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‘It used to be a great way of life, being your own boss, seeing sunsets and sunrises. Not anymore.’

September 19th, 2023 8:00 PM

By Brian Moore

The Syracuse, third generation fisherman Alan Carleton’s vessel, which was decommissioned.

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‘I DIDN’T think it was going to be as emotional as it was,’ Castletownbere fisher Alan Carleton said.

Alan was speaking to The Southern Star following his decision to accept the government’s Brexit-related decommissioning scheme and to scrap his fishing vessel Syracuse.

‘Of course I wanted to stay fishing but with all the extra costs and the lack of quota, I can’t see a hope of making a living at sea anymore,’ Alan continued.

‘It was very emotional and I didn’t think it would be, but when I watched the boat on its way to the scrapyard, it hit me hard.’

Alan, like his grandfather and father before him, had left school and headed straight for the boats and a life fishing off the south west coast.

‘I’m fishing since I left school over 30 years ago and my father had been fishing before that for almost 65 years, so you could say it’s in my blood,’ Alan said.

‘I was one of the first boats to fish for tuna in the Bay of Biscay in 1994. But mainly I’d fish for monkfish, haddock, sole, and prawns. It used to be a great way of life, being your own boss, seeing the sunsets and sunrises, but not anymore.’

Skipper of the Syracuse Alan Carleton on his boat in Castletownbere. ‘When I watched the boat on its way to the scrap yard, it hit me hard,’ says Alan. (Photo: Anne Marie Cronin)


Alan’s vessel is just one of the 42 Irish boats being scrapped as part of a voluntary government decommissioning plan introduced after Britain withdrew from the European Union. When the UK left the EU, the Commission transferred back 25% of Irish fishing rights to British waters. This decision limited Irish vessels in the numbers of fish they are allowed to catch.

‘We’re looking at an annual loss of €43m making this country one of the European nations most affected,’ Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) chief executive Patrick Murphy told The Southern Star.

‘We have the richest fishing grounds in Europe and our government has forced, not only fishers into a situation where they are not only losing their boats, but for many their identity as well. And it is not only the fishers and their families who will suffer, but the wider coastal communities as well.’

‘We’re going to suffer in our coastal communities. We’re going to see people devastated over this. Generations and generations of people who have fished for maybe a hundred years now, there’ll be nobody left of that family fishing. Forced out of the industry that they love. It’s just a crime against us, to be honest,’ Patrick Murphy said.

Around the coast 42 owners have opted to scrap their boats. This amounts to a total capacity of over 6,700 gross tonnes, which is 84% of the target of 8,000 gross tonnes sought by the government as part of the Brexit-related scrappage scheme.

‘Once again Irish fishers are being sacrificed as part of a deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union,’ Patrick Murphy of the ISWFPO said.

‘With the stroke of a pen the government has forced these families, many of whom have been fishing for multiple generations, into a no-way-out situation. We have the richest fishing grounds in Europe and our quota for the fish in our waters is dropping all the time. Can you imagine telling a farmer that he has no choice but to give up the land and because of a deal with the EU he or she can never farm their own land again? That’s what fishers have to do because not only are they scrapping their boats, but because the quota is so low they will never be able to get another boat again.’

In Castletownbere, a further 19 fishing vessels are scheduled to be scrapped as part of the scheme which Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said will ‘help restore balance between fishing fleet capacity and available quotas, following the reductions in quotas for stocks arising from the EU/UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.’

Another Castletownbere fisher, skipper Daniel Healy, has also opted to decommission his vessel the Robyn RJ, which is named after his three children.

Daniel Healy, owner of the Robyn RJ, with his sons Ryan and Jamie, with Alan Carleton and pilot Simon McCarthy, on board the Syracuse before it was decommissioned.


‘Fishing just isn’t in a very good place at the moment,’ Daniel said.

‘It’s on a slippery slope and we just don’t know where it’s going to stop. 

‘Quotas have been cut year on year, it’s just down and down and down, especially since Brexit.’

The future for skipper Alan Carleton, as for many others living in our coastal communities, is now extremely unsure.

‘I’ve no plans really,’ Alan said. ‘For now I’ll go fishing with a friend, but as for the future I don’t know. What I do know is that once again we have been let down by the State and our politicians.’

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