Strangford MP Jim Shannon speaking during the annual Fisheries Debate at Westminster has stood up for the fishermen throughout Northern Ireland.
He said after his peach: “Yesterday my colleague David Simpson and the former Minister for Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has a five-step plan. I do not have time to go into that in detail, but the federation mentions in its brief that: “A house divided amongst itself will fall.”
“This House today is united: all parties and Members are working together behind our Minister.
“While the devolution of fishing is necessary for the fine-tuning of everyday issues, there is also a wish among the industry for pragmatism and, where appropriate, maintaining a United Kingdom-wide policy framework, particularly on licensing and the trade of quota.
“It does not serve the Northern Ireland, Scottish, English or Welsh fishing industries well when barriers in the form of temporary moratoriums are erected around the transfer of quota units within the United Kingdom or restrictions are placed on the port of registration of licensing administration.
“A confusing picture is emanating from Ireland, typified by evidence provided by Irish fishing industry representatives to the Irish Parliament’s Brexit Committee during a hearing on 24 January 2017. During that session, contributors stated that up to 70% of mackerel and nephrops annually caught by Ireland’s fishing fleet was taken from UK waters.
“It seems it was all right for them and other EU fishermen to draw a blank fisheries cheque from UK waters, but not for others to draw such cheques from Irish waters. I put that marker down, to go on the record in Hansard.
“Northern Ireland fishermen are looking East to the rest of the UK for their future, not to the south, and certainly not to the EU. They expect that the wrongs imposed on them by the common fisheries policy, typified by the application of the Hague preference quota regime, will be righted. For our fishermen, removal of the Hague preference is a red line.
“It may be convenient for the Irish Government to blame the UK’s withdrawal from this convention as a reason for not progressing their Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, but the fact is that their minds were made up beforehand to erect a hard border against fishermen from Northern Ireland, as a tactic to secure future access arrangements for the Irish fleet to British waters, on which, as mentioned, they heavily depend.
“It is with regret that we conclude the time has come to withdraw from the Voisinage agreement, and we urge the Minister to act on this matter soon.
The Minister is well-versed on the issues surrounding the need for non-UK crew. The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland ran a recruitment drive for 150 crew for local fishing vessels. There were 30 expressions of interest in the positions from across the EU. Some 19 candidates were invited to interview, and only six attended for interview, with five of them being offered positions after sea survival training. So 145 places are left in Northern Ireland. The process we have is not working, and we need to do more on this.
“I ask the Minister also to remember the long-term cod management plan and ensure that the sea cod TAC is kept for us and increased across Northern Ireland.
“I also stress the importance of nephrops to my constituency of Strangford and the villages and fishermen of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel.
These are key stocks for Northern Ireland, as well as the Minister’s constituents in the south-west of England, yet it seems that, against a background of much better news from the Irish sea, the European Commission continues to find something to create discontent and upset.
“This kind of arm-twisting is unacceptable. There will be a better future for our fishermen, and the December 2017 Agriculture and Fisheries Council should offer a first step in that direction,” said Mr Shannon.