/commercial sector line referencing aquaculture, jobs in rural coastal areas, value added seafood products, exports, all leading to a ' modern vibrant seafood industry'.

Yes, there were references to conservation but nothing concrete, and certainly no hint of widening the decision-making process to include amongst others the recreational sea angling sector, tourism, and artisanal commercial fishing interests.

European governance of the marine environment is an undemocratic process akin to a monopoly, and the irony is that democracies such as Ireland underpin it. In my lifetime (I am 50), the seas have been emptied of fish and our inshore grounds have been damaged by practices such as beam trawling and mussel dredging.

As someone who loves eating seafood and comes from an artisanal sea-faring background, I would love to see more people involved in sustainable commercial fishing, in turn creating on shore processing and retail jobs, while providing really fresh fish, not product that has been iced down for days before it hits the quay.

Also I would like to see, as was once the case in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and other harbours around the coast, recreational sea angling and commercial fishing carry on side by side, as used to happen up until the late 1980s. Attitudes and traditions relating to the marine have to change if we are to restore biodiversity in Ireland's coastal and oceanic waters.

This change it is clear will come from the people, not from politics as Minister Coveney demonstrated on Wednesday last.

Ireland is an island nation with no marine tradition, so it is time to change that by demanding a full say in our marine affairs across the full range of society.

When that happens the political world will sit up, and Ireland's one great natural resource might finally be given the opportunity to deliver that which it is capable of.

with ASHLEY HAYDEN email: web: