Fishermen Get Reprieve With 2% Cut In Prawn Quota At Brussels Summit

The December Fisheries Council took place in Brussels from 14-15 December 2015 and the Council agreed the fishing opportunities available for the EU fishing fleets for 2016. Fishermen in County Down will be looking forward to another sustainable year fishing mainly for prawns but the haddock fishery has opened up to a small extent reflecting the positive scientific evidence on this growing fish stock.

O’Neill Nets Over £15.5m In Fishing Opportunities For The North

Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill has secured an additional £1.2m of fishing opportunities for local fishermen in 2016 following two days of complex negotiations at the December Fisheries Council in Brussels.

[caption id="attachment_33555" align="alignleft" width="360"]The Northern Ireland fishing industry breathed a sigh of relief after the Brussels' fisheries summit. The Northern Ireland fishing industry breathed a sigh of relief after the Brussels’ fisheries summit.[/caption]

The Council had proposed a 17% cut for Area VII prawns and a 59% reduction in Area VIIa haddock, which Minister O’Neill vigorously challenged during the negotiations.

She said: “The Council was more complicated than usual due to the impact of the fish landing obligation and this made for a very difficult negotiation.

“Some 480 tonnes of additional prawn quota will be available for local fishermen in 2016, worth just over £1million. This brings the value of the quota up to £14.2m. We had faced an initial proposal for an overall 17% cut in the quota for Area VII prawns but I pressed hard for a sustainable quota that reflected the scientific advice, and fishing patterns and a realistic uplift to account for the landing obligation.

“We were able to keep the reduction to 2% in line with scientific advice and gain an appropriate uplift of 10.2% to account for additional prawn landings under the landing obligation. Together with the flexibilities in the discard plan which allows undersize prawns to be returned to the sea our fishermen should enjoy similar fishing opportunities to last year.

“In 2016, our fishing fleet will have access to around 160 tonnes of extra Irish Sea haddock worth in the region of £170,000 which brings the value of the quota up to over £570,000. This represents an increase of 40% on last year and was a great result given that the Commission had initially proposed a huge cut of 59%. However we presented a persuasive body of scientific evidence that the stock is in good health and increasing rapidly. We needed a significant quota increase as well a reasonable amount of additional quota for whitefish fishermen to enable them to meet their obligations to land all haddock next year.”

The Minister added: “I was delighted that the negotiations resulted in an increase which helps us move towards a more balanced fishing economy in the Irish Sea that is less dependent on prawn fishing.

[caption id="attachment_34982" align="alignright" width="200"]Northern Ireland DARD  MInister Michelle O'Neill MLA. Northern Ireland Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA.[/caption]

“Taking the Council result as a whole, when we look across the range of our most important stocks in the Irish Sea there was a gain in the value of the Irish Sea quotas held by our fishing industry of some £1.2m. When you add the value of the all the other Irish Sea stocks this brings the full value to just over £15.5m.”

Minister O’Neill concluded by clarifying the landing obligation. She said: “All prawns over minimum conservation reference size will have to be landed from 1 January 2016. The additional quota secured should cover this.

“For prawns under the minimum conservation reference size an exemption was negotiated in the discard plan that will allow these to continue to be returned to the sea. The landing obligation does not apply at all to prawns caught in pots as these have a high survival rate when returned to the sea. For vessels targeting whitefish in the Irish Sea all haddock will have to be landed after 1st January.


NIFPO Chief Welcomes Haddock Increase But Is Concerned About Other Quotas

Just back from his visit to the Brussell’s fisheries summit, Dick James, NIFPO Chief Executive, said: “The prawn quota was only cut by 2% which is workable but this figure reflects the 10% allowance for next year for landing the discards that would normally go back into the sea. Market size prawns will now all have to be landed. This will cause problems for the fishermen in terms of handling and extra work and storage. Basically the discard policy as it stands is unacceptable in its targets and policy and will need to be looked at very closely in the coming months.

“With the haddock quota increasing by 40% for Area VII in the Irish Sea, it will certainly mean increased landing for this species. This will probably see the bigger Kilkeel trawlers picking up here.

“The cod quota for the Irish Sea has been cut too as usual by 20%. The sea is full of cod as fishermen can testify to but it looks as though the scientific measurement of this species isn’t accurate. There are quite mobile, but cod in the North Sea live and feed mostly on the bottom while the Irish Sea cod feed more on the surface.

“The Irish Sea herring quota has been cut by 6%. The scientists are saying there are less herring based on a calculation in a bad year and we have a situation where we are looking at regular cuts each year. This is basically an accident of science and does not reflect in my opinion the real strength of the stocks.

“Also, The Irish Sea sole quota has been cut by 50% to a Total Allowable Catch of 40 tonnes. The Brussel’s Commission are saying there should not be a direct fishery for sole. Brixton and Belgian fishermen target this species but local Irish Sea fishermen don’t. The sole are usually just part of the bigger prawn catch.”

Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard has welcomed the announcement that fish quotas are to be increased by £1.2million.

Mr Hazzard said: “This increase, which will allow boats to land an extra 480 tonnes of prawns and 160 tonnes of haddock will help protect the industry which has been under threat for several years.

““I would like to congratulate the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill for negotiating a good deal for the fishing fleet in the North given that there was predictions of a reductions in the quotas from the European Commission.

“I am also delighted that the Minister has negotiated an exemption to the landing obligations which means that prawns that are too small for eating can be returned to the sea. Not only will this protect the stock but will save fishermen bringing ashore produce that is basically worthless.

“The fishing industry is worth up to £15m to the local economy so it’s important that industry is supported and successive Sinn Féin Ministers have demonstrated over recent years they are prepared to fight for the needs of the local fleet.”

[caption id="attachment_45621" align="aligncenter" width="560"]The prawn quota has been cut by only xxx fro 2016 for the County Down fishermen. The prawn quota has been cut by only 2% for 2016 for the County Down fishermen.[/caption]

South Down Independent Unionist MLA John McCallister has also welcomed the Brussells fisheries’ decisions and spoke after fears that there would be drastic cuts to how much fish Northern Ireland’s fishing fleets could catch following the recent talks in Brussels. He said: “We will in fact benefit from an increased fish quota worth an extra £1.2m to Northern Ireland as a whole.

“this is excellent news for Northern Ireland in general but in particular for my own constituency in South Down which has a rich fishing heritage which has unfortunately been experiencing severe hardship as a result of Brussels’ diktats.

“The increased quota will reap rewards for the local fishing industry which in turn can only help benefit the local economy. South Down is famous for its fish products and as we enter Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink it is an opportunity to showcase the exceptional quality of fish that we have to offer”.