EERILY QUIET Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, where a cod fishing brought a world-renowned industry to a halt overnight.
Richie O’Donnell’s latest film examines the cross-community connections of an over-exploited ocean
WHEN Porturlin fisherman Pat ‘The Chief’ O’Donnell blocked the progress of giant pipe-laying vessel The Solitaire back in 2009, the David and Goliath struggle between big oil and small communities was once again encapsulated in the protracted Corrib controversy. Filmmaker Richie O’Donnell was on board, capturing The Chief’s arrest by a Garda sub-aqua unit. This was but one of the dramatic scenes shown in award-winning film ‘The Pipe’, which since its premiere has been shown in cinemas and community centres all around the world.
In his director’s statement for his recently released film, ‘Atlantic’, O’Donnell observes that in ‘The Pipe’, he ‘told the story of a small coastal community as they faced down one of the world’s most powerful oil companies, which was forcing a high-pressure raw gas pipeline through their farms and fishing grounds’. But, for the filmmaker, this complex story – in which some scenes show the forces of the State come down on the side of a global industry – raised more questions than it answered, and thus lead him to ‘look at the politics of our oil and gas prospects off the Irish coast’.
“What has since unfolded is an incredible story of resource mismanagement, and the capture of our offshore riches — oil, gas and fishing — whilst our gaze is elsewhere,” says O’Donnell.
Tellingly, though, he quickly discovers that right across the Atlantic, ‘Ireland’s tale is not unique’.
“However, in both Norway and Newfoundland, the lessons learned by similarly affected communities can help us to chart a different course, before our most renewable resources are damaged beyond recognition, or sold to the highest bidders,” the Director continues.
Putting it in a more Mayo-specific context for The Mayo News, O’Donnell says it was the sight of ‘monster trawlers fishing off the western coastline’ that really concentrated his mind on developing the documentary.
“Among the biggest in the world, these trawlers can cynically use flags of convenience ensuring the Irish Fisheries Protection personnel do not know what quotas they have. It is just mind-blowing that they can just dump half of their catch. Even if they are caught and fined – take a case where one of these factory ships was brought into Killybegs: the bail was around €100,000, but sure the catch and gear was worth about €6 million,” O’Donnell explains.
“Meanwhile, Mayo fishermen, like their counterparts all along the western seaboard, are being hammered by ever-tightening quotas and regulations, while this rich resource is being exploited by the monster trawlers,” he adds.
AWARDED Best Irish Documentary at the Dublin International Film Festival 2016, the feature-length ‘Atlantic’ is narrated by actor Brendan Gleeson and shot across Ireland, Norway and Newfoundland by Scannáin Inbhear (Inver Films).
Commenting on his involvement, Brendan Gleeson said: “Atlantic is an engrossing piece of truth-seeking, visually stunning and crafted with clarity and insight. It was an honour to be involved.”
Initiated as an ambitious crowdfunding project, the film is now backed by Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Board), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation and Nordnorsk Filmsenter (the North Norwegian Film Centre).
EXPLORING the ‘murky world of ocean resource mismanagement’, in the aftermath of making ‘The Pipe’, Richie O’Donnell, quickly realised another story ‘needed to be told for the sake of coastal communities everywhere’.
‘Atlantic’ follows the fortunes of three small fishing communities as they face a litany of economic and ecological challenges, while global fishing fleers and oil giants colonise and exploit their fragile seas to a possible point of no-return.
In Norway, marine resources fishermen ‘have historically been aggressively protected by national authorities’. But as its rich oil fields become depleted, the country has begun to explore other options to add to its reserves.
Arctic cod fisherman Bjornar Nicolaisen campaigns against seismic testing by oil speculators who traverse his fishing grounds. The pragmatic spoils of Norway’s five-star economy are now being threatened by seismic blasting, which could blow Bjornar’s livelihood out of the water.
On the other side of the Atlantic, there is a real chance that Newfoundlander Charlie Kane will be the last of his generation to fish the sea, after a cod fishing ban in the 1990s brought a world-renowned industry to a halt overnight. However, Charlie is grateful that his sons don’t have to sail out to the dangerous Grand Banks and instead have been making a good living from the oil boom, which has ensured work on the rigs. With oil prices plummeting, the sustainability of the community is now under question.
Back here on the west coast of Ireland, Jerry Early, an Arranmore fisherman and publican, has witnessed huge challenges to his community after the ban on drift netting for wild salmon. As he struggles to reclaim his fishing rights, like many other small fishermen, he’s not only up against the power of super-trawlers but a government that appears to only takes orders from the EU.
Atlantic is being screened in cinemas, halls and community centres across the country. For the full schedule, see www.theatlanticstream.com.