Strangford MP Jim Shannon MP has met with Fisheries Minister Brandon Lewis at Westminster along with the cross-party MP’s Delegation of Alistair Carmichael, Angus MacNeil and David Duguid.
Mr Shannon said: “This is a meeting that I had asked for to discuss the issue of fishing and special reference to Filipino Fisherman. I asked other MP’s with fishing interests to attend with me to present the case for all of our industries and the Minister was ready and waiting to hear the information.
“Representing a working fishing village in Northern Ireland, it was important for me to raise the issue with the Minister directly and I was pleased at the receptive nature of the meeting.
“I highlighted that the Immigration Rules currently permit non-EEA crew to be engaged on fishing vessels, but only if the vessel operates outside UK territorial waters. This renders some areas of sea no-go areas. There is a preference for Filipino crew, who are well trained, and highly regulated by the ‘Philippines Overseas Employment Agency’.
“The fishing industry recently prepared a submission to the Migration Advisory Committee which considered the position of non-EEA crew across the fleet.
“As regards Northern Ireland specifically the report provided the following figures from Seafish:
• 53% of all jobs in respect of Northern Irish vessels are filled by non-UK citizens
• £4.9m of revenue attributed to non-EEA crew in 2016 (reflecting 29% of the total) serving on prawn trawlers operating in the Irish Sea.
“The industry conducted its own research which showed a clear preference for non-EEA crew. It was estimated that 30% of crew members on Irish sea trawlers and seiners are from outside the EU.
“Non-EEA crew were considered more reliable, better trained and more professional. The industry in Northern Ireland has recently collaborated on a recruitment drive to attract UK crew.
“Over a six week period during September/October 2017, the Department of Communities in Northern Ireland ran a recruitment drive for 150 crew for local fishing vessels. This campaign spanned Northern Ireland and the EU.
“There were 30 expressions of interest in the positions from across Europe. Some 19 candidates (including 7 from the EU) were invited to interview. Of this 6 attended for interview. Subject to their successful completion of sea survival training 5 of the candidates will be offered positions on Northern Ireland fishing vessels.
“This process has clearly exposed the the continuing need for the recruitment of crew from outside of Northern Ireland. Again, the campaign was managed for the industry by a Government Department in Northern Ireland.
“It should be noted that problems surrounding the recruitment of crew to Northern Ireland fishing vessels has directly led to the sale of 9 trawlers from the fleet during 2017. It is expected more will follow. The Home Office has already introduced a concession for non-EEA crew on vessels servicing wind farms within territorial waters.”
Mr Shannon added: “I made several proposals which the Minister has said he would give consideration to, some of which would permit the fleet to rely on qualified crew regardless of nationality or where the vessel operates and to utilise a better regulatory mechanism than simply the extent to which a vessel operates inside territorial waters.
“I look forward to seeing how the minister reacts to the information and what the Department can do to ensure that our fishermen can fish with a crew that is qualified and able to do the tough job of fishing our seas.”