Northern Ireland trawler fleet 'will net immediate rewards following Brexit'
Northern Ireland's fishing industry is "guaranteed to benefit" following Brexit despite a leaked EU report showing plans for foreign boats to still be permitted to operate in UK waters.
Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Kilkeel-based SeaSource co-operative, said the report by members of the European Parliament showed that the EU "recognises that the other member states cannot do without (access to UK waters)".
Mr McCulla said some 92% of fishermen across the UK voted for Brexit.
There had been claims in the run-up to the EU referendum that a Leave vote would mean the UK "could win its waters back". But this report suggests that may not be the case, and that the EU will try and negotiate access to British fishing grounds.
According to The Guardian, MEPs drafted seven provisions to be included in the UK's exit agreement, including the stipulation that there will be "no increase to the UK's share of fishing opportunities for jointly fished stocks (maintaining the existing quota distribution in UK and EU waters)".
"When Brexit is secure there will be an immediate benefit to the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. That is guaranteed. It cannot get any worse under EU management," Mr McCulla claimed.
"That report says you have those in positions of influence in Brussels who have admitted that 'we could lose out big time if we don't gain access to UK waters'.
"The Irish Sea - 75% falls within UK waters, yet UK fishermen get access to about 40% of fishing opportunities.
"You have a group of people in the EU who are saying 'the Brits are quite right'. They are saying 'we depend on access to UK waters'... Europe depends on it.
"Europe has an unfair share of the waters and they don't want to surrender it. Like any negotiation, the UK can come in and negotiate."
Mr McCulla added: "We have surrendered away a huge resource for the UK fishing industry."
There are 1,600 employed directly by the fishing industry here, 850 of them in Co Down.