Northern Irish fishing leaders fear they are set to lose out post-Brexit under a “discriminatory” UK system. Fleets from the region currently have a quota of 8.4 percent in terms of how much they can catch under terms agreed as part of the Christmas Eve Brexit trade deal.
However, Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, claimed the UK government had ignored Northern Ireland.
Giving evidence to MLAs on Stormont’s Agriculture Committee, Mr McCulla said it appeared one discriminatory system is to be replaced by another.
He added: “That’s the level we have got to, having replaced one EU system of discrimination to Northern Ireland fishermen, that we’re now going to replace it with a GB system that applies more discrimination.”
The UK government will decide fishing quotas across the country in the coming weeks following quota gains from the EU.
However, Mr McCulla stressed the industry in Northern Ireland fears Westminster will “seek to redistribute some of what should be Northern Ireland’s share of the additional fishing quotas gained from the EU”.
The Fishing boss claimed to potentially lose out to “placate” fleets in England, Scotland and Wales was “sickening”.
He claimed approximately 20 percent of Northern Ireland’s quota were fish and shellfish stocks in the Irish Sea, with 80 percent in the west of Scotland, the North Sea and in the south-west approaches.
Mr McCulla continued: “We suspect Defra’s aim is to allocate only a proportion of the UK’s gains in the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland’s fishermen.
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“When Northern Ireland’s existing share is applied to the additional quota gained by the UK from the EU, it should mean that Northern Ireland gains new fishing opportunities in all sea areas worth £19.1 million per annum from 2026.
“Prawn is the most important local catch here in Northern Ireland (50 percent), 30 percent is pelagic species such as mackerel and herring, 20 percent are diverse white fish species.
“We believe Defra are manoeuvring to reallocate quota from Northern Ireland to England, Scotland and to a lesser extent Wales, to placate fishing interests there who are bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the fisheries element in the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”
Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has raised the issue with UK Fisheries Minister Victoria Prentis.
However, Mr McCulla claimed Ms Prentis could not give any guarantees about Northern Ireland’s fish allocation during the discussions.
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He said: “All that does is just continue to raise suspicions that somebody in London is trying to cook the books and steal quota off Northern Ireland fishermen.”
Mr McCulla concluded by saying Northern Ireland should get its fair share of the additional quotas, adding: “That’s big to coastal communities in Northern Ireland, in terms of UK fisheries, it is small.”
The committee agreed to write urgently a letter of support for the Northern Ireland fishermen.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The UK and the EU have agreed an historic Fisheries Framework Agreement that reflects the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state, and works to protect and promote the rights of fishermen across the UK.
“By regaining control of our waters, this deal puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and deliver increased fishing quotas through annual negotiations with the EU and other coastal states.
“In the first year, this will result in an immediate uplift of 15%, before annual negotiations.”