Northern Ireland risks being left behind on fisheries after Brexit, warn conservationists
Wildlife and conservation groups have warned that Northern Ireland runs the risk of missing the boat in getting its fisheries law ready for life after Brexit.
The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force and Nature Matters NI, which represent more than 100,000 members, have responded to the consultation for the UK's fisheries white paper. But while they welcomed the policy, which they said will "restate the UK's commitment to sustainable fisheries", they said similar policy must be enacted in Northern Ireland.
Unlike the future policy for farming in Northern Ireland after March 29, 2019, which has gone out to the public for their views, there is currently no such consultation here for fisheries and our seas.
With Brexit just over six months away, Ellen MacMahon of the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force said a common framework for sustainable fisheries is urgently needed across the UK.
"We need everyone, including Northern Ireland, to play by the same rules and work together in designing a course for future fisheries management.
"The white paper must not lead to a pick-and-mix style framework, where there are disproportionate environmental standards across the UK."
The groups include the RSPB, Ulster Wildlife, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, National Trust, Friends of the Earth and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.
They have called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in London to work closely with all devolved administrations and fisheries stakeholders to deliver "a co-designed and co-managed fisheries framework".
Ms MacMahon said the contested nature of bodies such as Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough makes the issue all the more urgent.
"Northern Ireland shares a land and sea border with the EU through the Republic of Ireland and via two cross border loughs, for which there is no agreed maritime border. While complete alignment with the Republic of Ireland fisheries management may not be possible, future co-operation and engagement between the Republic and Northern Ireland is essential."
The groups have called for an "ecosystem based approach" to fisheries consistent with national and international obligations.
"This means that future fishing quotas must be set in line with the best available scientific advice to ensure that both fish stocks and the habitats they live in are restored and in a healthy state for future generations," they said.