Welcoming the announcement by Minister Simon Coveney today (14 Jan) of schemes for the seafood sector under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), IFA has emphasised the importance of a national strategic focus on food, jobs and exports, combining the blue and green economy. IFA Aquaculture Executive Richie Flynn said, “If the aquaculture licensing issue was addressed and all companies involved in the sector could access this funding, there is no doubt that the fund for aquaculture could be comfortably doubled to meet demand around the coast and produce a lot more in terms of jobs and exports”.
“Aquaculture businesses like oyster, salmon and mussel farmers want to move forward. They want to meet consumer demand and continue to develop our international reputation with the highest quality standards. Companies who have invested decades in this industry want the ability to clearly plan for succession to the next generation and go further by promoting every advantage of our clear environmental and geographical advantages.
“The importance of having export-oriented businesses in peripheral areas is well recognised. Each fish farm job supports two and half more in the local economy. Food production is the backbone of rural Ireland and needs a cohesive approach by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to sustainable development and long term. The commitment in the Department’s Foodwise 2025 document to review the licensing of aquaculture is crucial to removing the logjam in the licensing system.”
IFA has been calling for several actions within the EMFF which are included in the new suite of schemes, including developing capacity to meet market demand through investment in capital projects, assisting new entrants and support for shellfish producers closed by natural algal bloom events. “It is vitally important that, having decided not to introduce the EU insurance premium scheme for producers in Ireland that the Minister makes definitive plans to enable producers to access national aid where stocks are lost due to algal blooms or storms. This is particularly important for small and medium enterprises who cannot cope with the costs of restocking after a catastrophe and for whom no affordable insurance is available.”
The issue of access to funds by people and companies waiting on licence renewals is still very urgent. “There is a real possibility that even by 2021 there will be farmers who cannot access funding simply because they are in a bay which has yet to be considered for licensing within the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine’s own system. The action plan for licencing agreed with Brussels under the Birds and Habitats Directive has been extremely slow and hundreds of renewal applications still await action. The government has unilaterally decided that these people should be excluded from consideration for funding and it is unacceptable that it has taken so long to address this problem.”
Mr Flynn said, “The announcement of the opening of the schemes for specific actions and projects which the industry has sought is welcome but it must be recognised that up to 60% of the money must be raised privately. To do that, farmers must be able to show there is clear security of tenure and a robust and responsive licensing system underpinning government policy. To that end it is important that the review of licensing committed to by this government in its policy document “Foodwise 2025” is undertaken immediately. It is vital that producers who have been waiting an extraordinarily long time for licence applications to be renewed are allowed access to all schemes.
The last thing that industry or the country needs is a situation where this programme of measures is underutilised and funding is handed back, particularly considering that our European competitors have access to the same schemes in much larger measure but without the licensing problems that beset the Irish industry”.