Dáil Éireann - Volume 472 - 10 December, 1996
Written Answers. - Fishing Fleet Development.
Cecilia Keaveney Cecilia Keaveney
23. Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for the Marine the steps, if any, being taken to encourage the development of the white fish sector of our fishing fleet in view of the increase in seafood consumption which is recognised at 25 per cent in Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23154/96]
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett) Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett)
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): As the Deputy rightly points out, there is significant, incremental growth in consumer demand for seafood within the EU and indeed worldwide. Demand for fish and fish products will continue to grow and underlines the opportunities and challenges for the Irish catching, aquaculture and processing sector. I am committed to ensuring that policy and strategies for the sector are closely geared towards meeting those opportunities and challenges.
There has been a significant upward growth curve in Irish fish landings and exports, both in volume and value terms over recent years. Landings of whitefish have risen from 35,500 tonnes worth over £39 million in 1993 to over 46,000 tonnes worth over £48 million last year. Ongoing investment support strategies for the sector have been a key contributing factor to this growth. The operational programme for fisheries is providing support for a total investment of £140 million between 1994 and 1999 in the catching, processing and aquaculture sectors. The investment support strategies are designed in particular to improve the efficiency, competitiveness and safety of the fishing fleet backed up by investment support for modernisation and development of the processing sector. The whitefish fleet has received significant grant aid over the last three years, totalling £3.7 million towards the cost of 177 vessel modernisation projects.
The good take-up to date of the available incentives for modernisation of existing whitefish vessels is contributing to the overall objectives for the fleet. Grant aid for the processing sector totalled £5.8 million in the same period, the benefits of which will also contribute to the economic viability of the catching sector as a supplier of the raw material for processing and added value.
The investment support strategy under the operational programme has the overall objective of increasing fish landings to over 300,000 tonnes worth £118 million by the year 2000 with the consequent increases in exports jobs and value  added right across the fisheries sector as available.
I am also reviewing future directions for fleet policy overall which will give full consideration to all relevant factors including the economics of realising available fishing opportunities, EU developments and safety considerations. To inform the policy review, a consultancy study is currently being undertaken to assess the relative social and economic merits of the introduction of new boats into the whitefish fleet as against the modernisation of existing vessels. The allocation of funds for renewal of the whitefish fleet will be considered in the context of the policy review.
Policy must also have regard for the particular challenges facing the whitefish sector in terms of the market and the state of fish stocks generally. These are fundamental challenges facing the EU whitefish sector as a whole and national and EU policy must be geared towards addressing these difficulties.
The EU is a net importer of fish and fish products in order to meet growing consumer and processing industry demand which outstrips ability to supply from within the EU itself. Seasonal supply/demand and market difficulties have characterised the EU whitefish sector over many years. The sector is vulnerable to fluctuations in supply and demand reflecting the fact that it mainly serves the fresh market notably in Spain, France, the UK and Ireland. There is also a competitive difficulty to be met given the significant level of imports of whitefish each year into the EU which are usually destined for the processing sector. The EU whitefish catching sector as a whole and the Irish whitefish fleet face the challenge of overcoming seasonal supply fluctuations and price competitiveness vis á vis third country sources.
Continued growth and development of the EU and Irish whitefish sector is, however, most critically dependent on fish stock levels being maintained and improved through effective conservation management and protection policies. The depletion of stocks through overfishing is the single most serious threat to the future of the catching sector worldwide. Policy strategies at EU level must be geared to optimising management and conservation of fish stocks backed up by strict enforcement.
My objective during the Irish Presidency has been to drive forward the necessary strategies on all these fronts and I am confident that following the final Fisheries Council of our term in two weeks time we will be able to demonstrate significant progress towards ensuring long-term conservation and management of fleet policies which will offer the best guarantee for the future sustainable development of the industry as a whole.
Dáil Éireann 472 Written Answers. Fishing Fleet Development.