Loss of access to Irish 6-12 zone ignored
Northern Ireland says that Westminster has ‘plundered’ its fishing industry in the share-out of extra post-Brexit quota among the four UK administrations announced last week – as it feared would happen, reports Tim Oliver.
Industry leaders say that Northern Ireland’s share of the extra quota does not reflect its fishing activities throughout UK waters, and that Westminster has skewed the allocation ‘in a cynical attempt to woo favour with voters in Scotland and elsewhere in Great Britain’.
For the past five months, they have been asking London to apportion the new quota across the UK on the basis of pre-existing quota-sharing arrangements.
Northern Ireland’s share of pre-Brexit UK quotas is 9%, and the local industry had asked for 9% of the new quota, worth almost £20m per annum, but the allocations have reduced that share by almost one-third.
Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Anglo-North Irish FPO (ANIFPO) said that fishing opportunities in the Irish Sea comprise 20% by volume of Northern Ireland’s catching opportunities, with 80% in other areas stretching from the North Sea to the South West Approaches.
“DEFRA has given us a fair share of our 20% in the Irish Sea, but have mugged us of new opportunities in other areas,” he said.
“The UK’s 2020 Fisheries Act legislates for ‘equal access to UK waters for all UK fishermen’, but clearly London regards some fishermen as more equal than others, depending on which part of the UK you live in.
“In the North Sea, Northern Ireland fishermen have been practically stripped of any Brexit dividend, whilst in the Celtic Sea some of the dividends have been slashed by over 75%.”
He said the distribution had been rigged to favour some areas more than others, despite the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto promising a full Brexit dividend for Northern Ireland. “Actions clearly speak louder than words, and the government has failed to deliver on that commitment for our fishermen.
“The government has listened to the concerns of fishermen in other parts of the UK, but they have ignored not only Northern Ireland’s fishing industry’s concerns, but those of Northern Ireland’s politicians, who did lobby on our behalf.
“The result is a loss of millions of pounds each year for the foreseeable future, not only for the fishing industry, but for Northern Ireland’s economy.”
Irish Sea issues
Alan McCulla told Fishing News the ‘disappointing’ share-out had come despite the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation – ANIFPO and the Northern Ireland FPO – ‘bombarding’ London with weekly letters arguing its case since the New Year.
He said that colleagues in the rest of UK claim that Northern Ireland is ‘lucky’, pointing out that the Northern Ireland Protocol gives the NI industry free movement of seafood with the EU, while the rest of the UK struggles with exports.
But at the same time, Northern Ireland fishermen are not allowed to enter a significant part of fishing grounds in the Irish Sea where they formerly fished, inside the Irish 12-mile limit.
“Before we start using the NI Protocol to sell seafood, we’ve got to catch the bloody stuff first,” he said.
“If the fleet can’t operate at full capacity in the Irish Sea, that’s all the more reason to get a small share in waters beyond the Irish Sea.
“We’ve fallen well short of the full Brexit dividend the Conservative manifesto promised – they’ve taken quota from us and distributed it across the UK, mainly to Scotland.
“Kilkeel is right on the border, and the Kilkeel fleet spends a lot of time fishing in Irish waters.
“We’ve told London: ‘Don’t forget about the fishing industry down here’. Access to Irish waters is important to us, as is access to UK waters to them.”
He said the access given to EU vessels to the UK six to 12-mile limit – caused by French president Emmanuel Macron refusing to sign the Brexit TCA unless it was granted – ‘caused uproar in England, understandably so’.
But Northern Ireland and Ireland wanted mutual access to each other’s six to 12-mile limits, ‘but when the details came out, we’d been forgotten’.
Yet the TCA gives special terms for the Isle of Man, he said – the EU and Isle of Man have mutual access to each other’s 12-mile limit.
“There are a number of issues around the Irish coast between six and 12 that haven’t been resolved yet, but at the same time it’s annoying that officials recognise the priority in the North Sea for the Scottish fleet to get access to Norwegian waters,” said the ANIFPO chief.
“I wish there was the same priority trying to get access for our fleet to Irish waters, but as a Conservative MP said to me the other day, it’s numbers at the end of the day – there are 650 MPs in the UK and only 18 from Northern Ireland, and that just sums the whole game up – that Northern Ireland doesn’t matter.”
He said that while the decision has been made for this year, ‘George Eustice has been pretty clear that the decision is only for one year and that the battle will go on now, and then we’ll see what happens in 2022’.
He added: “It would be an irony if they give the fish to Scotland and then in a year or two they have an independence referendum and take the whole lot back into the EU!”