I thank the Chairman and members. It is a pleasure to be back here today. I have provided a short presentation document, copies of which have been distributed to members.
The European Fisheries Fund, EFF, which ran from 2007 to 2013, introduced Axis 4, a new approach for the delivery of structural aid in the fisheries sector. This consisted of programmes which focused on the sustainable development of fisheries areas. The approach reflected the complexities and speedily changing forces which are affecting fisheries and the areas and communities in which fisheries operations take place.
Central to this area-based approach is the objective that the EU be able to provide accompanying measures in conjunction with the conversion of areas affected by the restructuring of the fisheries sector. I am sure members are aware of the significant change that took place in 2000 or so in terms of moving towards a maximum sustainable yield, MSY, system in fisheries. That change has had a downward effect on quotas in the past decade or so. Fisheries are returning to MSY and we hope to see the quotas increase, but there has been a significant impact at local level in the past ten years.
The area-based approach under Axis 4 of the EFF means solutions may be adapted to the situations and problems that arise in different parts of the country. The real difference between Axis 4 and other elements of the EFF lies in the way actions may be implemented and linked together in the fisheries area and by fishing communities within those areas. In this respect, Axis 4 is similar to the area-based approach to development in rural areas under the Leader programme.
The introduction of Axis 4 arose out of the need to tackle the effects of the economic, social and environmental consequences of the depletion of fish stocks. The purpose is to enable communities in fisheries-dependent areas to create new and sustainable sources of income and thereby improve their quality of life. The objective is to empower communities by providing them with the resources to devise and adapt solutions to meet their specific needs.
The central principles of this approach are driven by the diversity of fisheries areas and situations existing throughout the EU as well as by the principle of subsidiarity. This means empowering local communities to become the drivers of local development. All of the assistance provided under Axis 4 is designed to form part of an integrated local approach centred on a development strategy that is adapted to the local situation. The process is designed to be as decentralised as possible, co-ordinated by a partnership comprised of members from the public, private and community sectors who come together to form a fisheries local action group. The overall approach may be characterised by three main and interlinked strands, namely, the area, the group or partnership and the integrated local development strategy. They are the fundamental pillars on which the process is built.
Bord Iascaigh Mhara is the implementing authority for European Union structural aid through both the EFF and the forthcoming European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. As such, we are responsible for the overall administration of Axis 4 under the old EFF and of Union Priority 4 under the new EMFF. The fisheries local development measure is the basis of all grant aid dispersed by FLAGS. Although the EFF sets out the areas that may be funded through Axis 4, it is a matter for the FLAG - that is, it is a local matter - to determine how the funding will be prioritised. Each FLAG sets out its objectives in this regard in its fisheries local development measure or plan. I have brought copies of the development strategies and plans produced for the different regions around the country. Members will see they are fairly comprehensive documents and, as I said, they are produced at a local rather than a national level. The fisheries local development measure document sets out the priorities, terms and conditions and selection criteria, as well as the funding application form, in respect operations that will be financed within a priority area.
The basis on which funds may be spent is set out in Article 44 of the EFF.
These include strengthening the competitiveness of fishing areas; restructuring and redirecting economic activities, such as promoting eco-tourism, as long as these activities do not result in an increase in fishing effort; diversifying activities through the promotion of multiple employment in the fisheries through the creation of jobs outside the direct fisheries sector; adding value to fisheries products; supporting small fisheries and tourism-related infrastructure and services for the benefit of small coastal communities; protecting the environment in fisheries areas to maintain its attractiveness, regenerating and developing coastal hamlets and villages with fisheries activities and protecting and enhancing the natural and architectural heritage. The European Fisheries Fund may also finance measures such as the promotion and improvement of professional skills, worker adaptability and access to employment, particularly in favour of women, provided that these measures are an integral part of a sustainable development strategy. What is allowed, within the parameters of the EFF, as well as any parameters agreed nationally and the priority each has with respect to the rest, forms the basis of the fisheries local development measure.
Since the introduction of the Axis 4 initiative and the establishment of the six FLAGs, each of which has developed its own strategic plan, BIM has engaged with the FLAGs and retains presentation on each of the six committees. In addition to the six coastal based staff who work directly with FLAGs, a further three BIM staff members are involved in administering the scheme. Therefore, in each of the FLAGs, the BIM representative will help the group to develop the project proposals put forward and will bring them to fruition.
All of these projects are then brought to be assessed centrally. I wish to stress that the central assessment is not a selection process; it is merely to ensure that projects are eligible and legally allowed under the programme. BIM's only role is to advise the FLAG that a project is or is not eligible. BIM does not indicate or assist with the selection process which is entirely done at a local level. BIM is completely agnostic other than on eligibility.
Once projects are deemed eligible for assistance under the scheme, they are put before the FLAG for selection but decisions must be made at local level. BIM takes responsibility for the administration and payment of projects under the scheme. We administer the cheques and carry out checks on all the paperwork and so on. Then we finally issue the payments.
Over the past two years, 2013 to 2014, the FLAGs have completely engaged in the process and have shown themselves to be responsible and fair in their operation. The new seafood development programme, which will incorporate the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and technically ran from 2014 to 2020 but in reality it will emerge in the latter part of this year and will run beyond 2020, will develop and channel support from the EMFF into the FLAGs and the local development initiatives.
Under the aegis of that seafood development programme, supports for local initiatives involving inshore fisheries and aquaculture will be available. When BIM was last here, I indicated that we hoped for an allocation of €12 million. A public consultation was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine recently and that €12 million allocation can be clearly identified in this document. It is part of a public consultation at the moment but to give the members a full understanding, I stress that the €12 million directly attributed to FLAGs is complemented by other funds for the inshore sector, as well as for funds directed under the CFP, more generally. It would be remiss to suggest that €12 million is the only money available to FLAGs and the inshore sector. I can return to this matter and explain it more fully in a moment.
As the new seafood development programme will be launched in 2015, it will mean all of the FLAGs must be reconstituted and we will seek applications from interested local groups to run these FLAGs. It is our intention to extend the number from six to seven groups in order to allow for a better allocation of resources in the Cork-Kerry area. The current Cork-Kerry FLAG is about twice the size of any other one and, therefore, has become difficult to administer. It is a very big part of the country. We hope to have a seventh FLAG by splitting the Cork-Kerry south-west region into two distinct FLAGs.
In the three years the Irish FLAGs have operated, which includes this year, a total of 320 projects have been submitted which represents an investment just shy of €5 million. I appreciate that is not a huge number but given that its early days in the evolution of this process, we the programme is now taking root and can develop real change in the years ahead.
I have added some material by way of a little presentation. It may be worth quickly considering some of the points outlined in the presentation but I shall not dwell on them. On the first page we reiterated the points that I made in my opening presentation, that is, what the FLAGs are about so that is pretty self-explanatory. FLAGs are about bringing fishing communities together and strengthening their influence, which is an important aspect of FLAGs. They are not just about distributing structural aid. BIM believes, as was said the last time I was here, that the influence should extend to the whole range of fisheries management. Local communities must have a way to influence fisheries management.
If one turns the page one can see a map of Ireland which demonstrates an important point. BIM had a long and quite a strong debate with its colleagues in the European Commission. Brussels holds the view that one should allow groups to emerge. For example, if a FLAG is wanted in Galway and another FLAG is wanted in Kerry but nobody in the middle fills the gap, then Brussels will believe that nobody wants a FLAG in the middle region. I refer to the nature of fisheries in Ireland, in particular the fact that of the 2,200 boats on the register, more than 2,000 are under 12 m, that the bedrock of our industry is small coastal communities, which are often very disparate, that at times the people in charge of those boats are correctly out making a living to help feed their families and that those fishermen often do not have the time to take part in these types of communities activities but, in general, their partners can become very involved. The principle we have taken has been a good one. We said there shall be a FLAG for every fisherman in Ireland and that nobody should be denied access to one. We decided to divide the country into six parts and to create six FLAGs which encompasses the entire coastline, with the small exception of urban areas of over 100,000 people. That means the cities of Dublin and Cork are excluded but that is simply the way the scheme has been set down in the regulations.
On the next two pages we have outlined what happened in the UK and France, which is the way I believe the Commission would have seen things evolve. Let us take the United Kingdom, for example. Cornwall has an active FLAG but there is gap along the south coast of England and along the Wash. The next FLAG does not appear until Lincolnshire. Scotland followed our model and opted to have a FLAG for every area. France followed the Commission's model. One can see a FLAG in Brittany and one Normandy but there is nothing until one is almost at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay. There are vast tracts of the French coastline where fishermen, because they were not in a position to organise themselves, have found themselves denied access to the structural aid provided by Axis 4.
Ireland has pursued this model for the next programme and again the Commission queried why we did so. I remain steadfast in my belief that it can be very difficult for communities and fishermen to come together at the drop of a hat to create FLAGs. We must work with people to ensure nobody finds themselves outside of the net simply because they were unable to give the matter the time required.
The next few slides deal with what I talked about in my opening remarks. This is about increasing income for fishermen and their families and creating new opportunities, not just within fisheries but complementary activities which throws up some challenges. For example, France is like us and had a restriction on the use of fishing vessels. The boat could either be a fishing boat or a passenger boat but could not be both.
Working with their equivalent of the Marine Survey Office, they have been able to change the rules so that fishermen can now go out early in the morning to tend to their pots, before returning later that morning to bring people sea angling. They have become multifunctional. I think that particular project took place in France. The fisheries local action groups in France worked with the administration to help to change the rules. I think these sorts of things can be done. There can be a move from an entirely fisheries-based opportunity to an opportunity that is much more wide-reaching in the sense of tourism and many other activities. Many members will be familiar with where I am coming from. We can see opportunities in places like Dunmore East and Cleggan, for example. In Dingle, with which Deputy Ferris is familiar, there are huge opportunities for fishermen to bring people out visiting the Blasket Islands or engaging in activities like sea angling and scuba diving. Who knows what other activities they could facilitate? They would still be able to tend to their pots in the morning or, in summer, when they return late in the evening.
The next two slides deal with the important issue of strengthening the supply chain in fishing communities and the emerging area of blue growth. I remain utterly convinced that Ireland is not achieving the added value in the seafood sector that it could be achieving. The last time I appeared before the joint committee, I mentioned that approximately 70% of the fish we eat is cod or salmon. As we have a relatively small cod quota and we are a relatively small producer of salmon, some 60% of what we eat is imported. We have a wonderful resource comprising langoustines, Dublin Bay prawns, nephrops, lobsters and crabs, etc. that we are largely exporting without any noticeable added value. We must try to use a local approach to develop this. Many of the stocks about which I have spoken, particularly lobsters and crabs, are locally caught in small amounts. This is an area we need to tackle. The opportunities that will be presented by the whole area of emerging blue growth also need to be borne in mind.
I would like to show the committee a photograph that was taken yesterday in Dunmore East, which is familiar to me because it is the town I come from. If I look up the estuary from Dunmore East, in the distance I can see Passage East, Cheekpoint, Ballyhack and Templetown and I am not too far from Kilmore Quay, Wexford and Tramore. The fisheries local action group in the area has come together in an admirable fashion. Those involved have put aside their old differences, even in terms of playing hurling. Fishermen in Dunmore East rarely if ever spoke to fishermen from Kilmore Quay, but now they have created a network of sub-committees within the estuary to deal with specific problems. They operate their fisheries local action group at an extremely advanced level. As I have said, they have a whole network of subgroups dealing with specific issues. They work together collectively. These groups are not confined to distributing community funds - they actually create a focus for thinking and outreach within their communities and across boundaries that previously existed. That is part of the essence of what they are all about. They reach out to various sections of the community.
The final point I would like to make is reflected in the committee's report. The Chairman and members wrote the report at a time when our old inshore fisheries management initiative had fallen by the wayside and essentially become moribund. BIM was deeply disappointed that the lobster management plan had gone nowhere. In the past 12 months, using the fisheries local action groups as a stepping stone and with the backing of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Department, we have been able to create a new network of six regional inshore fisheries forums, which are driven through the fisheries local action groups, in effect. Each action group is used as a stepping stone because it is a community group with knowledge and has the understanding and support of the local community. Each new committee that has been created has two members from the fisheries local action group and six members from the fisheries sector. Each of the six regions now has an inshore fisheries forum. It, in turn, sends two members to the national inshore forum, which generally meets with the Minister in attendance. It has met three times this year and the Minister has attended all three meetings. Decisions have been made at a fisheries level on matters like lobster management. Consideration is now being given to recreational potting.
I am happy to report to the committee that the situation in relation to inshore fisheries management in Ireland has taken a genuine step forward in the past 12 months. It has done so on the back of the infrastructure that surrounds the fisheries local action groups. The notion that each of these groups is entirely the same as the Leader group is no longer true. Groups of people with a genuine understanding of fisheries areas seem to be coming together, seeing the structural support and the funds that flow through it and displaying an understanding of fisheries management. For example, the group in Roaring Water Bay is grappling with the imposition of Natura. One of the problems it is facing is the notion that potting and the ropes from pots could damage the zostera beds. This group is now able to say it wants to fund research to figure out whether this is really a big problem, or how big a problem it is. I think that type of integration across different policy areas will be the real value that emerges from the FLAG process. There will be a move beyond the simple distribution of community funds. It is actually a much wider thing. I will not dwell on that. I think I have said enough.