I thank the Deputy. As a fellow west Cork person, it is good to speak to him. On the invitation to visit processing plants with Members of the Oireachtas or others, we have always taken meetings with the industry or Members. I thank the Deputy for extending that offer. The Deputy asked a significant number of questions, so if it is okay I will go back into what has happened with the revocation of the control plan. I am aware some Deputies are very well versed on what has happened but for others there may be a large number of questions.
We can talk about the weighing of fish, which is a very important part of the fisheries management system. Under EU law, the accuracy of the weighing of catches landed is the responsibility of the operator. The law states that all wild-caught fisheries products must be weighed at landing before transport, and there are a number of potential derogations. In 2012, the SFPA submitted and obtained Commission approval for derogations and there were five separate plans that we submitted at that point. These were a control plan, two sampling plans and common control programmes with Belgium and France. We consulted extensively both internally and with the Irish fishing producer organisations.
Under the control plan, which is what the Deputy is speaking about, from 2012 until 2021 weighing was following transport to Irish establishments and allowed once it took place in a premises, usually a processor, permitted by the SFPA for that purpose. The weight derived would be used by fishers to make landing declarations and reckon uptake from available quota. The European Commission decided recently to revoke this derogation for demersal and pelagic fisheries with immediate effect.
I will speak about how we ended up with this decision from the Commission. It was made as it deemed the risk of industry's non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy as being too high. This decision arises from an administrative inquiry the Commission requested Ireland to carry out following an audit in Ireland in 2018 aimed at monitoring the implementation of Ireland's control for pelagic fisheries. The administrative inquiry looked at possible underdeclaration of catches in 2012 and 2016 and investigations of the same, sanctions for operators, effectiveness of the Irish sanctions system and effectiveness of the Irish control system.
In particular, the Commission identified that the operator did not have in place a weighing system fit for purpose and the audit identified manipulation of weighing systems. Moreover, although it was aware of these shortcomings, Ireland did not take appropriate measures to address such non-compliance, in particular by withdrawing the permission to weigh after transport. Consequently, the control plan did not, in the view of the Commission, minimise the risk of systematic manipulation of weighing of pelagic catches in Ireland and the underdeclaration of catches by operators. Therefore, Ireland could not guarantee an effective control of landed quantities of catches and could not minimise the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. All of us here agree that is a policy that would lead to sustainability in our fisheries and our coastal communities.
The revocation centres around post-transport weighing of pelagic landings specifically. Pelagic fish include mackerel, horse mackerel, herring, blue whiting and sprat. Pelagic fish are landed into 11 processing plants in Ireland. In contrast to the traditional fish boxes, these fish landings are highly mechanised, involving pumping fish ashore in bulk with a significant quantity of transport water, and there are practical challenges in trying to verify the quantity of fish involved. It is easier to hide fish because it is harder to quantify accurately the amount of fish moving rapidly when mixed with water. The weighing of fish and water or draining of water from fish has been an issue over many decades in Ireland and it led to the stand-alone set-up of the SFPA.
The Deputy asked if we accept the mismanagement of this debacle or what we think is acceptable behaviour and how we would go forward. The SFPA employs more than 150 people across the major fishing ports around the coast and in our headquarters in Clonakilty. These colleagues are committed to fulfilling our extensive remit for sea fisheries protection and seafood safety to the highest level of governance. In the case of our sea fisheries officers, this work can be done in difficult and challenging circumstances. We have acknowledged there have been lessons and we are committed to addressing them, as our decision to the Commission and our capability review highlights. We continually reappraise and build on mini-learnings, all the time working towards improving and focusing controls to manage non-compliance risks.
That does not answer the Deputy's next question about how the weighing will affect larger scale landings throughout the country. The SFPA has consulted the industry about this, working on solutions relating to weighing devices, training and the questions about quality of fish. The Deputy asked if we accept this could lead to landings going elsewhere, and that is a matter for those who are deciding where to land rather than the control authority.
There was a question about control and quality measuring. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has a broad and extensive remit. We do not just look after the regulation of the commercial sea fishing industry and fishers' compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy. We also look after wild and farmed fish, the classification of wild and farmed mollusc areas, food trade controls, catch and health certification of Irish fish exports and the control of compliance with maritime environmentally protected areas. We also look after infrastructure provision to facilitate fishers or vessel operators' compliance with their obligations. We function for data provision to the State and the EU on sea fisheries activity and give advice to the Government on policy relating to fishery control, food safety and trade controls. We also look at fishery control for all Irish-registered fishing vessels. There is a large remit for the SFPA. It is committed, through all its staff, to delivering in its full remit.
The Deputy asked what information went to the EU. The EU carried out an audit in 2018 and, following that audit, it asked Ireland to carry out an administrative inquiry.
For the committee members who may not be aware how this works, the Commission requested a significant amount of information from the SFPA on historical fisheries data and cases from a large number of areas in respect of the pelagic fisheries in question. This information went to the EU.
I apologise to Deputy Collins, but a number of questions were asked. As to whether the SFPA will commit to weighing in factories, we have moved over the past season to weighing on the pier. In terms of pelagic fisheries, we will be moving to controlled weighings on the pier. We are far from weighing being approved in factories, though. We are in this situation because of the issues identified in the pelagic factories.
The SFPA does not see the same risks in terms of whitefish and shellfish. We will be working with and consulting industry on a control plan.
Due to the number of questions and if it is okay, I will ask Mr. Kinneen if he has anything to add. I apologise to the Deputy if I missed anything.