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Brexit: 'EU red tape and meddling stops us doing job' says Co Down trawlerman

With referendum looming, John Mulgrew visited the fishing village of Portavogie to ask trawlerman Paul Coffey why he thinks it's time to go it alone

Published 07/06/2016

Paul Coffey with reporter John Mulgrew
Paul Coffey with reporter John Mulgrew
Captain Paul Coffey at the harbour
The Asteria out at sea

Paul Coffey's family have been fishing the waters off Portavogie for 400 years, and he says his 90-hour week on the hunt for prawns is only being made more difficult by the European Union.

Walking towards Paul's boat the Asteria, where dozens of nets are sprawled, drying out and toasting in the sun, it's clear that fishing - something he's done for 25 years - isn't just a job.

The 44-year-old's day begins at 4am, and he doesn't see the welcoming lights of the village again until 8pm, some 16 hours later.

But he feels hampered by "EU meddling", which he says has made an already difficult and dangerous profession even harder.

"We want out of Europe to control our own seas, our own waters, and to make our own rules," he said.

His gripes include quotas, satellite monitoring, the number of days he can be at sea, and "red tape".

"Most of the differences are with quota and days at sea, and not being able to control our own waters and rules being made from Brussels," he said. "There are no young ones going to the fishing. I think it's to do with the hours, and there's not much money with the cost of fuel. The quota is the problem. You only worked a four-day week back then, where now you have to go out every day."

And days are key. Once the boat starts to move, and leaves the harbour, Paul has little choice but to stay out for 16 hours to ensure he makes the most of his EU-controlled time at sea. He's only allowed to fish for 200 days each year. He said: "We can catch our prawn quota - most of the quota is determined by Brussels in our own waters, and foreign vessels can come in and fish away. It costs about £1,000 a day (to run the boat). We've four staff on board, and they get a share of the catch."

Despite the downturn in the industry, it's an idyllic scene across the small Co Down port.

A fleet of boats, each with their own character and colour, sporting names such as Adventure and Green Brae, are bobbing on the water. But on this rare day of baking sunshine, there are only 40 of them. That number has fallen from 100 just a couple of decades ago.

Meandering around the tight twists and turns of Portavogie Harbour on the way out to the fishing waters of the Irish Sea, Paul says prices for his catch have remained stagnant over the years, while running costs and his workload have shot up. He also shows me another aspect of the EU's involvement in fishing on his boat.

It's a recording device, which monitors his location at sea, and is now a requirement.

Aside from the charming, wood-lined cabin, the Asteria is bulging with technology, such as radar and satellite. "I have to send a message on the log book - they can check where the boat is on satellite," he explained.

With Paul's catch landed, it's then processed, before the majority is exported to other parts of Europe.

He says he remembers days gone by "when there was no talk of quotas or days at sea".

Paul is also concerned that he could be the last generation of fishermen in Portavogie, and doesn't feel the EU has done enough to help.

Between 2007 and 2013 the EU contributed just £14m across the fishing industry as part of the European Fisheries Fund in Northern Ireland. "We are making a living. But it's a 90-hour week living. It's 4am until 8pm," he said. "I think we could manage ourselves better, and let fishermen do their jobs."

Belfast Telegraph

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