Northern Ireland’s fishermen can’t wait for Brexit, but insist the lifting of stringent EU quotas will not result in a fishing “free-for-all” in the Irish Sea.
The fisheries industry has long complained about the hardships they face as a consequence of the European Union regulations governing their livelihoods.
As the UK triggers Article 50 to begin the formal withdrawal from the EU, the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO) welcomed the “new opportunities” afforded by the development.
“It’s not going to be a free-for-all, and there will be a regulated fishery, but we do feel that we will be able to get some of the entitlements back again around the quota, and more control back to here,” a spokesman said.
“There needs to be [trade] deal but fisheries needs to be recognised as a major part of the resource but, having said that, our customers we have spoken to, in Spain and in France, they are still going to buy the product.”
“It is an opportunity. In the Irish Sea we have the major share of the water but the minor share of the [fishing] quota, so there is an opportunity for our fleet here,” he added.
Although 75% of the Irish Sea is within UK waters, UK fishermen have around 40% of the fishing opportunities, ANIFPO has previously claimed.
It also said around 92% of the UK’s fishermen voted in favour of leaving the EU.
Commenting on the fishing industry’s high dependency on migrant labour, the spokesman said: “We have a lot of non-EEA (European Economic Area) as well as EEA, because they are Filipino fishermen, which is actually controlled immigration. These guys have to come in on a visa and then they have to go home again after their term is over.
“We don’t think that would change. It’s up to the Home Office.”
Northern Ireland’s three main fishing ports are Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie.
The ANIFPO spokesman, who has been a fisherman for more than 30 years, said: “Personally, I think it’s brilliant news that we are leaving. If you had undergone the regulation that we have undergone this 40 years, plus taking all of our rights away, I think this is a help.”
He said it was “crucial” that the industry received all available government support, but added: “There are challenges, but there are also opportunities.
“We are exporting to Hong Kong, we are looking at China. We are opening up markets all the time and we look upon [Brexit] as an opportunity.”
However, a document leaked from Brussels in recent weeks suggests that foreign boats may still be permitted in UK waters post-Brexit.
According to an article in The Guardian, MEPs have drafted seven provisions for inclusion in the UK’s exit agreement, including the controversial stipulation that there must be “no increase to the UK’s share of fishing opportunities for jointly fished stocks (maintaining the existing quota distribution in UK and EU waters)”.