Saturday 20 April 2019 07:45:49 AM

The Up And Downs Of The Fishing Industry In Co Down
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THE fishing industry in Northern Ireland has met a number of difficult issues in recent years and calls to DARD to introduce a decommissioning scheme have not as yet happened.

The previous Fisheries Minister looked into the implications of this and instigated an inquiry into the business case for decommissioning of fishing vessels. However, Down News understands that the processing sector has lobbied the Department not to introduce a decommissioning scheme as they feel it may have a negative impact on supply particularly of nephrops (prawns) and could damage this sector.

In a statement from DARD, a spokesperson said, “The Department is continuing to develop the business case regarding the possible opening of a decommissioning scheme for the local fishing fleet. Given the complexities associated with decommissioning, such as the impact it may have on the processing sector, it is taking longer than originally anticipated to deliver a robust and comprehensive business case that will secure the necessary support and approvals.  However, the Department is confident that an announcement on decommissioning will be made in the Autumn”.

The Northern Ireland fishing fleet although enjoying a boost with strong demand for prawns still faces an uphill task to secure its long term sustainability.

Many of the fishing vessels in the Northern Ireland fishing fleet are past their sell-by date and particularly the vessels with wooden hulls have considerable maintenance and safety issues. For example, on wooden boats gribble worms attack the woodwork and through time can weaken a hull make a boat unsafe. And steel boats too can experience electrolysis which causes an erosion of  the plates of the hull weakening the structure once again. Some trawlers in Ardglass harbour alone are around 30 years old or more and are probably the oldest fleet of boats in any port in the North or South of Ireland.

NIFPO Chief Executive Dick James said, “I think there is simply not enough quota for our fish and prawns. This is determined  by the EU. We need to loosen up some quota by decommissioning some of the fishing vessels. Currently the market for prawns is very good and the fishermen are getting excellent prices.

At the moment we are seeing total cod discards as the cod quota is up and this means that all cod have to be dumped back into the sea when caught. The scientists inform Brussels about the level of fish stocks and we have to abide by these decisions. This is a weakness of the present Common Fisheries Policy.”

Filipino Fishermen Continue To Work On Local Boats

Mr James also explained that  he thought the numbers of Filipino fishermen affected by a change in migrant worker rules was in the region of less than 30 acros the Co Down ports. He said the Filipinos were allowed to fish as non-Europeans in our seas under one entry system if the y were on a registered foreign going vessel 12 miles out off the coast. Another way was for them to apply for a visa and just enter the country and work. But under the first option, many Filipinos go back home at the end of their visa time, but have the option to return if they wish to. A derogation has been written into the legisation allowing them to enter the country under the first method.

Jim Shannon MP for Strangford has welcomed the decision made by immigration Minister Damian Green to extend the visas for the Filipino fishermen in Scotland and Northern Ireland for another year.

He added, “This is an issue which I have been fighting for along with fellow MP’s Angus MacNeil and Alan Reed for some time now. The situation was that the visas were not being renewed for those who were not of European citizenship unless they qualified for Tier III status. The argument made by the Northern Ireland fishermen was that the Filipinos were qualified to that standard.

“It was clear that the Minister needed to be aware that without the Filipino fishermen many of our crews could not put out on the sea, and after a meeting with the Minister, several letters and an eventual meeting with the members of the Scottish Parliament, the Minister has allowed a years extension to allow the correct weight to be leant to the determination of the level of qualification of these fishermen.

“I have been contacted by many fishermen and I know that this news may literally be the difference between the survival of the fleet in Northern Ireland or not and this is fantastic news and is certainly proof positive that continuing to work until the 11th hour can bring dividends and that three Northern Ireland MPs from different areas and parties can make a major difference when working together for the good of the industry.”