The EU Common Fisheries Policy review, which was adopted by the Fisheries Council in the form of a framework regulation in December 2002, sets out new provisions in respect of State financial aid towards vessels which fish on a commercial basis. These rules apply to all fishing vessels engaged in commercial fishing, including small vessels such as currachs.
The rules provide that a member state wishing to provide grant aid towards vessel renewal or modernisation involving increases in capacity in terms of tonnage or power or increased effectiveness of fishing gear in the period from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2004 would have to deliver a 3% reduction in the capacity limits for its overall national fleet. Such aid is completely precluded from 1 January 2005.
There is unlikely to be any relaxation of the EU fleet regime, which is regarded as the cornerstone of the Common Fisheries Policy. Údarás na Gaeltachta may therefore wish to consider, in conjunction with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, alternative aid schemes for fishermen which are in accord with EU legislation and national fisheries policy.
The 3% penalty imposed for the continuation of grant aid to 31 December 2004 would involve, for the Irish fleet, the permanent removal of 2,496 GT's and 6,478 KWs. This reduction would involve a substantial cost to the State and would reduce permanently the capacity limits of the fleet. In these circumstances, it was decided that the State would not enter into any grant aid in relation to fleet renewal and modernisation after 1 January 2003. This policy is regarded as a cornerstone of the reform of the CFP by the Commission and as such it cannot be expected that the Commission will bring forward any new proposal for an adjustment of the policy.
The position of small fishing vessels, which did not come within the legal framework of licensing and registration, has been recently addressed. In April 2003, following securing the agreement of the EU Commission, a scheme, with a closing date of 18 June 2003, was launched to bring within the regulatory framework unlicensed and unregistered inshore fishermen. It covered fishermen who have traditionally owned a small fishing boat and have a record of active commercial pot fishing. Currachs are covered by the scheme. Under the terms of the scheme, the owners of these boats are not required to provide replacement capacity for licensing and registration which in the normal course would have to be purchased. The Department and BIM are currently processing the applications. The licensing and registration of inshore vessels is seen as the first critical step in enabling effective management and conservation measures to be put in place for inshore stocks around the coast.