Brexit: Northern Ireland fishermen alarmed by EU demands

Northern Ireland fishermen are alarmed by EU pressure to maintain full access to UK fishing waters after Brexit, a spokesman has said.

NI Fish Producers Organisation (NIFPO) CEO Harry Wick told the News Letter that the UK has the best fisheries waters in the EU but won’t have control over them, despite Brexit.

Harry Wick speaks for three-quarters of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet

Harry Wick speaks for three-quarters of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet

He represents 145 boats across Ardglass, Portavogie and Kilkeel, some 75% of the NI fleet, he said.

“We are very concerned about this. We think it is very opportunistic by the EU to attempt to gain access in this way. It would be a breach of the good faith agreement between the UK and EU in negotiations.”

He was speaking after the 27 remaining EU leaders published a separate statement this week that vowed to protect their own interests, on issues from fishing to fair competition and the rights of citizens.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said talks on fisheries were “undoubtedly going to be an area where negotiations are going to be tough” while French President Emmanuel Macron implied that without sufficient progress on issues such as fishing access, the EU would use the Irish backstop “as a lever” to keep the entire UK in the customs union.

But Mr Wick said the UK has already lost control of its fishing waters.

“Once we leave the EU and therefore the Common Fisheries Policy, the UK should have complete control over fisheries waters,” he said.

“But if the French try to link this issue to access to trade, Theresa May said it would be referred to an independent arbitrator.

“But the very fact of an independent arbitrator making a judgment proves the UK has lost control.”

He said:

• French and Spanish fisherman already take 15% of prawns from the Irish Sea;

• The French take 85% of cod from the English Channel while the UK gets only 11%;

• The UK holds 70% of the Irish sea territory but is only allowed 30% of cod from it;

• EU vessels catch six times as much fish in UK waters as UK vessels catch in EU waters;

• Vessels from Brussels travel 500 miles to fish waters outside Belfast;

• 92% of commercial fishermen in the UK voted for Brexit.

EU fishermen, however, argue that their industries are heavily dependent on UK waters and have fished them for centuries. They also argue that much of the UK’s own produce is exported to the EU.

“The French want the status quo to remain despite Brexit,” Mr Wick said. “But after Brexit we would expect our fair share from UK water.”

Downing Street was asked for a comment.