Skipper Liam O'Brien on Greencastle Pier
“They have ruined our community in Malin Head and it is going to take somebody to get lost, one of us is going to get lost, before anything is done about it.”
This was the grim prediction of the Malin Head skipper of the 'Faoileán na Mara' fishing vessel, Anthony Harley.
He was referring to the fact Greencastle is the peninsula's only designated port for boats under 15 metres, fishing non quota species. This means boats belonging to Inishowen skippers and registered in the North can only land there between 2pm and 8pm, from Monday to Friday.
The plight of the affected fishers was raised at Tuesday's meeting of Inishowen Municipal District Councillors by Cllr Albert Doherty who requested the nine councillors forward a letter to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding the Greencastle restrictions, which he said were affecting the safety of the crews.
Cllr Doherty said: “We in Inishowen are aware of the significance of the fishing industry in Greencastle, Malin Head and Glengad.
“We are also a border area. We have Northern registered boats and we do not want our crews or their catch or that industry, in any way harmed and we would like to see this matter resolved, in relation to the landing of catches.”
The Malin Head skipper described the ongoing situation at Greencastle Harbour as “complete discrimination”.
“There is one set of rules for one person and a different set of rules for another person. I am only allowed to land my catch between 2 o'clock in the afternoon and 8 o'clock in the evening, Monday to Friday because my boat is registered in the North. However, if my boat was registered in the Republic of Ireland, I would be allowed to land 24 / 7.
“These restrictions are in breach of The Good Friday Agreement, which is supposed to provide a level playing field and the same opportunities to me as it does to somebody with a vessel registered in the Republic of Ireland. That has completely gone out the window.
“I think we need a lot more ports than Greencastle. I have to travel an extra 20 nautical miles now every trip to my fishing grounds and back. I normally fish off Scotland. I used to fish out of Malin Head but I can't land there now.
“It is approximately 40 miles out of Malin Head where I fish but it is 54 miles out of Greencastle and that is one way. That is an extra 28 miles, which is costing us an extra three hours at sea every trip, never mind the rising cost of diesel. The boys are making €40 or €50 less and spending more time away at sea.
“We need to level up the playing field. My boat is only 11.9 metres long. I don't have any showers on my boat. Malin Head should be opened as well. This is traditionally where all of the Northern boats came out off, the boats which over in Greencastle now.
“It is the most northerly point, the closest point to all the fishing rounds. We are stuck out there now in wintery weather having to travel for three hours extra, it's dangerous.
“It is going to take somebody to get lost, one of us is going to get lost, before anything is going to be done about this,” said the skipper, who described Malin Head as a “ghost town”.
“It used to be a bustling community down there of 12 or 15 boats. There are two boats in the place now. Every job at sea sustains five to ten jobs on land. They have ruined our community in Malin Head.”
Eddie Kelly, the General Manager of the Malin Head Fisherman's Co-operative, highlighted the case of boats registered in the North being unable to land their catch at Greencastle Harbour on Sunday evening past and having to wait until 2pm on Monday.
He said: “We deal with 25 to 30 boats, three or four of which are registered in the North. The lads went out on Sunday morning and they intended to be holding on till lunchtime on Monday because they can't land until after 2pm but, with the weather freshening up, they had to come in on Sunday night, so, the three boats, had to sit with the catch on board until 2pm on Monday, before they could land it, which is not suitable.
“In fairness to Charlie McConalogue, it was not easy getting a designated port, but he got Greencastle as a designated port.
“At that time, however, there were no permanent Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) officers at Greencastle but there are now. The SFPA now has an office in Greencastle and it is fully staffed.
“What we would need now, going forward, is to have these SFPA officers here, on the pier, on Saturdays and Sundays, there is no reason now why boats could not land in Greencastle six or seven days a week.
“The problem men are having is, if the weather is bad on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then you get a couple of good days on Saturday and Sunday, they need to be able to avail of that because if you don't, you are putting men's lives at risk. They are going out in bad weather when they should not be.
“The same thing happened in the Foyle with the oysters. They gave them two days per week Tuesday and Wednesday. But, if it is blowing a gale Tuesday and Wednesday, they can't go to sea.
“Only a couple or three weeks ago, a fella went out to sea on a good morning. It freshened up and the Portrush lifeboat had to go and get him and tow him in. That is just one incident. What we need now is a seven day landing period, from a health and safety perspective.”
Darrin McAvenue from Greencastle was one of the fishers forced to leave his catch on his vessel overnight on Sunday.
Darrin said he did not understand why the caveat had been put in place boats registered in the North could only land at Greencastle during “office hours”.
“He said: “After 8 o'clock on a Friday, Greencastle Harbour is closed to us. Why the caveat is there we don't know. It is a hindrance. We are only day boats. We are not big trawlers that stay out.
“We leave in the morning and come home in the evening. It is very hard to work the business like that because lately weekends are the only time the weather is settled. We went away fishing on Sunday and we had to leave the catch in the boats until Monday, after 2 o'clock, which was not ideal because you want fresh product. The sooner you can get the catch off the boat and moved on to where it is going, the better.
“The specified landing hours do not benefit anybody. They are a hindrance and I don't see the necessity for them. There are these unnecessary hurdles. Southern registered boats can go to Derry and they can land at any time.
“Obviously there is paper work. We understand that but there is no hindrance for southern registered boats landing up in the North. it is the Irish SFPA that are putting a time limit on boats doing the opposite. It is wreaking havoc with the business.”
Darrin said he did not understand why he had to jump through “extra hoops”.
“We hear that there is no border in Ireland. There is no discrimination between businesses going north to south or south to north, unless you are a fisherman. For us there is discrimination because if you are a Northern Ireland boat and you want to land in the Republic of Ireland at certain hours, then the border is closed for you.
“But it is not the other way around. That is one of the reasons why the boats are not landing in Killybegs, they can go to Derry to land.”
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine said before Brexit, fishers could land their catch at any time, at their local pier.
He said: “You fish with the weather and the weather could be terrible Monday to Friday and be fantastic at the weekend. But, because the Monday to Friday restrictions are being enforced, guys are being pushed out into bad weather to fish. You are putting them in danger.
“What we have to do is have an arrangement where the fishers notify the SPFA when they are going to sea, because the weather forecast is usually two days in advance and a n officer is present on the pier when the boat lands back, to oversee the paper work.
“This what galls me. The right to land at your local pier harbour was reinstated for a number of piers across Donegal, after a big fight but the problem was it was reinstated for office hours, Office hours are grand if you want to work in an office but not for fishermen who have to work for the weather.
“I would have a lot of sympathy with the fishers. We have to make it safe. We should not be forcing them out in the bad weather because of office hours. The SFPA needs to be more flexible.”
Inshore fisherman, Liam O'Brien, who was present at Greencastle Harbour on Monday afternoon said the SFPA was “dysfunctional organisation” and needed to be reformed as it was not fit for purpose.
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