Growing Kilkeel harbour 'could boost exports and the economy post-Brexit'
The development of Kilkeel harbour could boost exports and the economy post-Brexit, a Northern Ireland fishery boss has claimed.
It comes just days after it was announced the UK would withdraw from the London fisheries convention, an agreement signed in 1964, before the UK joined the EU.
The convention allows vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK's coastline.
DUP MEP Diane Dodds told the BBC that the move was the first step towards the UK re-establishing itself as an independent coastal state.
But Dick James of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Association told the BBC that an alternative must be found.
The fishing industry had largely been in favour of the UK withdrawing from the EU. It's estimated that around 90% of fishermen voted for Brexit.
Alan McCulla, managing director of Sea Source - a company owned by fishermen which markets, processes and sells Northern Ireland fish - said the annual volume of the harbour's catch was behind only Fraserburg in northeast Scotland.
"While we already export much of our fish and langoustines to France and Italy, I believe that there's a substantial business opportunity to export a great deal more to these and other international markets.
"Going for Growth - Investing in Success, the strategic action plan from the Agri-Food Strategy Board, also pinpointed the opportunity and saw potential to increase external sales by 38% to £75m by 2020 and to create an additional 600 jobs.
"A step towards this would be an expansion of Kilkeel, our largest fishery harbour which is also significant at the UK level.
"Kilkeel really should be developed into our seafood hub by a greater investment in facilities.
"Expanding the harbour infrastructure would also help reduce our dependence, for instance, on langoustines. A very significant industry in processing langoustines has developed at Kilkeel and there is scope to expand this."
Fishermen say expanding the harbour would allow fishermen to land other species including herring and mackerel, most of which could be exported.
"At present, Kilkeel doesn't have the facilities for the trawlers for these fish, which are either landed in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.
"Several of the trawlers involved in this business have told us they would use Kilkeel if the essential harbour facilities were to be developed for them," Mr McCulla said.
"Another important growth opportunity is through the promotion of our superb seafood as a brand, and to use its regional provenance to drive a thriving export market - ramping up overseas value and volume.
"This is why we are now busily developing the Sea Source brand and identifying it with Kilkeel."
He said Northern Ireland seafood, including langoustines, had impressed food professionals he had met on a recent trip to Dubai.