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Fishers see the bigger picture

February 5th, 2022 5:10 PM

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THERE was huge interest in the fishermen and women of West Cork this week when the Russian embassy announced that, following appeals from both the Irish government and the Castletownbere-based IS&WFPO, it would move its military manoeuvres further off the south west coast.

None other than global news giant CNN opted to despatch a correspondent – Kerry’s own Donie O’Sullivan – to the Beara peninsula to cover the story – even before the Russian announcement.

And this was after the West Cork men had made quite a few appearances on another major news channel, MSNBC, also in the US.

And while the story seemed like a quirky and fishy tale of a tiny island national influencing one of the world’s most intimidating powers, the story served a dual purpose for our fishers.

Yes, they managed to secure a commitment from the Russians that they could go about their fishing at the Porcupine Bank unhindered, and as a result, ensure larger fish and mammals that inhabit the Bank will be off the Russian navy’s route, but it also gave the fishers some incredible platforms for another issue: the threats to the very future of the Irish fishing industry.

At almost every turn the chatty Irish representatives used the opportunity to make the point they have been at pains to say for the past few years – the Irish fishing industry is on its knees.

They believe vehemently that successive governments have ignored their pleas to fight for better quotas and to support their interests in the face of what they saw as a far too generous Brexit deal for British fishers.

In an indepth interview on the Southern Star’s podcast in August 2020, IS &WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy warned there were numerous challenges coming down the tracks to threaten an industry that accounts for 84% of the economy of the Beara peninsula.

This week he described the plan for Russian military manoeuvres as the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. But, to borrow another metaphor, the fishermen who spoke so passionately and eloquently about their livelihoods also used the Russian ruse in effect as a ‘Trojan horse’, from which they could launch their bid to publicise the real issues – the slow death of their industry.

As Patrick Murphy said on Saturday night, after acknowledging a successful conclusion to their Porcupine Bank campaign, he would much preferred to have been spending his time directing his energy at the bigger picture.

While the world may love the Russian tale, there will be no fishermen to fight for the stocks of fish off our coast if other, far more serious issues, are not addressed, like the common fisheries policy.

Summing up the current state of events, he added that nothing has essentially changed for the Irish fishing fleet, having still lost 25% of its fish and now a decommissioning plan is in the pipeline which will see an end of fishing for a third of fleet boats.

There were smiles all around in Castletownbere on Saturday night as the news of the fishers’ ‘win’ was communicated.

But, to use a military term once more, this minor battle may have been won, but there is a long road ahead yet, before the Irish fishermen and women can claim victory in the war.

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