Francis O’Donnell, IFPO

I travelled to Inis Oirr on January 14 for the launch of the report Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities in Ireland which was presented by the Chair of the Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries, Deputy Andrew Doyle, on behalf of the committee: Deputies Andrew Doyle; Martin Ferris; Michael McNamara; Thomas Pringle; Noel Harrington; Sean Kenny and Senators Brian O Domhnaill, Ned O’ Sullivan and Denis Landy.Deputy O’Cuiv also played an integral role in developing this report.

The Sub-Committee had made twenty-nine recommendations based on submissions from various stakeholders involved in the marine area. That submission process took place last year. The focus of this report is to recommend strategies to equip island and coastal communities to face the many socio-economic challenges that lie ahead and affect their everyday lives.

Inis Oírr

‘Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities in Ireland’ report launched on Inis Oírr

Many of those challenges ― such as the ban on the drift netting for salmon in 2006 ― are historical. Nonetheless, the result of that ban saw an increase in effort in the lobster and crab fisheries. Many of those compensated at the time bought large numbers of pots. The lobster fishery is now on the brink of collapse in Ireland due to the lack of policy and regulation in this fishery.

 Some fishers are now fishing between 500 and 1000 pots to make it economically viable. This is unsustainable in fisheries management terms. Those affected by the ban on drift netting felt that no alternative had been provided by government at the time of the ban. More importantly, a traditional right they had enjoyed had been taken from them without proper consultation, to satisfy the EU due to the migratory aspect of this species.

The joint sub-committee decided to broaden the scope of their research and examine other industries such as sea angling, seaweed harvesting, aquaculture, and tourism ― all of which have an impact on coastal and island communities with a view to identify data gaps.

A strong theme emerged during the question and answers session which clearly identified that inshore fishermen were poorly represented at national level in the stakeholder and decision-making process.

Suggestions reflected the need to set up a separate representative organisation to channel inshore fisher’s views to government. Equally, it was identified that various possibilities existed to create other representative organisations in other industries and that fishing was only one economic activity carried out throughout island and coastal communities.This lack of representation was accepted as an obvious problem by the sub-committee and those present. Government can only engage if they have a body or grouping to negotiate with.This was a key message delivered by the deputies.

Recommendations ranged from developing an inshore coastal management policy to licensing fin fish projects on the basis of adhering to the world’s highest environmental standards, and that structures should be put in place to allow as much local ownership in all aquaculture developments.

Clearly there are many challenges facing coastal and Island communities. The report deals with a number of those in detail. This report however has to be reviewed and acted upon by government and is at present only a suite of recommendations.

More importantly, stakeholders have a critical role to play by getting organised and pressurising government to act. Otherwise, this report, like many others will gather dust on a shelf. An opportunity has been opened up by the sub-committee. Islands and coastal communities need to breathe life into it.