We, as a nation, have endured many challenges over the past year and a half, from the disruption stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic to the upheaval caused by Brexit. Ireland's seafood sector has been among the most seriously impacted during this period. My objective is to work with the industry to grow the sector and the coastal community supported by it in the years ahead.
My Department's action plan for 2021 sets out the priority actions to be implemented this year to drive the development of a sustainable competitive and innovative seafood sector. I have had ongoing engagements with stakeholders in the seafood sector since I took office at the start of the year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions I have not been able to engage with people on the pier side. In order to interact directly with members of coastal communities, last month I held a series of virtual town hall meetings with people from coastal communities around Ireland. These virtual meetings allowed me to hear directly from those impacted by both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit about their experiences and their ideas for the future of their communities. In the coming months and subject to prevailing public health guidelines, I will visit our piers and harbours in person to meet fishers in their communities to hear at first hand their views on the industry. I regularly meet fishing industry representatives and will do so again on Monday next with the Taoiseach.
The impact of Brexit on Ireland's seafood sector is, understandably, a major concern for all those involved in and connected with the fishing industry. The trade and co-operation agreement between the European Union and the UK will have significant negative impacts on our fisheries sector and on coastal communities dependent on fishing. The wider impacts of Brexit - for example, the disturbance of established routes to market and established supply arrangements - will also negatively impact on some of our seafood enterprises. In March, I established a seafood sector task force to examine all the potential impacts and to make recommendations to me for initiatives that could be taken to provide supports for development and restructuring to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing fleet, and to identify opportunities for jobs and economic activity in coastal communities dependent on fishing. I also asked the task force to consider and recommend constructive actions that would help to alleviate the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland in the trade and co-operation agreement.
The task force is chaired by Aidan Cotter, assisted by Margaret Daly and Micheál Ó Cinnéide. It includes in its membership many representatives of our seafood sector together with a host of other experts from bodies that may have a key role to play in helping our seafood sector and coastal communities overcome this difficult time and continue to prosper. Following seven meetings of the task force, I have received the interim report and I expect to receive a full report in the coming period. A copy of the interim report is available on Bord Iascaigh Mhara's website. The interim task force report supported by all members of the task force addressed the issue of burden sharing between member states and recommends a range of initiatives to address the quota reductions in the trade and co-operation agreement. The task force recommended a series of actions targeted at the pelagic quotas and actions targeted on demersal quotas. The interim report indicates that the recommended actions after further consideration by the task force will be set down and detailed in the main report.
The interim report also recommends a voluntary tie-up scheme. The task force recommends that the temporary tie-up scheme be put in place for the period from September to December for approximately 220 polyvalent vessels and beam trawlers directly impacted by the quota transfers under the trade and co-operation agreement with each vessel allowed to tie up for one calendar month. It recommends the payments should be calculated based on average gross earnings over the 2017-2019 period, excluding the cost of fuel and food.
Vessel owners must ensure that a certain percentage of the payment is distributed among the crew members of the vessel. Crew members availing of the scheme must not take up alternative employment or claim benefits during the period of the voluntary tie-up. While the refrigerated seawater pelagic segment which engages in intensive seasonal fisheries does not feature in the recommended tie-up scheme, the interim report recognises this segment has been subject to the largest trade and co-operation-related quota reductions - in the order of €15.6 million in 2021. The task force considered that because of the seasonal nature of pelagic fisheries it would be problematic to include these vessels in a tie-up scheme but it is actively exploring other possible short-term supports as a matter of priority.
The interim report of the task force also identifies a large number of possible actions that it may recommend in due course in its full report and that will seek to address the very inequitable share quota transfers to the UK that Ireland is being asked to bear under the trade co-operation agreement in comparison with other member states. The report notes that the task force wants to give consideration to these possible actions, the challenges arising and how their actions may be progressed. In the meantime, I will continue, as I have done since December, to take every opportunity to raise the inequity of the quota cuts burden on Ireland with the Commission and other member states.
The next review of the Common Fisheries Policy is due to be completed by 31 December 2022 and I am committed to doing everything possible through the upcoming review to secure additional quota where possible for Irish fishers. I will work closely with the fishing industry and in line with the recommendations of the final seafood task force report to advance the position of the Irish fishing industry in the Common Fisheries Policy review.
Regarding the inshore fishing sector, the interim report of the task force recognises the difficulties being faced by vessels targeting non-quota species, including inshore vessels of less than less than 15 m. While these vessels are not directly impacted by the quota transfers under the trade and co-operation agreement, they have suffered losses resulting from logistics and route-to-market issues arising from Brexit. The interim report notes that the task force is actively exploring short-term support measures for the inshore sector with a view to making recommendations in its final report.
The programme for Government and my action plan for 2021 contain strong commitments in the context of supporting the inshore community and the wider seafood sector in achieving their potential. Work continues to implement the strategy for the Irish inshore fishery sector 2019 to 2023. This is the first industry-led strategy for the Irish inshore fishery sector.
In the terms of reference I gave the task force, I had asked that it consider how all available funding streams could be used to address to the extent possible the initiatives identified and the State agencies to support these initiatives. In its interim report the task force noted that its full recommendations will in due course give rise to substantial public expenditure and recommends that during the 2021-2023 period, the measures necessary to implement the task force recommendations should to the greatest extent possible be funded from Ireland's EU allocation under the forthcoming Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR. EU negotiations on the BAR are still ongoing but all going well Ireland expects to receive nearly €1.2 billion in current prices. The BAR is fully EU funded and its objectives are to provide support to counter the adverse consequences Brexit is having on the worst-affected member states. Of course, the BAR is not specific to our seafood sector there will be many competing demands for funding from Ireland's allocation under the BAR. Nevertheless, I am firmly of the view that the seafood sector is a priority sector for funding under it. The impacts of Brexit are being felt across our economy and any support measures for our seafood sector proposed to be funded under the BAR will also need to be considered at Government level in the context of competing demands from other areas of the economy the economy.
Another important funding source for the recommendations of the task force will be the new seafood sector development programme for the 2021-2027 period that is being prepared in my Department. Similar to the current European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, programme for 2014 to 2020, which has been very successful in disbursing its €240 million budget, the new programme will be an important source of funds for the development of our seafood sector and for coastal communities. I anticipate that the new programme will be ready to send to the EU for its consideration by year end and will be operational early in 2022. In the meantime, I have agreed arrangements for an interim capital support scheme for fisheries, aquaculture and processing funded under the new programme.
This will allow fishers to continue investing in energy efficiency, value adding and health and safety measures on board and will allow our aquaculture farmers to continue investing in growing their production. The seven fisheries local action groups, FLAGs, have been successful as an innovation over the past four years and in disbursing €12 million in grant aid to projects in our coastal communities. This compares with just €1 million under the pilot FLAG scheme which briefly operated before that.
Demand for grants under the FLAG scheme has far outstripped available resources. This level demonstrates the phenomenal entrepreneurial spirit which exists in our coastal communities, with many new marine, tourism and leisure-related businesses seeking to take advantage of the fantastic natural assets we have around our coast. To ensure the continued success of the FLAG initiative, my Department is working with An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, to invite expressions of interest for FLAG groups for the 2021 to 2027 period under the new seafood development programme.
Subject to the recommendations of the task force, I will be seeking to ensure the FLAG initiative continues to be well funded so it can achieve its potential and make an important contribution to growing prosperity in our coastal communities.
The programme for Government recognises the importance of exports in Ireland's open economy. This is key in the seafood sector which is largely export driven. However, the Covid-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to our traditional seafood markets and supply chains. Ireland's top five export partners for seafood, France, the UK, Spain, Italy and China, were all severely impacted, especially in the initial months of the pandemic. Irish seafood exports were valued at €590 million in 2020. That was in the context of 2020 being an extremely fragile year, with both the domestic and export markets reacting to the ongoing challenges posed by Covid-19 and, of course, the UK's departure from the EU.
Even in the context of these challenges, opportunities have emerged. While exports to key markets in Europe and Asia fell, the value of exports to Africa and the Middle East grew by 87% and 43%, respectively, driven by increased exports of mackerel. This year has shown some signs of recovery, as seafood exports to France and Spain grew by 76% in January in value terms, compared with the same period in 2020. Re-establishing the presence of Irish seafood in our key markets, particularly in Europe and Asia, must be a priority for us throughout the remainder of this year.
If we take 2019 as our baseline, pre-Covid, our seafood industry was worth €1.22 billion to the economy. Of this, exports comprised €640 million and this is where Ireland needs to return to in the short term. The Government's focus on and commitment to new market development also remain firmly on the agenda. Up to December 2020, €8 million had been allocated to Bord Bia under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund programme to augment existing funds and to promote Irish seafood in the domestic and international markets.
A further allocation of €2 million in 2021 will contribute to Bord Bia's overall seafood promotion strategy, which includes the recovery of lost market share as a result of Covid-19, the recruitment of new trade customers and priority markets and targeting an increase in consumption of Irish landed fish on the domestic market.
The impact of Brexit on seafood trade is not yet behind us. Throughout June and July, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, will be communicating the changes which will come into effect from 1 October this year, through the BIM Brexit hub. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara will also host a series of industry webinars, commencing in early August, to outline how the 1 October changes will impact on Irish seafood businesses. I encourage all Irish seafood producers to make use of these opportunities and to be Brexit ready.
Turning to the aquaculture sector, in December 2016, the then Minister appointed an independent aquaculture licensing review group to review the process of licensing for aquaculture and its associated legal framework. That report of the review group was submitted to my Department in May 2017 and a key recommendation of it was that my Department put in place a strategy to eliminate the backlog of licence applications. This has been ongoing and has been the primary focus of my Department since the publication of the report. It has resulted in more than 1,200 licence determinations being made since 2012.
The backlog in shellfish licensing has now been eliminated as an issue affecting the industry and my Department is now focusing on maintaining the equilibrium with regard to shellfish licence applications and also addressing the backlog in marine finfish aquaculture licence applications. The processing of these applications is, however, significantly more complex than the shellfish applications, not least due to the requirement that the application be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment and, in the case of applications received after 16 May 2017, an environmental impact assessment report. This requirement is set out clearly in EU and national legislation and applications cannot be progressed in its absence. My Department has been actively engaged with applicants on this matter and considerable progress has been made. In the meantime, and pending the determination of applications for marine finfish aquaculture licences, national legislation provides for the continued operation of aquaculture sites by operators of their sites, subject to compliance with the terms and conditions of their licences. The progress made on both shellfish and marine finfish licensing will continue to pay dividends for both the aquaculture industry and coastal communities.
As Deputies will be aware, fishery harbour centres are established under the Fishery Harbour Centres Act 1968 as centres in which to promote, develop and carry on sea fishing, including the production and sale of fish and fish products and related activities. The six centres designated under the legislation are owned, managed and operated by the Department under statute. The Department also has responsibility for North Harbour on Cape Clear Island for maintaining a range of piers, lights and beacons around the coast.
Approximately 85% of fish landed into Ireland is now landed at the six centres. The total value of all landings into these centres increased from €224 million in 2013 to €257 million last year. In addition to the fisheries and seafood production industries, the harbours also accommodate ever-increasing amounts of diverse commercial business. At the end of 2019, the centres were valued by the Valuation Office at €456 million and I was delighted to recently announce a €38.3 million capital investment package for them as well as for 79 local authority-owned piers and harbours.
As I said when I announced the package, it is important to me to place added importance on the local authority scheme this year. I was pleased, therefore, to be in a position to announce an enhanced €4.2 million programme in 2021 to assist local authorities in the repair and development of their fishery and aquaculture-related marine infrastructure.
Over the past year, our outdoor spaces have become even more important to us as an amenity. The refurbishment of our harbours will support fishers and tourism and have many other benefits for local communities.
It would be impossible to cover in detail every issue relating to fisheries and coastal communities today, but I have tried to provide an overview of some of the main issues and developments and will address some additional points in my closing statement. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the sector. I assure the House this Government is committed to working with the seafood sector to meet those challenges and provide a clear path for the growth of our seafood sector and our coastal communities depending on it in the years ahead.
I should have said at the start that I am sharing the remainder of my time with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan.