Political impasse ‘a threat to fishing industry growth’

The fishing vessel Voyager is a UK leader and represents the most modern thinking in the British and Irish fleet
The fishing vessel Voyager is a UK leader and represents the most modern thinking in the British and Irish fleet

One family’s £30 million investment is being held up as the latest example of the impact of the political inertia across the province as the fishing industry becomes the latest sector to demand action at Stormont.

The most modern fishing vessel of its kind in the United Kingdom and Ireland calls Kilkeel its home port.

But the £30 million ‘Voyager’, which was commissioned on Saturday for owners Arnold and Robert McCullough of Kilkeel, won’t be able to land its catches for processing at the Co. Down harbour, the hub of the fish and seafood indsutry, because plans to expand the facility have stalled in the wake of the collapse of the Executive and Assembly.

Independent experts backed the Kilkeel industry’s proposals for a significant expansion of the outer harbour for bigger vessels like Voyager which would enable the local fish and seafood industry to grasp new business opportunities expected to flow from a Brexit reduction in quotas.

“It’s ironic and very disappointing that the fishing and seafood industry here which universally supports Brexit will see opportunities to benefit from greater freedom outside EU quota restrictions undermined by Northern Ireland’s current political problems,” said Alan McCulla, Chief Executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO), which represents most of the fishing vessels operating from Kilkeel.

“Voyager has been developed by the McCullough family from funding that they’ve raised and represents a very significant endorsement of the future of the fishing industry both here and in Britain.

“The McCulloughs have invested in what is the most sophisticated vessel in the UK fleet against the background of planning for the expansion of Kilkeel harbour.

“We all expected the funding to be made available for this project that would assisted the growth of the industry and the economic wellbeing of Kilkeel and South Down. It is entirely crewed from the local area. In fact, we are creating 13 new jobs in the vessel,” he adds.

“The McCullough family’s tremendous investment in Voyager is a huge boost for the industry in Kilkeel and other Co Down harbours. This is a genuinely high-tech vessel creating skilled jobs and has been 100 percent private sector funded by this ambitious family business.”

The McCulloughs were fully committed to the region and wanted to be able to operate Voyager alongside the rest of the local fleet out of its home port, said Mr McCulla who is also CEO of seafood export business Sea Source.

That in turn could lead to additional employment in processing and other activities such as engineering and maintenance.

“Plans to expand Kilkeel have been agreed within the industry and the wider community. And it’s worth bearing in mind that Kilkeel is an engineering centre and has a fast developing off-shore sector,” he said.

“Our plans are supported by many local politicians. It’s hugely disappointing then that this essential investment is being delayed by current political difficulties.”