An Irish Anglers World

The Cawley Report. Steering A New Course For The Irish Seafood Industry 2007-2013. A Fundamentally Flawed Document.

The Cawley Report is a strategic document the aim of which is to restructure commercially the Irish Seafood Sector for business in the 21st Century. The vision is for a focused, self reliant industry driven by market forces, and founded on a well managed fishery resource coupled with a healthy and diverse marine environment. Announced on the 29/06/2006 by the Minister for Marine, Communications and Natural Resources, Mr. Noel Dempsey TD, and the Minister of State, Mr. John Browne TD, a strategic review body was set up chaired by Dr. Noel Cawley along with Mr. Joey Murrin and Mr. Ruan O’Bric. Secretariat being provided by Bord Iascaigh Mhara. Over five months the review group engaged in public consultation with the seafood industry, its representative organisations, and other stakeholders. Out of this process the revue groups’ vision for the industry took shape.

Based on terms of reference defined by the ministers, and proceeding within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy and National Fisheries Law, the review group firstly profiled the seafood industry, and then looked at the various challenges and opportunities facing it. After four public consultative meetings, representative group meetings, 70 submissions from interested parties, and 21 ordinary meetings the review group published its findings and recommendations.

The strategy review groups’ vision for the industry is that it should be profitable, competitive, and market focused. That these three key drivers will maximise the long term economic and social contribution of the seafood industry to coastal communities, and Ireland as a whole. The time period for implementation of the reports recommendations is 2007-2013. When delivered it is envisaged that the seafood industry will benefit the state by being on a sound footing, providing marketable food, and making a vital contribution to rural and coastal communities, economically, socially, and culturally.

In principal the recommendations are sound, but there are three fundamental flaws. Lack of fish, reliance on market forces, and lack of input from a totally neglected stakeholder, the general public. These three factors are inextricably linked, and if they are not added to the mix, even at this late stage, the recommendations laid out in the report will never reach their full potential.

Without fish the industry cannot move forward, and it is lack of fish and access to fish, that are at the root of a lot of the industries problems. The report makes many references to fish stocks, sustainability, and the marine environment, but at no point does it grab the nut. Until such time as Government and the seafood industry really address the issue of declining fish stocks will there be any forward movement in the seafood sector. World wide it is estimated that by 2050 if current exploitation/fisheries management practises continue, presently fished seafood species stocks will decline by 90% on a baseline set circa 1950. Around our shores the various agencies paint the same picture. Take your pick from the European Environment Agency (EEA), the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), or our own Fisheries Science Services (FSS). At least 50% and up to 75% of harvestable fish stocks in Irish waters are outside safe biological limits, with a combination of low stock size and unsustainable levels of exploitation.

The report discusses environment and supply. Yet in the first two paragraphs of the introduction to Core Theme 8; Marine Environment and Conservation, environment and supply are separated. Fish do not just live in the marine environment they are part of it. Removing substantial quantities of fish shifts the balance of the marine environment. The link is absolute, so why separate. Likewise in appendix 4 relating to the supply chain, the way the report is written the reader would be forgiven for thinking that supply starts at the quay, not in the sea. Seafood sales are targeted by value to reach € 911 million by 2015. If fish stocks, a major element of the biodiversity of the marine environment, and the anchor to the supply chain are not addressed ASAP, the whole success of the project will be in doubt.

Seafood is the new protein; it is healthy, fashionable, and full of omega three oils. Scientists say consuming fish is good for our hearts, increases brain function, slows down the onset of arthritis, and can help us lose weight. The demand for seafood in Ireland is rising and world wide has never been higher. But is the report right to use market forces as a driver? To date demand for fish has been satisfied by increased effort in the industry. Scientists put a bench mark at circa 1989 the year world fish stocks went into decline post WW II. That was 21 years ago, yet we are looking to increase sales by value, which also means increases in landings. Either that or fish prices are going to continue to rise due to supply and demand pressures. Fish is moving inexorably from a staple to a luxury, are we going to let that trend continue. Market forces are behind the extermination of the Blue fin Tuna. Take a trip to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and wonder at the price that a single Blue fin can fetch, after it has been flown half way around the world, and had the services of a spotter plane used in its capture. Any sane person who knows the facts would presently refrain from capturing and or consuming Blue fin Tuna for the survival of the species. An extreme example of market forces, but a reality none the less. Again it is down to stocks. Healthy stocks can be balanced with market forces. We have to get that element right first. A chicken and egg situation not addressed by the Cawley report.

The final flaw in the report is the lack of input from the general public. Ironically the public is the market force that will drive the future success of the industry. Consumers of the wonderful and varied food items that the marine environment has to offer. It is becoming clearer through increases in the price of and scarcity of common species such as Cod and Plaice that something is not right. Programmes such as the Blue Planet and ever more common reports in the media back up the trend in awareness that our seas and oceans are being environmentally pillaged. People like and want to eat seafood. Fishermen are respected for what they do in supplying the publics’ needs, but the public is becoming more aware that not all fishermen fulfil the image of Captain Birdseye. The public are as much a stakeholder as the people who choose to work on and within the marine environment. The public now expect a duty of care by fishermen to protect their heritage while providing a source of valuable, varied, and delicious protein.

Fish stocks, market forces (not necessarily those envisaged by the report), and the general public will ultimately decide whether the aspirations of the Cawley Report will be met. The key to all of this is the former. If fish stocks do not meet increasing market demand, prices will rise and consumers will not be happy. Equally should commercial effort increase on present stock levels to meet market demand, pressure on the marine environment will increase further, and an informed public will voice their anger at the damage being inflicted on their heritage. Without an improvement in fish stocks the seafood industry will be hamstrung and growth will be limited or negative. Whatever way it is looked at the review groups’ aspirations and those of the seafood industry will only be met when the nettle of declining fish stocks is finally grasped, the influence of market forces is re-evaluated, and public opinion is listened to and introduced to the mix of solutions for a better and more successful seafood industry.

Click on: Ireland’s Sea Fishing Industry Today.

Click on: Marine Conservation.

Click on: The Inshore Fishery off North Co. Wicklow.

Click on: An Angler’s Tale.

Ashley Hayden © 09/08/10