A body that represents many of Northern Ireland’s trawler owners has welcomed the Brexit draft withdrawal agreement as “a step in the right direction” for the local fishing industry.
Alan McCulla OBE, chief executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation/Sea Source, said he and his colleagues are still studying the text of the document to understand its implications for the future of the UK fishing industry, but he stressed that any new arrangements have to be an improvement on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
A statement issued by the Kilkeel-based organisation, which represents about 50 trawler owners locally and others across the globe, said: “Our provisional view is that this is an extremely important first step towards a new future for the UK as an independent coastal state, denied us 40 years ago when the UK signed up to the CFP. It is, however, only a first step. Further challenges lie ahead in securing actual access arrangements and quota shares consistent with that new status.”
Stressing that “much still hinges on the negotiations ahead”, the statement added: “To deliver the fair share of fishing opportunities that they rightly see as theirs, British fishermen, in this second round, will expect our negotiators to be as tough, astute and hard-nosed as they need to be to realise the benefits of our new status as an independent coastal state.”
Speaking to the News Letter, Mr McCulla said that while the fisheries aspect of the agreement is a step in the right direction, it must be a starting point for further negotiations aimed at protecting the UK’s fishing industry and redressing current imbalances in fishing quotas.
“The deal we currently have with the EU (the CFP) can’t get any worse. It has effectively stolen thousands of tonnes of fish off fishermen here every year – millions of pounds worth of fish – and given them to fishermen in the Irish Republic and clearly we want that to end,” he said.
With no deal yet done in terms of fisheries post-Brexit, Mr McCulla insisted there is “a tremendous opportunity” for the UK to negotiate a better deal for all fishermen here, describing the situation as “one of the few potential wins for the UK.”