Brexit and Northern Ireland: fisheries Contents


1.Since the 1970s, membership of the European Union (EU) has shaped almost every aspect of the UK fishing industry. Rules set at an EU level govern the amount and type of fish UK fishermen can catch and how financial support for the industry is spent. EU rules set out the labelling and marketing standards and the tariffs that apply to the UK’s fisheries imports and exports. On leaving the EU, the UK will become an independent coastal state responsible for managing its own marine resources. This report considers how the interests of the Northern Ireland fishing industry should be reflected in the Government’s new domestic fisheries policy, and looks at the implications of the wider negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU for the Northern Ireland fishing sector.

The Northern Ireland fishing industry

2.In 2016, there were 327 Northern Ireland registered fishing vessels which employed 700 full-time workers and 175 part-time workers.1 The Northern Ireland fleet landed fish worth approximately £42 million into UK ports and abroad, representing 4.4% of the total value of fish landed by UK vessels.2 The 14 businesses which make up Northern Ireland’s fish processing sector employ a further 371 full-time workers and had a turnover of £84 million in 2014.3

3.The vast majority of landings by UK vessels into Northern Ireland occur in three County Down fishing villages; Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie, which feature in the UK’s top 20 ports by value of fish landed.4 In recent years, nephrops (known colloquially as Dublin Bay prawn) have been the main catch for the Northern Ireland fleet with 72 vessels dedicated exclusively to this fish species and a further 30 vessels targeting nephrops alongside other species.5 In 2016, nephrops accounted for 48% of the total value of fish caught by the NI fleet, herring and mackerel made up 17.5% and white fish species, haddock and cod, only 6.5%.6 These fish species are subject to catch limits set by the EU. Shellfish species (excluding nephrops), which are not subject to EU catch limits, are also financially significant to the Northern Ireland industry. In 2016, scallops and crabs represented 21% of the total value of fish landed by the NI fleet.7

4.Approximately half of the marine fishermen in Northern Ireland are members of a Producer Organisation (PO), which are responsible for managing fish quota and improving the market for their members’ catches.8 There are currently 24 POs across the UK; 11 in England, 10 in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. The two POs in Northern Ireland are the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producer Organisation (ANIFPO) and the Northern Ireland Fish Producer Organisation (NIFPO). In 2016, 86% of the fish landed by the UK fleet was caught by vessels in a Producer Organisation. However, over a third of UK vessels over 10 metres in length are not members of a PO.9

UK and Northern Ireland fish stocks

5.EU and international rules for fisheries management have been set in the context of the long-term sustainability of fish stocks. From the late 18th century onwards, technological advancements—such as the transition from sail to steam and diesel-powered vessels, and the advent of on-board refrigeration—have enabled significant increases in the amount of fish caught. More intensive fishing of some species has resulted in some fish populations being unable to reproduce as quickly as they are being harvested, leading to a decline in fish stocks.10 In 2003, the European Commission published a report which found that 94% of the fish stocks it assessed in the waters around the UK (North East Atlantic, Baltic Sea and North Sea) were being overfished.11 The sustainability of fish stocks is assessed each year by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which created Figure 1 below to illustrate changes in the status of commercial UK fish stocks between 2006 and 2016:

Figure 1: ICES assessments of main UK fish stocks

Source: UK Sea Fisheries Statistics, House of Commons Briefing Paper, Number 2788, 5 December 2017

6.The latest scientific advice from ICES shows that conservation measures have been effective at building fish stocks to sustainable levels in the Irish Sea.12 At the 2017 EU Fisheries Council,13 positive stock assessments resulted in a 376% increase in the total allowable catch (TAC) for Irish Sea cod and a 70% increase for herring (both starting from a historically low baseline), a 23% increase for haddock and a 15% increase for nephrops.14 These catch increases have the potential to mean an additional several million pounds for the Northern Ireland fleet and represent the highest catch limits for some species in almost 20 years.15 Pietor-Jan Schon, Head of Fisheries and Aquatic Ecosystems, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, told the Committee:

When we look at the stocks that are most important to the Northern Ireland industry, which are nephrops, haddock and herring, in terms of the population size and exploitable size, those spawning stock biomasses are the highest they have been since the late 1980s, in most cases, and they are being fished sustainably.16

The Common Fisheries Policy

7.The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is a set of rules established by the EU aimed at managing the fishing efforts of the European fleet. It has four main policy areas; fisheries management, international cooperation with non-EU states, trade policy and funding for fishing communities.17 Under the CFP, the waters of each Member State, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),18 are amalgamated into one European fishing area, the biggest marine territory in the world.19

Figure 2: The EU’s Exclusive Economic Zone

Source: European Commission, Factsheet on ‘The EU and international ocean governance

In principle, all vessels in the EU fishing fleet have equal access to all the waters within 12–200 nautical miles from the coast in the combined EU EEZ.20

8.The main aim of the current iteration of the CFP is to secure “high long-term yields of fish stocks” where possible by 2015, and “at the latest” by 2020.21 The CFP adheres to the globally recognised measure of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) when assessing the sustainability of fish stocks.22 This measure determines the largest average catch that can be removed from a fish stock population over time, under existing environmental conditions, without threatening future yields.23 The CFP employs a number of different strategies to achieve MSY:

Our inquiry

9.The Committee launched this inquiry on 9 January 2018 in anticipation of publication of the Fisheries White Paper and Bill and with the Stormont institutions in abeyance. The aim was to ensure that the interests of the Northern Ireland fisheries sector are fully represented in UK-wide fisheries policy. Our recommendations are intended to influence the Government’s thinking on the future fisheries Bill and wider EU exit negotiations.

10.We took evidence from a variety of organisations and people involved in the fisheries sector including academics, the Northern Ireland Fish Producer Organisations, regulatory bodies, environmental groups and local fishermen. We took evidence in Newtownards and in the fishing village of Portavogie where we met with representatives of the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority, visited fish processing facilities and met with local skippers to discuss the challenges they face. Our work was also informed by interviews with Northern Ireland fishermen, conducted by the Select Committee Engagement Team (a dedicated team that works with communities across the UK to increase engagement with select committees), which visited the fishing village of Kilkeel to interview local fishermen about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. The video of these interviews can be found on our website.

1 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010), Seafish (FSH0011)

2 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010)

3 Seafish (FSH0011) (latest figures available)

4 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010), UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2016: Full report, Marine Management Organisation, 28 September 2017

5 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010)

6 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010)

7 Seafish (FSH0011)

8 UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2016: Full report, Marine Management Organisation, 28 September 2017

9 UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2016: Full report, Marine Management Organisation, 28 September 2017

10 Griffin Carpenter, Don’t blame the EU for the decline in some British fishing ports, Mike Mitchell of Young’s Seafood, Can lessons from the past give us hope for the future?, Guest blog on Seafish, 12 November 2015, BBC, ‘Profound’ decline in fish stocks shown in UK records, 4 May 2010

11 Tom Pickerill, Technical Director at Seafish, Fish stocks: over half full or under half empty? 27 June 2014,

12 Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) (FSH0009)

13 The EU Fisheries Council comprises Ministers from each of the 28 EU Member States

15 2017 Council Overview, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, 15 December 2017, Whilst boats from Northern Ireland can, and do fish further afield, providing they have quota to do so, the greatest concentration of current effort is in the Irish Sea followed by the West of Scotland and the North Sea.

16 Q3

17 The Common Fisheries Policy, European Commission

18 The term EEZ derives from the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which granted coastal states legal jurisdiction up to 200 nautical miles from the shore or to the median line with a neighbouring coastal state. For more info, see: European Commission, Access to Waters

19 Common Fisheries Policy, Institute for Government, 20 March 2018, The EU and international ocean governance, European Commission,

20 European Commission, Access to Waters

21 European Commission, Managing Fisheries

22 NI Marine Task Force (FSH0005), Defra (FSH0004), Seafish, Industry Guidance Note on Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), March 2011, European Commission, Managing Fisheries

23 Northern Ireland Marine Task Force (FSH0012), Fish stock assessment models and ICES reference points fact sheet, Seafish

26 European Commission, Discarding and the landing obligation, Library of the European Parliament, Discarding fish under the Common Fisheries Policy, 13 May 2013

27 Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology Note on UK Fisheries Management, Number 572, February 2018, European Commission, Fishing Effort, European Commission, technical measures

Published: 15 September 2018