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Fishing industry needs Government help, says SDLP

The Government has been urged to negotiate a better deal for hard-pressed Co Down fishermen.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie used a Westminster debate to highlight the pressures on local fleets, citing an effective 50% cut in cod catches and a squeezing of prawn fishing.

The Arctic weather disrupted flights and prevented her reaching the debate, but the SDLP leader used parliamentary procedures to have her speech brought to the attention of Government ahead of the discussion.

Ms Ritchie said Co Down fishing communities feared their work was being unfairly squeezed by international quotas, while Northern Ireland fleets were also caught between the competing demands from Britain and the Republic.

She added: "For 2011 the commission has proposed a 50% reduction in the Irish Sea cod TAC (Total Allowable Catch) and have indicated another 25% cut in days at sea.

"When the long-term cod recovery regulation was agreed in November 2008 it contained a commitment to review the plan after three years. This review needs to come next year."

Ms Ritchie said: "Another pressing issue is that of the Hague preference which discriminates against all UK fishermen in the Irish Sea, but particularly fishermen from the North because of their dependence on the Irish Sea.

"Under the Hague preference, UK quotas for cod, whiting and plaice in the Irish Sea are net losers as fish is deducted from quotas and given to the South of Ireland.

"It is important as part of quota swaps that whatever arrangement is utilised the UK can agree with Ireland as soon as possible, what quota will be returned to our fishermen."

She added: "For the purposes of economic recovery and the sustenance of our fishing in the County Down ports we must obtain realistic and meaningful quotas for fish species in the Irish Sea. I urge the Government to negotiate the best possible deal for our fishermen."

The MP backed an in-depth review of fisheries in the Irish Sea, but said it must include a review of the science and management measures.

"The Government must secure a commitment to such a review at the December council meeting in Brussels. The fishing industry in the County Down ports is dependent on this commitment," she said.

Ms Ritchie said the fishing Industry in Co Down employs approximately 1,200 people, substantially boosting the local economy.

The bulk of employment comes from the prawn/nephrops sector, with 90% of the fleet fishing for prawns.

Ms Ritchie pointed to a series of pressures on the industry and added: "The European Commissions yearly purges on the Cod quota has resulted in an overall cut in cod quota, up to 2010 of 84%. Only six Boats in the Northern Ireland Fleet fish for Cod.

"Quota reductions combined with other technical conservation measures has not been good enough for the European Commission, they seek still to place further restrictions on the fleet and the industry.

"It is now time to have a thorough review of the fisheries, science and management measures applicable to the Irish Sea."

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