Fisheries Minister Discusses 2012 Fishing Opportunities with Industry

FISHERIES Minister Michelle O’Neill has met with fishing stakeholders from the catching and processing sectors to discuss priorities ahead of this Autumn’s vital fisheries councils.

The main EU Fisheries Councils to agree future fishing opportunities will take place on 19/20 November and 18/19/20 December in Brussels.

Speaking after the meeting, the Minister said: “We had a very useful and full discussion about the European Commission’s proposals for fishing opportunities next year, and have agreed the main areas we need to work together on.

Prawns are the biggest earner for County Down fishermen in the Irish Sea.

“Nephrops (prawns) is once again our top priority.” 
Thanking the industry for its support for the compromise on Irish Sea herring that should see an overall increase in the quota over the next two years, the Minister said: “The Commission have now proposed an amendment to this year’s Irish Sea herring quota that will result in an in- year increase of 10 per cent. Although this will be reduced slightly for 2013 the effect is an overall increase this year and next year.”

Commenting on the adoption of highly selective fishing gear by the prawn fleet, the Minister added: “I appreciate that the adoption of this gear is a major change for the fishing fleet but we will be working with them to help them to make this transition as easy as possible. By adopting this gear we will be making a firm statement about the commitment of our fishermen to solving the problem of discards.”

Some County Down skippers are facing a drop in their overall prawn catch at the moment due to the uptake in the new net designed to allow cod to escape through a box in the net. However, they say quantities of prawns are too escaping and they are are finding this frustrating as the prawn landings are therefore lighter.  A Swedish Grid type net was not adopted after EU pressure and a compromise was developed regionally to overcome this problem of the EU enforcing its technical measures on the fishing industry.

Most of the older trawlers in Co Down could not operate with the Swedish Box system as their vessels are too old and small and would require huge structural changes. Some fishermen also said this could have had health and safety implications. Another system has been devised and panels are sewn into their nets to allow for the escape of cod which is a prime species that the EU wishes to preserve and encourage stock growth in.