The outcome of the latest EU Fisheries Council meeting, which sees a cut in the prawn quota for next year, is a slap in the face for hardworking fishermen in Northern Ireland.
That is the view of Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Alan McCulla, who said it would be a serious mistake to regard the quota reductions as anything less than a disaster.
The original proposal had been to cut the number of prawns caught in the Irish Sea by almost a quarter, but the final reduction came down to nine per cent.
Even that cut though, to what is seen as this region’s most important fishery, is a poor result for local fishermen, Mr McCulla said.
The meeting, which Fisheries Minister George Eustice hailed as the best possible balance between safeguarding a strong UK fishing industry and ensuring long-term stock recovery, saw Northern Ireland’s fishermen singled out for praise from the EU Fisheries’ Commissioner for their efforts in sustainable fishing.
But Mr McCulla said the quota reductions which followed made the initial praise seem “somewhat ironic”.
“Our reward for having delivered the commitments made two years ago has been the commission forcing through a significant cut on next year’s quota for our most important fishery, namely prawns,” said Mr McCulla.
Mr McCulla, who attended the meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, said local fishermen have been resilient in the face of cuts before, but urged Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to consider any options available to prevent job losses next year.
Minister O’Neill said:“Taking the council result as a whole, when we look across the range of our most important stocks in the Irish Sea, the reduction in the value of the quotas is just under £600,000. This was mainly due to increases in herring, anglerfish and hake.”
DUP MEP Diane Dodds said she was disappointed at the result of the meeting and blamed in part the Irish government for what she said was an indication they could deal with a reduction in the prawn quota.
“(This was) something that contradicted what I was hearing from local fishermen and a view that I do not believe was shared by fishermen in the Republic of Ireland,” she said.