By John Robertson
Monday, October 15, 2001, 19:20 (GMT + 9)
The Irish Government may consider challenging the EU law banning driftnet fishing for tuna from the end of this year.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources Hugh Byrne has undertaken to investigate evidence from the United States where experiments with sonic “pingers” are reported to have been successful in deterring cetaceans, such as dolphins and porpoises, becoming ensnared in driftnets. If the case is strong enough, Ireland might seek to overturn the ban at the EU Fisheries Council.
The minister’s pledge follows pressure from Opposition politician PJ Sheehan who claimed the ban, sought by Spanish and Basque line-fishermen, was “purely political” and had “no scientific basis”. During a debate with Mr Byrne in the Irish parliament, the Dáil, Mr Sheehan claimed the Americans had lifted a driftnet ban two years ago as a result of the success of the “pingers”.
Any attempt to challenge the EU ban would be highly popular with Irish driftnet fishermen who have warned that their livelihoods are in jeopardy due to the loss of their favoured fishing technique. This is despite the Government having spent at least IEP 2 million encouraging fishermen to switch to alternative catching methods, including mid-water pair trawling and mechanised trolling.
This year – for the last time – 18 Irish whitefish trawlers converted to driftnetting to take part in the IEP 7 million summer albacore tuna fishery off the south-west coast and up to 500 miles away in the Bay of Biscay. They were also joined by a number of extra boats, which gained licences to fish some of Ireland’s albacore quota using non-driftnet methods.
Mr Byrne claimed that the success of the pair-trawlers meant 50 Irish boats would take part in the fishery next year. Better prices have been gained than for the driftnet-caught tuna, which are poor quality and go mostly for canning in Spain.
The minister declared that the tuna industry’s future was now safe but he agreed to pursue Mr Sheehan’s suggestion to investigate the American experience.