Fisheries Minister, Michelle O’Neill MLA has hailed the 6% increase to the prawn catch limit as a great result for the local fishing fleet.
Speaking after the annual Brussels Fisheries Council in the early hours of Thursday morning, Minister O’Neill said: “We achieved our main negotiating objectives in the tough negotiations that took place over two days. The first breakthrough came on Tuesday when Ministers agreed to a Regulation to amend the Cod recovery plan. These amendments ensured that the Council were able to stop automatic cuts to the number of days the fleet can fish and instead maintained ‘days at sea’ at the same level as last year.
“My top priority for these talks was getting a good deal on the catch limit for Nephrops (prawns). Despite improvements in the scientific advice since last year which showed a greater abundance of prawns in Area 7 the Commission had initially proposed a 12% cut. I and my counterpart from the south of Ireland, Simon Coveney TD pressed the Commission for an increase. Our arguments were rational and firmly grounded on scientific evidence. As is the nature of these negotiations the Commission made several small concessions but we held fast and the final agreement was for a 6% increase.”
The local industry takes around 6000t of Nephrops from the northern part of the Irish Sea annually worth around £15m. The science demonstrates that this stock is stable and is being fished sustainably.
The Minister continued: “The 6% increase in the allowable catch adds some £900,000 to the sector which is already worth £15m and means a sustainable supply to our local fish processing businesses which have sales in excess of £70m and employ over 550 workers.
“The condition of other fish stocks in the Irish Sea is not so good and this was reflected in the catch limits set. Haddock fell by 62 tonnes, Cod by 95 tonnes, Whiting by 5 tonnes and Plaice remained unchanged. Although disappointing, these species are mainly caught as a by-catch of the Nephrops fishery on which 95% of our fleet depend.
“Yet again this has been a long and difficult negotiation, it is an unsatisfactory process but I’m more than satisfied with the outcome this year.”