Top EU official visits area to discuss fisheries issues

Top EU official visits area to discuss fisheries issues

6 June 2018

THE future of the local fishing industry was one of many issues discussed during the recent visit by a highly influential EU delegation to the area.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the EU Committee of the Regions, led the delegation which visited to gain a clear understanding of the impact of Brexit locally.

The visit was facilitated by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) with delegation members briefed about the expected impact of Brexit on peace and reconciliation, business and cross-border co-operation. 

Ardglass councillor Dermot Curran, the current NILGA vice-president, said the visit provided an opportunity to show at first hand how life in the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area will be impacted by Brexit.

He said  the Committee of the Regions — which is an EU advisory body composed of locally and regionally elected representatives coming from all 28 EU member states — firmly supported the necessity of having no hard border and stressed the importance of finding a solution to ensure everyday life can continue as normal. 

During the visit, Cllr Curran raised concerns fishermen have about the future, in particular, confirmation that the UK will still be bound by European fishing quotas for two years after Britain leaves the EU.

Key figures behind the leave campaign had pledged UK fishermen, including those in Ardglass, would be free to take back control over their waters after Brexit by scrapping the contentious common fisheries policy which grants foreign fleets fishing rights in UK waters.

They had hoped EU restrictions on the amount of fish they can land and the number of days they can put to sea would end next March when the UK exits the EU. But it’s understood officials in Brussels will continue to determine these issues for two years after Brexit.

Cllr Curran said there was concern that the EU will continue to decide how much fish fishermen in Ardglass can catch during the two-year Brexit transition period which ends in 2021.

“Brexit will have an impact on the fishing industry and one of the most striking things I heard from some members of the EU delegation was that the concerns of fishermen in England, Scotland and Wales are being relayed to them, but no one is speaking up for the Co Down industry,” he continued.

“Fishermen are anxious to know what will happen post-Brexit, but there is still no answer to this key question which is particularly concerning. Members of the EU delegation said they understood my concern, explaining no definitive decisions have yet been taken on the way froward.”

He said it was critical the Assembly got back up and running to provide a voice at the negotiating table for the Co Down fishing fleet.

He continued: “Fishermen are rightly concerned about the view of EU diplomats that the UK should effectively remain governed by the EU’s common fisheries policy during the transition period and, significantly, should not have a role in deciding the catches elsewhere in Europe. 

“There is concern the controversial issue of fishing quotas, which are determined in Brussels every December, will continue to be dictated by Europe until 2021. While there have been recent increases in prawns quotas, which the trawlers in Ardglass specialise in, this has not always been the case.”

Cllr Curran said Brexit will not only impact on those who put to sea, but those who earn their livelihoods in fish processing factories. 

He added: “While the UK will regain control of its fishing waters in three years’ time, it is what happens between now and then which is a concern for many within the industry. It is also worrying that EU officials who visited the area recently are not in a position to spell out what the future holds as negotiations continue. The voice of local fishermen must be heard loud and clear at the negotiating table.”