Brexit: Northern Ireland fishermen see end of EU ‘discrimination’ as herring quota surges by 1500 tonnes

The Northern Ireland fishing industry has seen the “discrimination” of EU membership cancelled with an additional 1500 tonnes of herring available to catch so far, an industry chief says.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 5:50 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 6:23 pm

Alan McCulla, CEO of the Kilkeel based Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, told the News Letter that Brexit is bearing “substantial rewards” for the NI fishing industry.

“I don’t think it - I know it,” he said. However there are still challenges to overcome as the UK fully extricates itself from the EU.

“I think we still have challenges and anybody that felt that a little over a year after D-Day they could wave a magic wand and everything would be right in the world was living in Cloud Cuckoo land. If you are in membership of a club for 50 years it takes more than 12 months to resolve the issues.

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Alan McCulla says Brexit is releasing large increases in fishing quotas for the NI fishing fleet. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

 “But straight away we saw the discrimination that we faced under the Common Fisheries policy cancelled.”

He adds: “That discrimination came first and foremost in measures that were imposed upon us in the Irish Sea and every year stole opportunities from Northern Ireland fishermen and awarded them to our colleagues in the Irish republic.

“I could recite chapter and verse everything that we tried to do over the last 30 years to try and get that issue resolved within the EU.

“But despite the EU and many others feigning this love for Northern Ireland and the special circumstances that we have here, it never actually translated into anything around seafood.

“So we are now out and there are tremendous opportunities going forward. We already have some of the discrimination removed and we want to build on that.”

The one most obvious example already is with Herring quotas, he says.

“In many ways you could say that the fishing communities in Co Down many generations ago were built on the back of herring.

“Already, a little over twelve months since Brexit and we are already looking at an additional 1500 tonnes of herring that can be caught by Northern Ireland fishermen and landed here locally. And over the next few years that is going to increase.”

There are also increases with prawns, haddock and a whole range of other species that should bring economic benefit to local fishermen and local coastal communities.

Some of the quota increases are more than with herring and some of them are less, he says.

“You are talking about a whole range of species. Herring is probably one of the biggest increases but there are increases for a range of other stocks too.”

The increased quotas are recognised by the Department Of Agriculture and others, he notes. But in order to exploit the opportunities, the industry must first overcome the surging prices of red diesel costs caused by the invasion of Ukraine.

“Nobody foresaw the Covid pandemic or the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the impact they would have on the global economy,” he said. 

“We have particular humps to get over them and once we do there is a bright future.”

Fuel prices are the main challenge right now as the summer approaches - the time of year they must make their main income each year. Red diesel has shot up in prices by at least 30-40% in recent months, he says.

“Other than crew salaries fuel is the biggest overhead cost and - as we have already seen in other ports around Europe - fishing boats have begun to tie up [in harbour] because it is just not economically viable for them to keep fishing.

“We went to Minister Edwin Poots recently to say thanks for the business support during the pandemic, but here we are again asking for some help.”

NIFPO is offering a small rebate to members on fuel and are trying to get quayside prices for their catches increased.

“We are thinking that we might be able to get through the summer if fuel prices don’t go any higher, but there is a great deal of nervousness.”

In January the UK Government and the three devolved administrations set out their agreed vision for a sustainable fishing industry.

Ministers from around the UK were seeking views on their Joint Fisheries Statement, which describes legally-binding policies to manage the fishing sector.

A consultation on the statement ran until April 12.

It set out plans for an “ecosystem-based” approach to fishery management with a commitment to protecting and, where necessary, recovering fish stocks.

The plan also aims to reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment, as well as support the industry.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said in January: “The Fisheries Act has given us the powers to implement our own independent fisheries policy, improve our marine environment and make decisions based on the health of our fish stocks and not vested interests.

“Today, we are setting out our shared vision for a sustainable fishing industry that delivers for our fishermen, the environment and the whole Union.

“We have taken back control of our waters and a year on from the Trade and Co-operation Agreement a positive picture is emerging for our fishing industry.

“We have seen an increase in quota that will amount to around £146 million by 2026 and we are investing £100 million into coastal communities so that they can benefit from better infrastructure, new jobs and investment in skills.”

Edwin Poots MLA, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in NI, said in January: “I’m pleased that we are now in a position to share this consultation draft of the Joint Fisheries Statement. The Fisheries Act 2020 was the first, key milestone for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland as the UK entered a new era as an independent coastal State.”

“This draft JFS is the next key milestone. We promised a JFS, and we are now delivering on it. It forms an important part of the overall fisheries framework, as it will set out our plans to pursue sustainable fisheries policies that will benefit both the fishing industry and the marine environment for many years to come.”

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