Economy

How The Fishermen Of A Tiny Irish Island Tackled The EU's Big Bureaucracy

In 7 years, the number of operating boats dropped 40% on Arranmore
In 7 years, the number of operating boats dropped 40% on Arranmore
Eric Albert

ARRANMORE — The battle is not totally over, and total victory remains uncertain. But the fishermen from Arranmore have managed to make Brussels sway. This handful of diehard Irish fishermen is slowly managing to lift Europe’s fishing ban, which has been stifling the economy of this remote island for the past seven years.

Arranmore is located off the coast of northwestern Ireland. The wind here is merciless, and a good many boats have been crushed on the reefs surrounding it. Fishing has traditionally been the main source of work here, and it is the heart of life on this 22-square-kilometer island.

Things changed dramatically when in 2006, following a directive from the Brussels-based European Commission, Dublin decided to ban salmon fishing in a bid to stop the decline of fish stocks. Another bill two years later outlawed all net fishing around the country, in a zone nicknamed “VIa.” The ban affected numerous species, including cod and whiting, allowing only the fishing of crabs and lobsters.

The sea as a unique resource

The Irish government was offering fishermen all over the country financial compensation. Most of them accepted, but not on Arranmore. Along with its neighbors of the islands of Tory and Inisbofin, Arranmore rebelled against the authorities, refusing to sign a declaration stating they would stop fishing salmon forever.

The proposed government deal was unacceptable for the strapping Neily Kavenagh. Despite his short and snappy sentences, the 48-year-old fisherman struggles to find words that are strong enough to condemn this attempt to “buy him off.” “They offered me 40,000 euros ($54,000). It’s a lot of money. But my dad got this salmon fishing license in the 1950s. I wanted to pass it on to my own child,” he says.

The fishermen came together in 2007. Hugh Rodgers, one of the group’s leaders, remembers it as if it were yesterday. “We managed to convince everybody save one not to accept the compensation,” he recalls. “For us, it was self-evident. We have no factories, and tourists come only in summer. The sea is our own resource. It should be for the locals, and we should have the right to reap our own harvest.”

An “attack” on Arranmore’s life

The Arranmore fishermen use traditional methods and say they have nothing to do with the drop in fish populations. Because their boats are scarcely over 15 meters long (50 feet), they hardly venture into the open sea. On the other hand, they saw an armada of factory boats — mainly from Spain, Holland and France — coming just a few kilometers from their coast after they had bought Irish fishing rights. “These guys can keep working the way they do far from the coast, even today,” Kavenagh says angrily. “As for us, we have nothing left.” For him, the fishing ban is an “attack” on the very life of Arranmore. The island inhabitants have asked for a protection similar to that of an oppressed minority.

On the small island, the ban’s impact was rapidly felt. In seven years, as the few rusty wrecks in the harbor show, the number of operating boats dropped 40%. The population fell from 768 to 487. A hotel, a pub and three shops have closed. One of the two primary schools only has 12 pupils left and its days are probably numbered.

“If it goes on like this, there will be nothing on Arranmore in 10 years,” says a worried Loïc Jourdain. The French director has been filming the island’s revolt from the beginning and is working on a documentary expected to be released in 2014. Having followed the fishermen for so long, he remembers their face-to-face meetings with politicians and lobbyists. “A lot of them went to Brussels and Dublin to pressure the authorities. Even the priest, a very influential man, went along with them.” Little by little, they were joined in their fight by other European islands, and the balance started to shift in their favor.

“I will violate the law before I give up on fishing”

In the last few months, the fishermen have won their first victories. In May, the European reform of the common fisheries policy recognized the importance of protecting local communities as well as the fish. The new directive supports small-scale fishing less than 12 nautical miles from the coast.

The Irish government has also agreed to loosen bans on the “VIa” zone. By November, new licenses are to be given to boats under 15 meters long (50 feet).

But no changes are afoot for salmon fishing, even though it is the most economically constraining ban. Though Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore had indicated support for the fishermen when he was in the opposition, since he entered the government in 2011 he has been silent on this issue.

On Arranmore, the fishermen keep saying they won’t give up. They have vowed to keep the pressure up, as they believe it’s their only chance for the island and its residents to survive. In a cold and determined voice, Neily Kavenagh warns, “I will violate the law before I give up on fishing.”

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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