O’Neill ‘nets’ over £15.5m in fishing opportunities for Northern Ireland

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An additional £1.2m of fishing opportunities has been secured for Northern Ireland’s fishermen in 2016 following two days of complex negotiations at the December Fisheries Council in Brussels.

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.

Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill 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.

She added: “Some 480t of additional prawn quota will be available for local fishermen in 2016, worth just over £1m. 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 160t 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 said she 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.

She added: “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.”

Meanwhile, DEFRA Committee member David Simpson MP has paid tribute to representatives of the UK Fishing industry following positive changes that will be made as a result of the EU Fisheries Council deal.

He added: “Huge sacrifices have been made by the fishing industry in recent months, and I am pleased to see the quota increase for prawn and haddock. This will be welcome news for an industry that has struggled to reap the rewards for the determination and delivery of world class quality stock.

“During my meeting with Minister Eustice last week, we presented strong arguments against proposed measures that would have severely damaged our prized fishing industry. I want to pay tribute to representatives of Northern Ireland fishing who have stood firm on their arguments and I trust that as a result of this deal, the Northern Ireland fishing industry will continue to progress.”