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Fishermen’s unexpected catch: an increase in prawn quotas

By Linda Stewart

Northern Ireland's fishing fleets are largely breathing a sigh of relief after their quotas for the Irish Sea increased in value by £330,000 per year following two days of talks at the December Fisheries Council in Brussels.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill reported that despite proposals for a 14% cut, prawn quotas in the Irish Sea will instead increase by 3%, which will mean an added £450,000 of fishing opportunities. Part of this welcome increase will, however, be offset by losses elsewhere.

Prawns are the mainstay of the local fishing industry, with the whitefish fishery making up a fraction of the overall catch.

The Sinn Fein minister said although it was proposed that quotas for Irish Sea haddock be cut by 20%, these will now stay at the same level. However, cod quotas will again be cut by 20%, in line with the cod recovery plan. The European Commission also agreed not to cut days at sea.

Ms O'Neill said: "This year scientific advice for a sustainable catch was 3% higher than last year and landings from the fishery are consistently at or below the level needed to ensure sustainability. After hard negotiations, we were able to secure the 3% increase in the amount of prawns in 2015, providing an additional £450,000 of fishing opportunities."

The minister voiced disappointment that the EC could not find a legal mechanism to accommodate her request to reserve some cod quota for scientific research.

"This is something we will need to have further discussions with the commission about in the new year to see how we can continue to maintain the research programme for this stock," she said.

"Taking the result as a whole, when we look across the range of our most important stocks in the Irish Sea, the value of the quotas increased by £330,000.

"This was due to an increase in prawn quota, which is our most important Irish Sea fishery, offset by some losses in other stocks."

Alan McCulla, chief executive of fishermen's organisation Sea-Source, said two out of three priorities had been secured.

"Irish Sea herring, which is the first local fishery to have secured international certification for its sustainable management, was cut by just over 7%," he said.

"However, fishermen do accept there are natural fluctuations in some fisheries that are reflected in quotas year on year."

Mr McCulla pointed out that despite cod being central to the management of all deep water fisheries in the Irish Sea, the catch quota had been reduced by 97% in the past 15 years.

"Clearly the EU's management of this fishery has failed dramatically, yet the answer to this failure is to reapply the same policy year after year," he said.

"This year the Northern Ireland fisheries team has been working with the European Commission on a project that seeks to address the problem with cod.

"Yet, when the project was presented to the European Commission during this week's negotiations they vetoed it, despite contributing to the process in the first place."

Factfile: the changes agreed

• Prawns - 14% cuts proposed, 3% increase allowed

• Haddock - 20% cuts proposed, no change made

• Herring - 7% cut in quota

• Days at sea - no reduction

• Cod - 20% cut in quota

• No cod quota reserved for scientific research

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