‘Take back control of our waters’

Paul Coffeys boat - Asteria - returning to its home port of Portavogie, Co Down
Paul Coffeys boat - Asteria - returning to its home port of Portavogie, Co Down
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Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof may have put the spotlight firmly on the issue of fishing and the upcoming EU Referendum with their antics on the Thames earlier this week but for one local fisherman the matter has never been far from the forefront of his mind.

As Mr Farage led a flotilla of fishing boats up the Thames to urge Parliament to take back control of British waters, Co Down trawlerman Paul Coffey was sharing his feelings on the matter with Farming Life.

Working out of Portavogie for 25 years, Mr Coffey has seen many EU rules and regulations introduced, the majority of which he feels hampers his ability to do his job.

“Fishing is similar in many ways to farming - it’s a way of life for the families involved,” explained Mr Coffey.

“My family has been involved in fishing from Portavogie for 400 years. The boats and equipment has changed dramatically over the years but the business has been handed down from father to son.”

Mr Coffey is clear on his feelings regarding the EU Referendum where fishing is concerned.

“We want out!” he said. “I’m sure 95 per cent of UK fishermen want out of Europe and to take back control of our waters.

“All the areas - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have fisheries departments that know exactly what is required. They could easily work together to help the men working in the industry.”

The impact of the EU on fishing has always been of major concern, with rapidly reduced quotas often taking the headlines.

For Mr Coffey he has seen first hand the impact of the direction from Brussels on a daily basis. In fact, you could say his working life is virtually controlled by the EU which states how many hours and days he can spend at sea and what he can or can’t catch.

He continued: “The EU has set rules and regulations and the fishermen have obeyed them. The result of this has been the UK fishing industry virtually being wiped out.

“In the 1960s and 1970s we probably had the best fishing fleet in Europe - the best boats and facilities - now its got to be among the worst.

“Look at County Down - when I started there were 100 boats at Portavogie, 120 at Kilkeel and maybe another 30 at Ardglass. Now, I think there might only be 100 in total.

“The EU makes the rules - they say how many days we fish each year and set the quotas of what we can catch. The quotas permit Spanish trawlers more fishing in British waters than they do the local trawlermen - that doesn’t make sense.”

He added: “They have decimated the fishing fleet, they’ve certainly not helped it.”