Serious differences are opening up at the Seafood/Offshore Renewables Energy Group meetings between the fishing industry and development companies.
At the most recent meeting, held at the end of September, these were clear when the companies were challenged about their publicly expressed views that areas for offshore wind farms were already chosen and the industry would have to work within those areas.
That is considered by fish producer organisations to be an unacceptable and unreasonable attitude adopted by big development companies, with huge resources and engaged in extensive political lobbying to achieve their aims, which will give them big profits from Irish waters.
A common denominator seems to be that there is a lack of specific information about the proposed developments being given and that the government is rushing headlong into giving concessions to the companies, without protecting the rights of the resource of Irish waters.
“It’s a repeat of how other resources were given away – fishing, natural gas – it’s happening all over again, with the government not standing up and defending the rights and entitlements of the Irish people who own these waters, one of those present at Group meetings told me. “The energy companies appear to believe they are in a much stronger position than the fishing industry and that they are backed by the environmental lobby and its presence in government, particularly through the Green Party.”
“At the moment it is really going the wrong way,” said the Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, John Lynch. “We are going to have to get down to talking about how the industry is going to be dealt with. Is it going to be left to the last minute like the Corrib Gas pipeline was left to the last minute and caused problems fir everybody concerned. Or are the issues going to be dealt with before they become a huge problem. They are dodging the main issues.”
Enda Conneely, who represents IIMRO, the island marine resource organisation on the ORW Group, says that “the offshore renewable energy group seems to be just trying to find a polite formula to tell fishermen that their days are over and to get out of the way.
“The major problem we have is that there is no solid information available on the scale, location or details of any of the proposed offshore structures that are being planned and there is all sorts of things that they need like co-located industries ashore, cables on the sea floor, associated onshore developments. There is a lot of stuff that we don’t actually know, so you are kind of buying a ‘pig-in-a-poke’.
After visiting a wind farm in Scotland, the Irish fishing industry is uneasy that Environment Minister Eamon Ryan is rushing offshore development. “Most of the Irish Sea fishing is targeted for turbine development. Fishermen have a right to be consulted,” say industry leaders. “Every industry needs to co-operate to reduce fossil fuels but co-operation works both ways and we are not being consulted,” according to Aodh O’Donnell, CEO Irish Fish Producers, which is the longest-established of the producer representative groups.. “Our industry has already taken too many hits. Proper consultation could allow us all to co-exist. There are huge questions also about foreign ownership of Irish energy sources, which could affect future energy security.
“With competition for space, we have to defend our members.”
That last comment points to the issue about which much more is going to be hear – the “spatial squeeze!”