Northern Irish fishermen have spoken of their fears they are set to lose out post-Brexit under a “discriminatory” UK system.
Fleets from the region currently have a quota of 8.4% in terms of how much they can catch.
Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, says that to potentially lose out to “placate” fleets in England, Scotland and Wales is “sickening”.
Giving evidence to the Stormont Agriculture Committee, Mr McCulla said it appears that one discriminatory system is to be replaced by another.
“That’s the level we have got to, having replaced one EU system of discrimination to Northern Ireland fishermen, that we’re now going to replace it with a GB system that applies more discrimination,” he told MLAs.
The UK Government will decide fishing quotas across the country in the coming weeks following quota gains from the EU.
“Today Northern Ireland’s fishermen hold about 8.4% of all UK fishing opportunities,” he said.
He said about 20% of Northern Ireland’s quota are fish and shellfish stocks in the Irish Sea, with 80% in the west of Scotland, the North Sea and in the south west approaches.
“We suspect Defra’s aim is to allocate only a proportion of the UK’s gains in the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland’s fishermen,” he said.
“When Northern Ireland’s existing share is applied to the additional quota gained by the UK from the EU, it should mean that Northern Ireland gains new fishing opportunities in all sea areas worth £19.1 million per annum from 2026.
“Prawn is the most important local catch here in Northern Ireland (50%), 30% is pelagic species such as mackerel and herring, 20% are diverse white fish species.
Mr McCulla said Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has been supportive of them, raising the matter in discussions with London.
He described the Northern Ireland Protocol as a “moving goalpost”, with changes such as the announcement on Monday by Ireland of additional ports that Northern Irish fisherman could land in from next month.
“Having made one step forward yesterday, we almost feel today we have taken two steps back,” he said, describing some of the regulations in the protocol as “daft”.
“Going forward, there is a lot of work still to be done. The fishing industry will benefit, we will recover but there is so much that needs to be finetuned yet.”
“Expectations were raised so high by the Prime Minister and all those below him, and clearly when it came to November 24, they couldn’t meet those expectations,” he said.
“What we’re asking for is that Northern Ireland gets its fair share of the additional quota. That means by 2026, we will get an additional £19.1 million per year.
“That’s big to coastal communities in Northern Ireland, in terms of UK fisheries, it is small.”
The committee agreed to write urgently a letter of support for the Northern Ireland fishermen.