The functions of the (SFPA) are set down in the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 as follows:
- To secure efficient and effective enforcement of sea-fisheries law and seafood safety law
- To promote compliance with and deter contraventions of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
- To detect contraventions of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
- To provide information to the sea-fisheries and seafood sectors on sea-fisheries law and food safety law and relevant matters within the remit of the Authority, through the Consultative Committee, or by any other means it considers appropriate
- To advise the Minister in relation to policy on effective implementation of sea-fisheries law and food safety law
- To provide assistance and information to the Minister in relation to the remit of the Authority
- To collect and report data in relation to sea-fisheries and food safety as required by the Minister and under Community law
- To represent or assist in the representation of the State at national, community and international fora as requested by the Minister
- To engage in any other activities relating to the functions of the Authority as may be approved of by the Minister
As authorised officers, charged with responsibility to enforce seafood safety and sea-fisheries protection legislation, Sea-Fisheries Protection Officers (SFPOs) are entrusted with a broad range of powers under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998, and other legislation. These powers include the right to enter and inspect fishing vessels or premises, to inspect, take, remove and detain any sea-fish or sea-food product, to require information from an individual, to detain a vessel or to close a premises.
The enforcement of sea-fisheries and food safety legislation is one of SFPA’s core functions. In undertaking enforcement action the SFPA always strives to operate in a consistent, proportionate and transparent manner. In support of this approach, the purpose of this policy is to provide guidance to SFPOs in dealing with contraventions of sea-fisheries and food safety legislation. Compliance with this policy shall be monitored by the SFPA Case Management Unit.
Objectives of enforcement actions
The primary objectives of enforcement action taken by the SFPA are:
- To meet our statutory and service delivery obligations
- To protect public health and the interests of seafood consumers
- To ensure the sustainable exploitation of Irelands marine fish and shellfish resource
Enforcement options available to SFPOs include both formal and informal actions. Informal actions include verbal and/or written advice or warnings, formal actions include the serving of statutory notices, closure orders or in some cases prosecution as appropriate.
Standards of Best Practice for Public Servants
The SFPA endorses the Guide to Standards of Best Practice for Public Servants produced by the Office of the Ombudsman. This publication aims to promote the highest standards of administration when public bodies deal with people and advises that people should be dealt with properly, fairly, openly and impartially. However, it should be noted that the Ombudsman is precluded from investigating matters where a right of appeal exists to the courts, for example, where a closure order is served on a food business.
Principles of good enforcement
When deciding on which enforcement action to pursue, SFPOs should have regard to the nature, seriousness and extent of the contraventions detected.
SFPA applies the following principles of good enforcement:
The enforcement response to contraventions of food safety and sea-fisheries legislation will be proportionate to the nature, seriousness and extent of the contraventions detected.
2. Risk Assessment
Enforcement activity will be prioritised on the basis of appropriate risk assessment having regard to consumer health and interests and compliance with fisheries conservation law. The objective is to hold those responsible for contravening the legislation accountable for their actions.
Enforcement activity will be carried out in a transparent manner. Where an enforcement action is being undertaken by SFPA, information on the nature of the contravention(s) and legal remedies available will be provided to the person(s) concerned.
Enforcement will be carried out in a consistent manner, which means that generally similar contraventions will attract comparable enforcement action from the SFPA. The objective is to ensure that all responsible persons are treated equitably. In general, the Legal Case Management unit will work to support consistency in enforcement activity.
In many instances where contraventions are detected, prosecution may not be appropriate. Each case is unique and will be judged on its own merits. This policy aims to give general guidance to officers of the SFPA on the principles to consider so that a fair, reasoned and consistent policy underlies the decision-making system.
In deciding to pursue a prosecution, the SFPA will have regard to The Statement of General Guidelines for Prosecutors published by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the relevant legislation.