Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Questions (850, 858)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

850. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions with fishing representative bodies with regard to establishing a fishing cessation tie-up scheme for vessels to support the industry through market disruption caused by Covid-19; the amount of unused funds from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund that could be allocated towards such a scheme; the details of other potential domestic sources in this regard; and the progress of talks with the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries to make additional EU funds available for such a scheme. [5838/20]

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Charlie McConalogue

Question:

858. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions with fishing representative bodies with regard to a storage aid market support measure to support the industry through market disruption caused by Covid-19; and the progress of talks with the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries to make additional European Maritime and Fisheries Fund funds available for such a measure. [5912/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 850 and 858 together.

Our fishing sector has been particularly hard hit by the severe market disruption in Europe and internationally caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic. The closure of many markets and disruption of established distribution channels, particularly to restaurants and the food service industry domestically and internationally, has seen market demand and sale prices drop very substantially in many of our key markets. However, there are still markets open, both domestically and internationally, and it is important that we continue to supply these markets to maintain food supply, service our established customers and be in a position to take advantage of increased demand as markets open up.  That reopening of markets may commence now that some countries are commencing a phased re-opening from lockdowns, but may take some months to return to a level of normality.

As part of the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, the European Union has enacted a new Regulation 2020/560 amending the provisions of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (508/2014) to enable Member States to use their EMFF Operational Programmes to address the impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic on their seafood sectors.  Regrettably, no additional EU funds were made available to accompany the EU initiative.  EMFF Programmes operate over the 2014-20 period and since the Pandemic has hit at a time when EMFF Programmes are coming to an end, Ireland like many other Member States has limited funds remaining   I continue to lobby Commissioner Sinkevicius to make additional EU funds available.  However, it is important to note that any EMFF interventions to support our seafood sector during the Pandemic must be funded in the first instance through funds voted for 2020, and EU co-funding is only received retrospectively in 2021.

I have met with representatives of our fisheries and processing sectors on a number of occasions, most recently on 29 April, to hear their views on the impacts of the Pandemic and how the EMFF Programme may support them during this difficult period.  Representation included the four fisheries producer organisations, the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, the fisheries cooperatives and the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association.  There was a positive and constructive engagement, with a broad consensus from industry representatives that aid for temporary tie-up of fishing vessels should be the priority, enabling some vessels to tie-up, while others fished to meet market demands.  There was little support for a storage aid scheme, with those in favour of it wanting it used only to subsidise the cost of cold storage of fish already in storage.  Otherwise, fishing representatives feared that it would create an overhang on the markets and contribute to continued poor market prices when markets recover.  Clearly, using scarce funds for a measure with little industry support, and one that would do nothing to support fishermen going forward, would be a poor use of resources.

Throughout my discussions with fishing representatives, I have emphasised to them the cross sectoral supports being made available by Government at very significant cost, including the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the Future Growth Loan Scheme, Micro-Finance Ireland Covid-19 Business Loan, Credit Guarantee Scheme and Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme, made available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.  I have also highlighted to industry the loan holiday arrangements from the banking sector. 

In  line with the strong preference of fishing representatives, I announced on 8 May a Covid-19 Temporary Fleet Tie-up Scheme for fishing vessels in the Polyvalent, Beam Trawl and Specific segments of the fleet, to be implemented under Ireland’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Operational Programme 2014-20.  The Covid-19 Temporary Fleet Tie-up Scheme will be operational from 1 June and will be available to the inshore fleet and to larger vessels.  It will allow vessel owners to voluntarily opt to tie up for a maximum of two months over the period June to August. 

The Scheme will support the fixed costs incurred by the vessel owners and is designed to complement the Covid-19 wage supports and loan arrangements already being provided by Government to the fishing sector and indeed other sectors of our economy.  The supports to fixed costs available under the Scheme are outlined in the table below and range from €6,000 per month for a maximum of two months for the very largest vessels over 24 metres, to €500 per month for a maximum of two months for the very smallest vessels under 6 metres in length.

Size of vessel

Payment over 1-month tie-up period

Payment over 2-month tie-up period

> 24m

€6,000

€12,000

18 < 24m

€4,600

€9,200

15 < 18m

€2,000

€4,000

12 < 15m

€1,900

€3,800

10 < 12m

€800

€1,600

8 < 10m

€750

€1,500

6 < 8m

€500

€1,000

<6m

€500

€1,000

In order to underpin the Government’s policy of ensuring that the food chain is maintained and to maintain an essential presence in our markets, the Scheme will be available to a maximum of 66% of the fishing fleet, in the different size categories, in any one month. Any vessel not receiving support to tie-up in any particular month may continue to fish.

In order to limit the benefits of the Scheme to active vessels, an applicant vessel must have carried out fishing activities at sea for at least 120 days over the 2-year period 2018/19 and have made total first sales of fish to a minimum value of €5,000 in the calendar year 2019, by reference to the Irish Sales Note System administered by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.