Ardglass fishing port is a busy hub on the east Down coast located between Portavogie and Kilkeel. But in recent years there have been a number of calls from within the local fishing sector locally to have the harbour and its facilities upgraded for the 21st century.
Comgall Milligan, a well-known fish processor in the village, explained that a new group has been formed to press ahead and try and make some vital changes to the local infrastructure to ensure that jobs are secured for decades to come. Ardglass Harbour Developments is a registered private company limited by guarantee and will be charitable in its aims.
Mr Milligan said: “Our main and most important issue is that we need the harbour deepened in places. The larger herring/mackerel boats are now finding it difficult to come in to our port and have to go to Belfast to unload their catch into tanker lorries. This is a huge extra cost and creates a carbon footprint and in the long-term is not very sustainable.
“Therefore, our group after lengthy discussions with local stakeholders is now speaking to a number of agencies to see what we can do to secure the future for our harbour. We would be happy to accommodate all but the very large pelagic vessels which just would be too big even for a deepened harbour.
“The solution is to encourage government to buy into this idea. Already they have invested in fish factories and fishing boats but need to go now one step more before our local industry becomes unsustainable. We will be working closely with the Northern Ireland Fisheries and Harbour Authority and other agencies on these proposals.
“Our directors are all locally well-known persons and included along with myself are Dick James, Jim Masson (company secretary), Councillor Dermot Curran, Philip Milligan, Basil Wills, Simon Wills, David Zych, and Marianne Masson (treasurer)“.
The Ardglass Harbour Development group plans to improve the berthing arrangements in the harbour for the big pelagic vessels and, in doing so, will also create new berthing space for the existing 35 trawlers in the growing fleet. These vessels will move hopefully into the inner basin of the Saw Pit which will be deepened. The trawlers will then not be stuck in a tidal area and will be able to go to sea 24/7.
“It is also essential that Ardglass builds a vessel repair facility as there is a long waiting list to get on to the repair slips in Kilkeel and in Portavogie. It will also say the crews and skippers much sea time and travel time if we had such a facility and it would keep our fleet safer, in better condition and improve the state of the catch.
“Our third project area is converting property on the harbour into a harbour hub to provide essential office/training/community/storage and work space. The ancillary service sector needs to grow in Ardglass and small units need to be made available for this for the likes of engineers, marine electricians, painters etc. The Ardglass vessels lose quite a lot of time whilst waiting on other repair slips and it is time now to have our own facility and for our own local economy to flourish. We have seen a decline in pubs and shops in recent years and we need to get our multiplier effect working at local level properly.
“As this work in progress develops, we will be consulting with the people in the fishing community and the fishing sector seeking their views and ideas. It will be a long road to journey on but we are determined to make a difference and to secure our opportunities socially, economically and also environmentally for the future for our fishing community.
”We would like too to see the former Tri-Council Fisheries Working Group mechanism resurrected. It was quite a useful body in representing the businesses of the three fishing ports along the Down coast. It would now probably have to be a Tri-Fishing Port Working Group given that councils have merged with the reorganisation of local government. This group previously was a platform for Ministers and others to quickly interface with the fishing industry on vital issues.”