As the Deputy will be aware, the special whitefish licence scheme was established in order to increase the exploitation of uncaught whitefish and prawn quotas off the south and west coasts which were estimated to be worth up to £10 million annually. The 17 vessels introduced under the scheme to date are of the size and construction required to fish in deeper offshore waters and maximise the potential of these hitherto underutilised resources.
I am aware of recent reports that some owners have replaced local fishermen with non-Irish crew members. As the Deputy's question rightly implies the scheme was introduced to increase employment in coastal areas and benefit local communities.
The terms of the licences require a demonstrable economic link between the vessels and the local communities from which they operate and this will be a key consideration when the licences come up for renewal. I am determined to ensure that this requirement will be met and that the scheme is not undermined by the introduction of a flag ship operation.
In order to deal with any possible shortages of local crews with the required skills, I have instructed BIM to draw up, as a matter of urgency, a training scheme specifically designed to improve the efficiency of fishing operations and the level of crew skills.