Irish Fishing Industry Crisis Decline in Processing Threatens Jobs and PricesIrish South and West Fish Producers Organisation CEO Patrick Murphy said: “What happens in processing is only going to impact the rest of the industry. Consumers will be hit with a hike to fish prices unless the State intervenes to tackle a crisis in Irish fishing, the industry has warned.

The number of fish being processed by the main plants in Ireland is now at the lowest level ever recorded by the industry, sparking concerns about job losses and rising prices for consumers.

Last year, the processing industry suffered a 45% decline in the amount of fish being landed in Irish ports and processed in the country’s biggest plants, based in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

That decline has worsened in 2024, according to figures for January and February, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association has warned.

General secretary Brendan Byrne has highlighted how one processing plant has seen its processing levels drop to just under 9,000 tonnes this year compared to around 30,000 tonnes for the same time last year.

Another plant owner told the Irish Examiner the amount of fish it processes has gone from 50,000 tonnes to 9,000 tonnes in just two years.

Mr Byrne said around one-third of the Irish processing industry, which employs around 4,000 people, will go if the trend continues.

‘Draconian’ enforcement

He blamed the crisis on a “draconian” enforcement regime deployed by the State’s fisheries watchdog, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

The SFPA has been accused by fishermen of stringently enforcing EU fisheries rules and regulations on the landing and processing of fish, a claim the watchdog has rejected.

Regarding views expressed to this newspaper by fishing industry representatives that the SFPA operates “draconian” enforcement in adhering to EU regulations, an SFPA spokesperson said there was “no evidence to support those assertions”.

Reduced quota, which are set by the EU and stipulate the amount of fish Irish fishermen can catch in Irish and other EU waters, are also a big factor, the industry warns.

Mr Byrne said that further challenges are “coming down the tracks” that could make the situation even worse.As well as the prospect of the EU agreeing to a deal to allow Iceland to fish in Irish waters, the 2020 Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) has to be renegotiated by 2026.

That post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and Britain only got over the line after Ireland took a disproportionately high quota cut.

Mr Byrne believes Ireland will have to endure an extra quota cut.

“We are in the middle of a perfect storm that is destroying the Irish fishing industry. There are so many things happening at once and the industry can’t cope,” Mr Byrne said.

It is happening on our watch and this slow-motion car crash that we have warned about for years is now heading towards the edge of a cliff.
“For the average punter, the effect of a lack of fish being processed in Ireland is going to mean a shortage of supply and, ultimately, an increase in prices. But for the industry, it is going to mean job cuts.

“These are going to be job cuts in the most peripheral coastal communities in Ireland where there are little or no alternative ways to earn a living.”

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation CEO Patrick Murphy said: “What happens in processing is only going to impact the rest of the industry.

“It is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the Irish fishing industry and I am very worried about these results.

“It illustrates a big decline right there in black and white and, ultimately, you can’t process what you don’t have.”

The minister for agriculture was asked for a comment.