Speaking on behalf of 300 small marine farming businesses providing vital employment around the coast today (Monday) the Irish Shellfish Association chairman, Jerry Gallagher, praised the industry for its resilience against recent harsh weather “despite the lack of any government support whatsoever for upgrading and moderninsing equipment at sea”.
The IFA man said that funding, available under the European Fisheries Fund to competitors in every other EU state, was being denied to Irish marine farmers because of delays caused by other parts of government. Mr Gallagher said, “It is well known that the renewal of aquaculture licences has been dragging on for the past decade, causing massive problems and lost revenue for coastal areas. Legal protection for existing farms to continue on their old production plan is granted where they have applied for a renewal but received no response from the Minister. Up to €5 million in capital aid was budgeted each year for BIM to fund a capital scheme. However the government decided to block access to upgrading and modernisation funding for any farmers seeking renewals but who had not received a Ministerial decision. The Department of Agriculture and the Marine introduced this restriction despite the fact that they are also responsible for the lack of progress on licence renewals.
“This lack of joined up thinking and the involvement of too many competing agencies and officials means that the impact of the funding blockage is felt particularly at this challenging time of year when producers have to rely on old and out of date equipment to keep their stocks safe in bad weather. These farmers are being prevented by the government’s own bureacratic failures from accessing up to 40% grant aid under the Commercial Aquaculture scheme. At a time when job creation and support for indigenous industry are so essential there is no justification for not spending €5 million in public funds earmarked to create jobs, employ local builders and equipment manufacturers and help coastal communities get through the economic crisis.
The IFA man continued , “Minister Coveney must immediately allow access to capital grant aid for all producers who are currently seeking renewals and ensure they can upgrade their equipment to the highest standards taking account of the latest in environmentally friendly technology just like their competitors elsewhere in Europe. The easiest and fairest solution is to immediately issue a full 20 year licence to anyone waiting over 12 months for a decision on a straight renewal, thereby giving them an up to date licence and access to public and private investment. This would give the sector a reasonable foundation to build n for the future. It would also give us some hope of meeting investment targets set under Harvest 2020 and Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth policies adopted by the Government as well as EU targets for sustainable fish farming.”
Mr Gallagher said, “When our members have to deal with the severe weather battering suffered over the past few weeks they want to know they are facing into those storms having done everything they can to put in place the strongest, safest and most secure farming equipment to protect their stocks and ensure minimal damage to farms or the immediate surrounding environment.”