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marine life concern Irish fishermen plan to peacefully disrupt Russian military exercises off south coast

Speaking this week, Russia’s ambassador to Ireland said the planned military exercises are “nothing to be concerned about”

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Tensions are mounting in eastern Europe as Russia and Nato escalate their military presence. (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Tensions are mounting in eastern Europe as Russia and Nato escalate their military presence. (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Tensions are mounting in eastern Europe as Russia and Nato escalate their military presence. (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Members of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO) are planning to peacefully disrupt Russia’s planned military exercise in waters off the Irish coast next month.

The group’s chief executive said fishermen want to protect biodiversity and marine life and the area.

Speaking this week, Russia’s ambassador to Ireland said the planned military exercises are “nothing to be concerned about”.

Yury Filatov said Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine or any other country and that the “real story” is the continuing Nato “propaganda campaign”.

He added: “These exercises are a part of the yearly plan of naval activity for 2022 which is the standing procedure with the Russian navy as well as with other navies.

“The exercises have been duly notified to the Irish authorities, all rules pertaining to the safety of air and maritime traffic will be strictly followed.”

However, IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the area is home to half a billion tonnes of blue whiting which would be put at risk.

"That's a one million tonne fishery - not just for ourselves but for the Russian fleet as well too…So, there's fierce risks in this. We feel that this is serious,” he said.

“This is the livelihoods of fishermen and fishing families all around the coastline here. We've already seen 25pc of what we were allowed to catch taken from us in the Brexit negotiations, and the cure to that is to wipe out one third of the fleet again? Another 60 boats are looking to be decommissioned by this Government.”

The exercises are to take place 240 kilometres (150 miles) off the Irish south-west coast, which Mr Murphy described as “our waters”.

He added: "Can you imagine if the Russians were applying to go onto the mainland of Ireland to go launching rockets, how far would they get with that? It's no different to fishermen, this is our ground, this is our farm, this is where we earn our living.

"Why should somebody be able to come in and do that in our waters... this is going to affect our livelihoods and the marine life... there's seismic activity out there for years and it actually changed the migratory pattern of tuna at one stage.

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"So, this is a very important ground where fish come to spawn... and we don't know what's going on out here. We should be entitled to go fishing there, and if we're fishing there then these boats, these warships shouldn't be having war games."

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A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched. Photo: Russian defence ministry/AP

A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched. Photo: Russian defence ministry/AP

A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched. Photo: Russian defence ministry/AP

 

Mr Murphy said fishermen are also worried that their gear could become entangled in submarines which are set to follow the Russian military vessels, describing it as a "real concern" because boats have been sunk by these types of vessels before.

He said his members feel like “nothing's being done here, like everything else, and we want to act”.

However, he added that they will not “face down” the Russian military.

“We're not going to take them on that way, but we are definitely making a point here and we want our government to do something for us. Getting rid of us is not the cure, trust me,” he said.

Meanwhile, marine scientists have warned that shockwaves and blast noise from the Russian naval exercises could kill many whales and dolphins.

They say animals in the blast zone that are not killed directly are likely to be deafened or disorientated.

Sonar devices used by the naval vessels will also disrupt the creatures' own echolocation abilities and prevent them finding food.

Beaching of dead or dying animals can be expected.

The grim warning comes from marine biologist Seán O'Callaghan and his colleagues at the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology.

"We're very concerned about it," Mr O'Callaghan said. "The environmental consequences will be dramatic if this goes ahead."

The area where the exercises are due to take place is outside Irish territorial waters and beyond the reach of EU wildlife protections, but it cuts across the area where many of the whales, dolphins and porpoises that visit Ireland feed.

"It's happening in a place that we know is important for these animals, in particular the deep-diving species such as pilot whales, beaked whales and sperm whales," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"They rely almost entirely on sound to know where they are and to communicate and find food so they are very sensitive to unnatural noises.

"We've seen the effect before. In 2018 more than 100 beaked whales were washed up in Ireland and Scotland in 2018. The Royal Navy has admitted since that it was carrying out exercises around the time it happened.

"I know it's a big political issue but that's for others to discuss. We're just concerned about the wildlife and we really hope there's some way of highlighting the issue and getting it to those discussions.”

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