18th October

Donegal fishermen seek easing of salmon driftnet ban to save communities

A three-year plan to ‘save and maintain’ communities on the Donegal islands of Arranmore, Boffin and Tory is seeking ‘fair treatment of small island communities and respect for fishermen as providers of sustainable seafood and as custodians of our fisheries and the sea. We ask for responsibility and right to practice traditional livelihoods that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and culturally diverse and pass down our traditions, knowledge and skills to future generations.’

Arranmore. Photo Loic Jourdan of Lugh Films

Arranmore. Photo Loic Jourdan of Lugh Films

The Donegal Islands Survival Plan, 2012 -2015 was presented to Dinny McGinley Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht at a conference on Árainn Mhór at the end of March.

The plan calls on government to look at creating opportunities by easing the 2006 ban on salmon fishing.

It states: ‘Scientists agree there is a surplus of 250,000-300 000 wild salmon in the Atlantic. The salmon are going up Irish rivers 365 days-a-year. A small fraction of these days and catch of this wild salmon stock will provide a livelihood while still maintaining the stock.’

The plan proposes:  

  • access to 10% of the days
  • access to 10 % of the surplus stock, i.e. 25 000 salmon
  • Two days-at-sea (DAS) scenarios
  • Daylight hours only: 36 day seasons
  • 4 days-per-week for the summer season: 7 weeks period in June, July, August.
  • catches will be monitored and controlled by an independent third party
  • Official reports will be submitted to government, the County Council and scientific interests.

Easing of regulations that restrict fishing in area V1 A

  • Islands communities should be allowed to fish other species around the islands within the 12 mile limit using their traditional, (sustainable, and small-scale) methods.
  • Strengthening the derogation to principle of open and equal access to a common resource by restricting the 12-mile zone only to local island small-scale inshore fishermen, and managing the fishery on a days-at-sea (DAS) basis.
  • Providing a special derogation to the council regulations for fixing fishing opportunities (TACs and quotas), by making special provisions for island communities, and ring fencing island quotas.

Such recommendations will not have a significant detrimental effect on the environmental stocks at risk, but will have significant positive effects on the community.

New governance and stakeholder actions
In addition to the above changes in management measures, the islands’ fishermen propose to:

  • create an independent organisation to represent them at state and public level
  •  work with an Irish Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAGs) and the FARNET support unit of the European Commission to create bottom-up projects for designing and implementing local strategies for the sustainable development of fisheries areas. This could include, for example, creating a trade-mark (e.g., “organically caught”) to brand and sell their catches in European markets
  • work to create new jobs to maintain families on the islands

The report states:

Policy and directives in the EU mandate that management sustain communities and society in addition to protecting natural resources and the environment. This is called for, for example, in the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) and the CFP.

Under the current reform of the CFP, discussions at the EU level include the importance of considering small-scale fisheries, small communities, and small islands communities.

The European Commission and the EU Parliament are also talking about regionalization, giving more power to the regions to manage fishing locally, thus the Parliament has an interest in Member States (MS), including Ireland, managing their communities and environment in a sustainable way.

The report notes that the IMP and CFP have three supporting pillars: environment, economics, and society which is says tie in with the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) that calls for the protection of island communities.

‘Thus, considering island communities in the management process does not give special treatment to communities at the expense of natural resources, but actually follows the mandates of EU policies and international agreements. It is time that community and environment not be viewed as “either - or” but are rather seen together as an integrated one, as fitting in today’s climate of broad, ecosystem-based management.

Fisheries Management
The report suggests that management measures should consider the environment and natural resources, as well as local island society and culture. It cites numerous cases worldwide where local island communities and populations are provided access to local resources, particularly in cases of marine protected areas.

This is done to save both the environment and the local societies, often living a peripheral existence to the rest of society with limited employment opportunities and working individually on a small scale.

Impacts on Árainn Mhór
The direct impact of the 2006 and 2008 closures has been significant on the community with families and businesses declining:

  • population declined from 768 to 487
  • five businesses have closed their doors on the island (one hotel, one pub, and three shops)
  • closure of the Burtonport fishing Cooperative
  • One school is threatened with closure. If one more student leaves it will close
  • €1m lost from its annual economy

As the population declines island safety is also compromised, with the loss of 25% of the Árainn Mhór lifeboat crew.

This same loss of manpower negatively impacts tourism, with experienced seamen no longer able to assist in the running of regattas and sailing races. At the same time, the loss of manpower and skills means many traditional, unique skills will not be passed on to the next generation of islanders.

Potential solutions    
Carleton, Crick. 2009 Submission of the Review of the CFP outlines the main areas of fisheries policies and funding that impact Árainn Mhór islanders. These include: 

  • Good stewardship. Árainn Mhór islanders exploit marine resources only in the immediate environs of the islands, yet they do not have exclusive access to these fisheries. A co-management system which provides them with exclusive rights would enable them to sustainably manage the resources. Such a system can fit within other fisheries management systems, such as marine protected areas, for example
  •  Irish fleet policy, driven by EU requirements to control and reduce fleet capacity, prevents locals from adapting to new situations such as mixing commercial fishing with angling and other forms of marine tourism
  • The potting licence under which most islanders operate has a sunset clause        which is designed to achieve national fleet capacity limits - but this has an unintended consequence of undermining the medium and long-term viability of island  fisheries under the current system island fishing is constrained and penalised for the excesses of other components of the Irish fleet
  • Public funds policies. Prevents locals from upgrading their fleet and adapting to     new opportunities. They could be given a derogation which also provided for a      modest reallocation of the national fleet capacity to allow for future development; modest public funding could also be used to assist this process.
  • Investment needs. There is a need for increased clarity in the application of public funds in support of funding/management of investment vehicles used to support improvement of the fleet. Árainn Mhór and surrounding island communities are fragile communities and community ownership of assets could be one way to aid individual fisheries, if constraints on the use of public funds were re-defined
  • EU funds: The European Commission has avenues available for some funds and opportunities, particularly through FARNET- Fisheries Area Network. Through this group, many Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) around EU MSs have managed to work as drivers of green growth in fisheries areas as well as fund local initiatives for projects such as on cultural heritage and value added activities.

The report contends that it is ‘within the power of the Irish government to sustain both Ireland’s natural marine resources and socio-cultural resources. Part of the misperception behind the view of difficulty in moving in this direction in not only Ireland, but throughout the EU, stems from the lack of precedent of including social sustainability with environmental sustainability at the management, rather than political, stage of the process. It also comes about from varying interpretations of EU policies at the national level.

Yet, there is support from the European Parliament and Commissioner Damanaki; there are also funds available through the European Fisheries Fund and support through the FARNET support group of the European Commission.

Small, offshore island communities have special cases through their circumstances (Carleton 2009).

These facts are acknowledged and understood by the European Commission itself through its CFP Reform Green Paper where the possibility of small-scale fisheries needing adaptive approaches for their unique situation is explored. Thus, there is acknowledgement and steps being taken in the EU for the case of the small-scale fisheries and small island communities in management issues.

Small communities such as the ones on the Donegal Islands are taking positive, proactive steps for saving their way of life for the future. The fishermen, for example, have formed their own group, Donegal Islands Fishermen.

They have also searched for information and outside aid from organisations such as the International Collective for the Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), the Gaia Foundation, and the European small Islands Federation (ESIN). And they are participating in research projects such as the 'Connecting Coastal Communities' which explores the connections between the fishing traditions of Gaelic speaking island fishing communities in Ireland and Scotland.

These steps are simply strides in the right direction, however, and do not yet take them to their destination. For a community like Árainn Mhór, waiting for the CFP Reform will be too late. The Irish government has the opportunity to make a bold and groundbreaking move for sustainability on all levels. And with such a step, it will show the EU and the world it is a progressive nation, with a rare ability to protect all of its resources, human and natural, alike.

The plan was compiled with the support of Alyne Delaney (Alyne E. Delaney, Innovative Fisheries Management (IFM); Aalborg University, Denmark; Brian O’ Riordan (ICSF), the Gaia Foundation, the European small Islands Federation (ESIN); Iain MacKinnon of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Ruth Brennan of the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

This report will be followed in May by an independent cultural-ecological study being carried out by Iain MacKinnon of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Ruth Brennan of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, and independent visual artist Stephen Hurrel examines connections between the fishing traditions of Gaelic speaking island fishing communities in Ireland and Scotland.

Comment to Inshore Ireland

Séamus Ó Cnáimhsí
Comharchumann Forbartha & Fostaíochta Árainn Mhór

Fishing as we know it is at a crossroads.  There is a growing realisation that the current regulatory system or CFP is not sustainable either in terms of managing fish stocks, or serving the coastal communities that depend on them. 

The Donegal Islands Survival Plan, 2012 -2015, compiled by Dr Alyne Delaney of the University of Aalborg in Denmark, is the culmination of a long campaign by Donegal islanders to regain access to their traditional fishing grounds.  The report builds on a long campaign by fishermen including John O Brien of Inis Bó Finne and Jerry Early of Árainn Mhór and charts a way forward for the island’s small inshore fishing fleet. 

The 2006 drift-net ban on salmon fishing has had a devastating effect on island communities, particularly those in Donegal. This blow was compounded in 2008 by the closure of the waters around the Donegal islands as part of a European cod conservation measure.  This prevents even the small inshore fishing fleet from fishing whitefish for sale or for bait in their lobster or crab pots. 

Instead, island fishermen have to travel to Killybegs or Greencastle to buy prime fish to bait their pots.  The result of this exclusion from their traditional fishing grounds and livelihoods has been devastating to the fragile island economies of the region. 

For example, the population of Árainn Mhór, which has been identified as “Extremely Disadvantaged” by a series of government studies, has fallen from 1,151 persons in 1956 to 514 in the 2011 census, a drop of 45%.

 The latest survival plan comes after a long road which has taken islanders to the European Parliament and back. It builds on other work conducted on the islands in the past. 

A review, Fisheries on the Gaeltacht Islands of Ireland commissioned by Comhdháil Oileán na hÉireann in 2007 provided a series of concrete actions to secure the future of small-scale fishing on the islands.  To date none of the report’s recommendations has been implemented. 

The time is now ripe to show the way forward for managing fisheries all along our coast and The Donegal Islands Survival Plan, 2012 -2015 provides the first steps that can be taken to achieve this.


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