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Fishing Chief Says Future is Bleak as DARD Abandons Fishermen
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ALAN McCulla, Chief Executive of the Kilkeel-based Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation has expressed his anger and frustration with DARD who says have “abandoned” Northern Ireland’s fishermen.

Since last September the County Down prawn fishing industry has struggled against falling demand, an unstable Euro, bad weather  and the introduction of new technical measures  to trawl nets. Many boat owners and fishermen are now on a knife edge.

Mr McCulla said: “No one can deny the impact that severe winter weather has had upon parts of the agriculture sector. Yet it seems that DARD are burying their heads in the sand with respect to the impact upon our fishermen that the winter of 2012/2013 has had. This is an issue that is further complicated by the sacrifices fishermen have made to comply with DARD and EU fishery rules.

Trawlers tied up in Kilkeel waiting for better times.

Trawlers tied up in Kilkeel waiting for better times.

“We have been writing to DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill since February to highlight the dramatic slump in fishermen’s earnings, mainly brought about by a series of unusual and persistent winter gales. DARD are well aware that in the six months to the end of March 2013 earnings by the local prawn fleet dropped by 50% compared to the same period last year. This situation has not improved over the spring.

“In a recent letter from the DARD Minister, it said that there was no business case to repeat the hardship payments made to fishermen four years ago. Yet within days of recent snowfalls £5 million was found to provide much needed help to local farmers and then another £1 million is announced to address the problems associated with a shortage of fodder.”

Mr McCulla said that fishermen draw parallels between DARD’s policy towards farmers and the “lack of help for fishermen”. He added they conclude there is a lack of political will to help them. “In addition to persistent high winds, Northern Ireland’s fishermen have adopted a series of highly selective fishing gears, which DARD has acknowledged to have contributed to reduced catches and hence reduced earnings. This has been complicated by DARD’s management of days-at-sea restrictions, particularly to the West of Scotland and reduced quayside prices.

Alan McCulla, ANIFPO Chief Executive, said he was disappointed that DARD has not supported NI fishermen as much as farmers.

Alan McCulla, ANIFPO Chief Executive, said he was disappointed that DARD has not supported NI fishermen as much as farmers.

“In fact DARD’s management had previously hinted that a financial package would be made available that recognised the sacrifices made by fishermen to help meet commitments made by Minister O’Neill to the European Commission. Regretfully these ideas seem to have evaporated.

“We have made specific proposals to Minister O’Neill, which include provision for the payment of Light Dues, something that the Government in the Republic of Ireland pay for their fishermen. Yet spokesmen for DARD won’t even agree to this, suggesting that it would cost more to legislate for this change than the money it would save fishermen.

“Suggestions that DARD may use existing European funding to provide grant aid to train fishermen and buy new nets will only be of use if they are part of a larger package. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland’s fishing industry does have a future, evidenced by increased quotas for prawns in 2013. However, when you cannot get to sea to catch the prawns and when you do you have to use nets that reduce your catches, which then attract reduced prices onshore, it is very hard for many fishermen to see any kind of future.

“Last week Minister O’Neill hailed the virtues of a re-negotiated Common Fisheries Policy and announced that DARD’s Fisheries Division may be moving closer to the ports, but for fishermen all of this is meaningless against the problems they are currently struggling with.”