Alan McCulla, CEO of the Kilkeel-based Anglo-Northern Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, told the News Letter that Brexit brings “substantial rewards” for NI’s fishing industry.
“I don’t think so – I know it,” he said. However, there are still challenges to overcome as the UK withdraws completely from the EU.
“I think we still have challenges and anyone who thought that a little over a year after D-Day they could wave a magic wand and all would be well with the world was living in the land of Cloud Cuckoo. If you have been a member of a club for 50 years, it takes more than 12 months to resolve the issues.
“But straight away we saw the discrimination we faced under the common fisheries policy undone.”
He adds: ‘This discrimination has come first and foremost from the measures imposed on us in the Irish Sea which every year have stolen opportunities from fishermen in Northern Ireland and given them to our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland .
“I could recite chapter and verse everything we have tried to do over the last 30 years to try to solve this problem within the EU.
“But despite the EU and many others feigning this love for Northern Ireland and the special circumstances we have here, it has never translated into anything around seafood.
“So we are out now and there are huge opportunities ahead. We have already eliminated some of the discrimination and we want to build on it. »
The most obvious example is already herring quotas, he says.
“In many ways you could say that the fishing communities of Co Down many generations ago were built on the backs of herring.
“Already, just over twelve months since Brexit and we are already looking at an additional 1500 tonnes of herring that can be caught by fishermen in Northern Ireland and landed here locally. And over the next few years this will increase.
There are also increases for prawns, haddock and a range of other species which are expected to bring economic benefits to local fishermen and local coastal communities.
Some of the quota increases are higher than for herring and some of them are lower, he says.
“You talk about a whole range of species. Herring is probably one of the biggest increases, but there are also increases for a range of other stocks.
The increased quotas are recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture and others, he notes. But in order to exploit the opportunities, the industry must first overcome the spike in red diesel prices 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 bumps to overcome and once we do that there is a bright future.”
Fuel prices are the main challenge right now as summer approaches – the time of year when they have to earn their main income each year. The price of red diesel has increased by at least 30-40% in recent months, he says.
“Besides crew salaries, fuel is the biggest overhead and – as we have seen in other ports across Europe – fishing boats have started to moor [in harbour] because it’s just not economically viable for them to continue fishing.
“We recently went to Minister Edwin Poots to say thank you for supporting businesses during the pandemic, but here we are asking for help again.”
NIFPO is offering members a small discount on fuel and is trying to get an increase in dockside prices for their catches.
“We think we might be able to get through the summer if fuel prices don’t go up, but there’s a lot of nervousness.”
In January, the UK government and the three devolved administrations presented their joint vision for a sustainable fishing industry.
Ministers across the UK were seeking views on their Joint Fisheries Statement, which outlines legally binding policies to manage the fishing sector.
A consultation on the declaration took place until 12 April.
It has set out plans for an ‘ecosystem’ approach to fisheries management with a commitment to protect and, if necessary, rebuild fish stocks.
The plan also aims to reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment, as well as to support the industry.
UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said in January: “The Fisheries Act has given us the power to implement our own independent fisheries policy, improve our marine environment and make decisions based on the health of our fish stocks, not vested interests.
“Today we are setting out our common vision for a sustainable fishing industry that benefits our fishermen, the environment and the whole Union.
“We have regained control of our waters and one year after the trade and cooperation agreement, a positive image is emerging for our fishing industry.
“We have seen an increase in quota which will be around £146m by 2026 and we are investing £100m in coastal communities so they can benefit from better infrastructure, new jobs and jobs. investment in skills.”
Edwin Poots, MLA, NI Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, said in January: “I am pleased that we are now able to share this consultation draft of the Joint Statement on peaches. The Fisheries Act 2020 was the first key step for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland as the UK entered a new era as an independent coastal state.
“This JFS project is the next key step. We promised a JFS, and we’re delivering it now. It is an important part of the overall fisheries framework, as it will define our plans to pursue sustainable fisheries policies that will benefit both the fishing industry and the marine environment for many years to come.