By Nuala Redmond
For more than a month now, there have been half a dozen foreign super trawlers fishing off the west coast of Ireland. The two biggest trawlers in the world are still here. Nuala Redmond hopes to rock the boat.
When life seems out of control, the big beautiful ocean can bring a unique perspective. For me, all becomes clear – whether I’m getting beaten up by a huge Atlantic swell, or whether the sea is calm and quiet. In Donegal Bay, I’ve seen dolphins, sharks, whales, seals, tuna and over 40 species of fish while working aboard Prospector 1.
My work involves bringing groups out sea-angling. The people who come aboard to fish are very often fishing for their freezer – some are fishing for leisure (these fish go back to the ocean) – but most of the catch is gutted and brought home to feed the families of our customers.
There are many of us who make a living from the sea here around Donegal Bay. And it’s a delicate balance – the sea, like a boat, will not be kind to those that are not kind to her. The sea, like a boat (or a woman), responds well to a little tender loving care.
We all depend on there being a reasonable chance of catching some decent fish, so when we see a posse of super trawlers fishing off our west coast for weeks at a time, we get a little worried. A super-trawler has a factory onboard and can stay fishing in the same place for far longer than any other vessel, enabling it to practically empty the fishing ground.
Our valuable fisheries are in danger of being depleted, affecting coastal communities in far-reaching ways: we have small trawlers fishing locally and supplying locally in areas like Killybegsand Rathmullan (these, by the way, are severely restricted in their quotas and species, and are boarded and inspected regularly). We have charter sea-angling boats filled with tourists expecting to catch fish. We have sight-seeing tour boats expecting to see dolphins, whales and seals – oceanic life is some of the most beautiful on earth. And we have hotels, pubs and restaurants catering for the people who come to do these things.
Super trawlers (pelagic freezer trawlers) have a quota for scad and horse mackerel on our west coast. They are allowed fish off our shorelines up to 12 miles offshore. When the fishing ground yields no more, the ships move on – but all the other fish and mammals (including dolphins, whales, sharks and tuna) that depend on scad and mackerel as a food source will also move on. My fear is then that supporting businesses built around a healthy oceanwill eventually collapse.
The by-catch on these vessels is cruel – seals, dolphins, sharks, turtles, and many fish for which they have no quota – die and are damaged in their nets. Recently, an Irish fisherman’s gear has been caught up and destroyed in a super trawler net. EU regulation 812/2004 refers to the need for an onboard observer to be present to monitor the by-catch, but it is unclear, and this week Simon Coveney has agreed to ‘explore’ putting observers on these vessels. The Irish Wildlife Trust is seeking clarity on this matter from the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. Don’t forget, in 1991 Charlie Haughey declared all Irish waters to be a whale and dolphin sanctuary.
Perhaps it is impossible to get a total ban any time soon, it seems to be out of Irish politician’s hands, or so they say. Simon Coveney has refused to meet us to accept our petition (now almost 35,000 strong). It looks like our fight is to be with the EU. It may be prudent to limit our campaign to a few key points: extend the 12-mile zone to 40 or 50 miles; clarify the position and time-frame of the requirement for onboard observers; lower the quota for foreign boats in our waters; restrict the number of super trawlers to be allowed to fish in the one area at the one time; and open up some (currently banned) fisheries for our own small Irish trawlers.
For me, a fisherwoman in Donegal Bay, I feel privileged to be able to work with the sea and work among sea-creatures. I love my fish, I catch them and I help others to catch them, I kill them and I eat them. I always put the babies back and I never waste a fish. I support sustainable fishing industries that give regional jobs in coastal communities. I support life at sea.
Nuala Redmond works with her partner Peter Power onboard the charter angling boat Prospector 1 operating out of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, and is part of the campaign ‘Stop Super Trawler on Irish Waters’.