Major quota cuts proposed for the North's fishermen have been averted although the number of days they can spend on the Irish Sea has been reduced, the British government announced today.
Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew hailed the result of intensive all-night talks with EU commissioners at the annual fisheries negotiations in Brussels as the “best possible outcome” for the local industry.
Allowable catch quotas for Irish Sea prawns, herring and plaice, which had been in line for reductions, will be maintained at their present levels in 2008.
An anticipated 25% cut of the cod quota has been reduced to 18%, while the number of haddock the Northern Ireland fleet can catch has increased by 5% when a 15% reduction was expected.
The number of days NI-based trawlers can be at sea, which was due to be cut by 25% across the fleet, has been reduced by 10% for the prawn fleet and 18% for the small white-fish fleet.
The minister said there still the possibility of getting the number of days increased.
Speaking at the end of the talks, Ms Gildernew said: “In partnership with the industry, we had agreed the key priorities for the fishing fleet in the North. We achieved what we wanted thanks to a well-planned approach to the negotiations. I believe this is the best possible outcome to a very difficult negotiation.
“Based on the scientific evidence available, we have secured an increase in haddock and maintained our prawn and herring quota. We have also limited the cuts that the Commission wanted to make to the number of days that our fleet can fish.
“A key issue for all fishing fleets is the number of days that they are allowed to fish. The Commission had proposed a 25% cut in the days for the Irish Sea fleet. Again, we convinced the Commission that its proposals were too harsh and brought the cuts down to just a 10% cut in days at sea for the prawn fleet and an 18% for our small white-fish fleet.
“Although the Irish Sea is a mixed fishery, our prawn vessels catch very little cod. Under the terms of the agreement with the Commission, vessels that catch less than 5% cod will experience no cuts in their days at sea under certain conditions. My officials will be having further discussions with the industry early in the new year about the details of this.
“This has been a long and protracted negotiation and throughout I fought hard to secure the best possible deal for the industry. I have achieved this in partnership with the industry representatives who have worked closely with me and my officials over the past months.
“I look forward to continuing this relationship so that we can maintain a viable fishing industry in the north.
“The results of the fisheries negotiation is tangible evidence of how having a local voice at the table makes a difference. Devolution has delivered for the fishing industry, their needs have been heard and met.”