Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has secured an increase to fishing quotas after two days of negotiations at the December Fisheries Council.
On her return from Brussels, the minister said she had worked hard to protect current quotas.
She explained: “We had faced an initial proposal for a 14% cut in the quota for Area VII prawns. However, together with our colleagues in the south, we pressed hard for a quota that reflected the scientific advice and fishing patterns.
“This year scientific advice for a sustainable catch was 3% higher than last year and landings from the fishery are consistently at or below the level needed to ensure sustainability.
“After hard negotiations, we were able to secure the 3% increase in the amount of prawns to fish for in 2015 providing an additional £450,000 of fishing opportunities.
“Fishing opportunities for Irish Sea haddock were maintained at the same level as last year against an initial Commission proposal for a 20% cut, but the quota for cod was reduced again this year by 20% in line with the Cod Recovery Plan.
“I was disappointed that the commission could not find a legal mechanism to accommodate our request to reserve some cod quota for scientific research. This is something we will need to have further discussions with the Commission about in the new-year to see how we can continue to maintain the research programme for this stock.”
Cuts to the number of days that the fleet can spend at sea were proposed again this year, but the commission agreed that no reductions were necessary.
The Minister added: “Taking the council result as a whole, when we look across the range of our most important stocks in the Irish Sea, the value of the quotas increased by £330,000. This was due to an increase in prawn quota, which is our most important Irish Sea fishery, set-off by some losses in other stocks.”
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has given a cautious welcome to elements of the fishery deal at the European Commission.
Ms Ritchie stated: “While this was by no means the optimal outcome, in certain areas it was better than might have been expected based on the original commission proposals.
“In particular the 3% quota increase for prawn (nephrop) was most welcome.
“While the fishing industry has always opposed the severe days at sea restrictions there is a cautious welcome for the freeze on these restrictions this year. This is common sense and allowed more important issues to be discussed.
“The positive news on prawn quota will go some way to help with the implementation of the challenging discard ban which is being phased in from January 2015 onwards.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson described the news as a positive outcome for the fisheries industry and wider economy.
Commenting Mr Nicholson said: “The December Fisheries Councils are crucially important for our fisheries industry as it is these annual negotiations which set the fishing opportunities for the year ahead.
“For the Northern Ireland fisheries industry the main priority is prawns and the 3% increase is therefore a positive result for fishermen, processors and the wider economy.
“Whilst the proposed cuts to prawns and haddock were resisted the final agreement does unfortunately include a 20% cut in the cod quota whilst no quota was made available to facilitate research into this stock – I will raise this issue with the Commission as robust scientific research is key for effective fisheries management,” he added.