Brexit ‘will be good’ for fishermen

Brexit ‘will be good’ for fishermen

6 February 2019

WITH 92% of fishermen having voted to leave the European Union, there is a feeling of optimism in Ardgass ahead of Brexit. 

Trawler men see themselves as having been adversely affected by the UK’s membership of the EU.

They talk of shrinking quotas, of back room deals and most of all, of UK fisheries ministers being too soft with their continental competitors.

Harry Wick, chief executive of Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation (NIFPO), says the UK fleet may have shrunk as controls on overfishing and competition have bitten, but nevertheless he believes optimism prevails in East Down harbours ahead of Brexit. 

He says around 60 fishing vessels are currently operating out of Ardglass and Portavogie — most of them in Ardglass — and predicts that the industry is on the cusp of a boom with Brexit. 

“Brexit is good news for us as there will be an increase to what we are allowed to catch and the UK will have control of its own waters,” he remarked.

“All the fishing rights over our waters already allocated to Spain, France and the Republic would go.  At the moment the UK owns 70% of our waters, but we are only allowed to fish 30%. So long as we’re out of the Common Fisheries Policy our fishermen will be eagerly awaiting Brexit.

“That’s not to say we don’t have our own issues though. The Immigration Bill (2016) sees non-nationals effectively being prevented from working in the industry and that poses a bigger threat to us.

“Our problem is access to labour. We just can’t get the crew. Teresa May just wants to say she’s out, and thats it. She seems to want a much softer Brexit.” 

Explaining the importance of prawns, scampi and langoustines to the Ardglass fleet, Mr Wick continued: “What we protest against most strongly is the unfair allocation of fishing quotas each year from Brussels.” 

“What trawler men are saying time and time again, there is an abundance of fish in our waters. The science used by Brussels is incomplete and underfunded.

“In real terms, since the 1970s our men’s wages have fallen by up to 90% and that’s across the board. Over the last ten years, Ardglass harbour is only attracting a fraction of investment of what the other two ports in Northern Ireland attract.

“While the number of vessels in Ardglass are up and pot-fishing for lobster and crab is up for seven years in a row, we are still face under funding. We have a wealth of potential to tap into post-Brexit. What it would do for the entire village of Ardglass would be unquestionable. It will benefit everyone.” 

Speaking of a shortage of crew facing the industry, Ardglass skipper Simon Wills said: “The British government don’t appear to care very much about our industry to be fair. They have stopped non-skilled foreign workers coming in and our industry is depended on skilled labourers like the Filipinos who understand and have knowledge of the trade.

“Now, they have been classed as non-skilled workers, which is astounding. Frying chips is classed as skilled labour while fishing crews aren’t classed as skilled. That’s a disgrace.

“Many fishermen are working across the border because the pound is weak against the euro. The fishermen we have at home are old and aren’t fit for the demands put on them at sea. So what are we to do?”

Portavogie skipper Mark Palmer believes Brexit may bring with it a degree of hope in what could be the demise of the fleet if things are allowed to continue. 

He said: “It wasn’t that long ago there were over 100 vessels operating out of Portavogie Harbour. Today there are around 13 to 14. 

“We have the Border Agency coming in every other week on their little speed boats checking for illegal immigrants who might be working on the vessels. And every time we go  out to sea we are tagged and monitored as though we were paedophiles. We are being treated as second class citizens.’ 

He added: “On top of that we have  one third of our waters closed to us and we have lost one third of our prawn quota. We face rising fuel costs too. It’s a real mess at the minute with the lack of crew.”