Brexit and Northern Ireland: fisheries Contents

Chapter 3: The future of Northern Ireland fisheries

101.The Government’s Fisheries White Paper sets out the broad principles that will underpin UK fisheries management once the UK leaves the EU. The White Paper makes clear that, in line with its international commitments, the UK will maintain much of the CFP’s core fisheries framework; using Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) to determine Total Allowable Catch (TAC), a quota system to allocate fishing opportunity and implementation of the discard ban. The EU Withdrawal Bill will convert “around 100 pieces” of fisheries legislation from the CFP into domestic law which the Government can then amend through primary and secondary legislation.260 The White Paper also proposes changes to the mechanisms for allocating quota and funding fishing communities. In this Chapter, we consider whether the Government’s proposals for allocating its quota and proposals for funding meet the needs of the Northern Ireland fishing industry. We then examine two key challenges facing the Northern Ireland industry—crewing and infrastructure—which are not provided for in the Government’s White Paper.

Quota allocation between UK vessels

102.There are two dimensions to the Government’s proposals for allocating quota after the UK leaves the EU. In chapter one, we discussed the Government’s proposals to replace relative stability with zonal attachment to increase the amount of fishing opportunity for UK fishermen in UK waters. We examine below the Government’s proposals for sharing UK quota between UK flagged vessels.

103.Under the current allocation system, the Government apportions the UK’s TAC amongst the four UK fisheries administrations (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) in the form of Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) units. Each FQA gives the holder access to a share of the UK’s quota for that fishing stock. The “value” in quota terms of an FQA cannot itself be fixed from year to year because it depends on the amount of quota allocated by the EU to the UK and any adjustments applied by the Fisheries Administrations. The current FQA allocation mechanism was introduced in 1999. The number of FQA units allocated to each over 10 metre vessel was initially calculated based on each vessel’s share of landings in 1994–1996. The number of units allocated to a vessel has only changed thereafter to reflect quota transactions between fishermen. There are over 8 million FQAs in circulation.261

104.The fisheries administrations apportion FQA units to fish Producer Organisations (PO) and vessels which are not members of a PO (known as non-sector vessels). In 2016, 86% of all landings by the UK fleet were landed by vessels in a PO. However, over a third of UK vessels over 10 metres in length are not members of a PO. Non-sector vessels typically have limited access to fishing quota and primarily target shellfish species, which are mostly non-quota stocks.262 Boats under 10 metres in length make up 77% of the UK fishing fleet but hold only 1.5% of quota.263

105.DAERA is the fisheries administration responsible for apportioning FQA units to vessels licensed in Northern Ireland. It apportions quota to the two Producer Organisations, ANIFPO and NIFPO, and non-sector vessels.264 Once the POs receive their quota allocation it is fully within their control to decide how this is shared between their membership. In 2016, ANIFPO had 36 vessels in its membership which landed fish worth £11.2 million into the UK and abroad. NIFPO had 124 vessels in its membership which landed fish worth £34 million into ports in the UK and abroad.265 In 2016, approximately 50% of the 327 vessels licensed in Northern Ireland were members of either NIFPO or ANIFPO.266 The two Northern Ireland PO’s told us that the 160 vessels which make up their membership represent “practically all of the commercial fishing fleet based in Northern Ireland”.267

106.The FQA system described above has been criticised for the following reasons:

The experience of Northern Ireland fisherman Jimmy Kelly, skipper of a 7-metre crab vessel, illustrates some of these problems. He told us that small vessels in Northern Ireland have struggled to get quota because they lack a historic catch record. This has left them with little option but to concentrate on non-quota species such as shellfish.271 He explained:

I have left the industry commercially for about 20 years and I can’t come back. It was not possible for me to finance a vessel and a licence and get a quota to fish. I would have needed over £500,000. What bank is going to give that to you after the experiences they have had in the past? Going to the crab fishery was the only option left to me.272

107.The Minister told the committee that the FQA allocation method “is not a particularly satisfactory way to run a quota regime” and that the Government wants to replace it with better allocation methods over time.273 The Fisheries White paper states that the Government will continue to use the current methodology for existing quota because “we recognise that fishermen have invested in FQAs”.274 For any additional quota, negotiated by virtue of the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state, the White Paper states:

Defra intends to begin a conversation with the Devolved Administrations and stakeholders to allocate these on a different basis. A new methodology will to be in place in time for the allocation of any additional opportunities agreed from December 2020 onwards.275

The White Paper then proposes, explicitly for England only (on the basis that fisheries is a devolved matter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), to use additional quota to create a reserve quota pool which could be allocated in accordance with new criteria to meet the future needs of the industry. It suggests the reserve quota could be used in the following ways;

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, highlighted that these proposals do not address the distribution of quota between large and small vessels as the existing quota ownership system will remain in place.278 Open Seas, a charity which promotes sustainable fishing, commented:

Despite a fair amount of pressure, the White Paper has not proposed a change to the current system when it comes to the existing quota -but it does propose a system which may allow for a different approach for the bonus, specifically in England.279

108.Fisheries policy is devolved but currently operates under an EU framework through the CFP. The four fisheries administrations can exercise decision-making powers but the CFP, and a voluntary agreement known as the UK fisheries concordat, ensures a commonality of approach across the UK.280 In October 2017, the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments reached agreement on the principles which will underpin how common frameworks operate post-Brexit. In the absence of Ministers, Northern Ireland was represented by a senior civil servant.281 Shared policy frameworks will be established across the UK in the following instances:

109.The Fisheries White Paper does not provide further details on how common frameworks for fisheries policy will operate after Brexit. It states:

The composition and scope of the framework has not yet been agreed and work continues with the Devolved Administrations [ … ] The scope of the different provisions proposed for the new Fisheries Bill will vary depending on what powers already exist in different areas and what is agreed between the Administrations: some will have UK-wide extent; others will apply to England only, or to England and the Devolved Administrations that wish to adopt them.283

110.As discussed in paragraphs 96–97, the collapse of devolution means that in Northern Ireland, civil servants are running government departments but unable to take new policy decisions.284 The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been absent for over 19 months and it is unclear when these institutions will be restored. Consequently, the White Paper’s “England only” approach to developing new quota allocation methodologies could result in a governance gap for Northern Ireland, where civil servants are unable to develop equivalent policies for Northern Ireland. The Centre for Constitutional Change provided the following analysis:

Given the importance of devolution to fisheries, there are several important questions which need addressing. What input will the devolved administrations have into the development of a common framework–through consultation or consent? What key principles in fisheries management will apply UK wide, and which areas will be left to the devolved administrations? There was much expectation that the fisheries white paper would address some of these. However, in many respects the white paper is a missed opportunity and highlights a significant amount of work left to do in developing intergovernmental relations in fisheries policy.285

Similarly, a group of academics published a report on environmental governance in Northern Ireland that concluded:

The Welsh and Scottish governments are publishing plans to prepare for Brexit and both the Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament are conducting inquiries on how best to address Brexit challenges and seize opportunities [ … ] Without an operational Executive, Northern Ireland cannot undertake urgently needed reforms, develop policy or push for either its own solutions or tailored versions of English or UK-wide proposals for environmental governance post-Brexit.286

111.In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, there is no capacity in Northern Ireland to take decisions on future fisheries policy, particularly on the allocation of quota. This means that Northern Ireland, unlike the other devolved administrations, is unable to put forward its own management proposals or adopt the proposals the UK Government has developed for England. The Fisheries White Paper does not acknowledge this impediment and sets out a future fisheries policy for England only. We recommend that, in order to prevent a governance gap, the Government, in legislation proposed for October 2018, should set out how decisions on fishing policy in Northern Ireland will be taken in the continuing absence of an Executive. Any decisions should be amendable by a future Northern Ireland Executive, once it is established.

Funding for fishing communities

112.The main source of public financial support for the UK fishing industry is the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which supports delivery and implementation of EU fisheries policy across EU Member States. EMFF funding is designed to help fishermen in the transition to sustainable fishing, support coastal communities in diversifying their economies, finance projects that create new jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts.287

113.The total UK EMFF allocation over the period 2014 to 2020 is £190 million (a co-funding model with 78% EU contribution, 22% UK national contribution known as match funding).288 National match funding is determined by each devolved administration based on policy considerations such as the availability of other funding sources.289 As of 31 March 2018, Northern Ireland’s EMFF allocation was £20.6 million.290 The Northern Ireland allocation is around 10% of the UK’s entire allocation, which is consistent with the size of Northern Ireland’s fleet (landings and vessel numbers), the number of processing plants and employment figures when compared to the overall UK industry.291 In Northern Ireland, the fund is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) which grants funding based on a three pillar model:

In the period up to 31 December 2017, £4.2 million was committed to 89 projects in Northern Ireland.293 Recent flagship projects funded through EMFF include a £175,000 programme of safety training for fishermen, a £350,000 project aimed at improving the selectivity of fishing nets and £775,000 of investment in harbour facilities.294

114.Dr Lynn Gilmore, Northern Ireland Manager at Sea Fish, told the Committee that funding has played a “really important” role in supporting fishermen, fishing communities, processors and the industry supply chain as a whole.295 She said:

The EU considers a fisheries-dependent village as somewhere where 5% of the population are dependent on fishing. In Portavogie, you are talking about 39%. The considerable investment through the European Fisheries Fund (EFF was the EU funding scheme prior to the EMFF) and now EMFF has been absolutely crucial. Another thing that needs to be at the forefront is how we replace those funding streams once we come out of Europe, because EMFF and its predecessor EFF have been so important for those infrastructure developments in the harbour, which have allowed industry to keep going and flourishing. It is essential.296

She described how an EMFF funded project to provide life jackets to crew members had saved a local fisherman’s life when his boat sank.297 The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force told us EMFF has been “instrumental” to securing the transition towards sustainable fishing practices and advocated retaining the conservation elements of EMFF in any future UK fund.298 Alan McCulla, CEO of ANIFPO, told us:

Europe is already consulting on its successor to EMFF. As you quite rightly point out, we will not be privy to that in the future. Nevertheless, be it in the Irish Sea or in any part of UK waters, the probability is that UK fishermen will still be operating alongside and competing with their colleagues from the rest of Europe. In that sense, we believe there clearly is an obligation for a targeted scheme that will assist this industry in making sure that the vessels we have are fit for purpose, that we have infrastructure there that can handle the possibilities that Brexit presents, and that we have processing capacity that can avail of the tremendous opportunities that Brexit offers.299

115.Professor Barnes told us that funding “has been important, and will continue to be important” to assist in restructuring the fishing industry. He emphasised that small-scale fisheries, with less financial resource, may require assistance to respond to future changes in fisheries management.300 He said:

If you look at the fishing industry, it is geared and structured in a particular way. To take advantage of these opportunities may require new modified vessels, different skills and different facilities to leverage them.301

Northern Ireland fisherman Jimmy Kelly, highlighted that both Scotland and Ireland have funds available to support young fishermen to buy boats and enter the industry.302 He told us he would like to see funding directed at getting young people into fishing:

[The Government] do give bursaries for teacher training, nursing and things like that. Why can we not have some type of bursary, like the Slater Fund, for example, for fishing? [ … ] we need to put an education programme in place so that there is training available for fishing, the wheelhouse, the deck department and the engine department. We need to look at the broad spectrum.303

116.Harry Wick, CEO of NIFPO, said the industry would like to be “less dependent” on funding post-Brexit and that his hope was that increased fish quotas will mean that the industry can become self-sustaining.304 Northern Ireland’s POs propose that the UK’s replacement for EMFF should focus on initiatives that maximise the economic value of UK catches, support implementation of international safety requirements and address crewing shortages.305 DEFRA has criticised the current EMFF model on the basis that smaller businesses struggle with receiving funds in arrears and the application process, which requires detailed guidance, is too complex.306

117.The Government’s White Paper states that the UK “will consider whether and how to replace the EMFF” and states that the fisheries Bill will contain powers to “replace, broaden and modernise” existing grant-making powers in the Fisheries Act 1981.307 The Minister told the Committee that the Government is “working on a successor scheme” to EMFF but has yet to decide whether this funding will form part of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund or require the creation of a separate fund.308

118.The Government has yet to make any clear commitment to fisheries funding post December 2020. Investment in the industry at this critical period of change will be essential to ensure Northern Ireland’s fishermen can seize the opportunities presented by Brexit and adapt to new requirements. We recommend that the Government commit to continued funding for the fisheries industry, at comparable levels to EMFF, after December 2020. The Government should, in the fisheries Bill, set out priorities for funding which are based on experience of successful investments under EMFF such as harbour infrastructure and safety measures.

Investing in Northern Ireland fisheries

119.We examine below two key challenges currently facing the Northern Ireland fleet—crewing shortages and infrastructure investment—which are not addressed in the Government’s White Paper on Fisheries.

Crewing shortages

120.Throughout this inquiry, the Committee heard that securing crew for vessels in Northern Ireland was becoming increasingly difficult. The fish Producer Organisations told us that crewing for Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet is at a “critical juncture”, with crewing problems leading directly to the sale of nine trawlers in 2017.309 Harry Wick told the Committee that membership of his PO had shrunk by 15% in 2017 and that the “biggest problem” cited by people who had to sell their vessels was “the difficulty in obtaining a reliable crew”.310

121.We heard that local crew are “very difficult to attract” into the fishing industry due to the physically demanding nature of the work, the levels of pay and the requisite time away from family and friends aboard vessels.311 In 2016, fisheries was the sub-sector, within the Northern Ireland food and drink sector, with the lowest average wages and salaries cost per employee, £19,004.312 A pilot survey undertaken by Seafish in October 2017 found that just over 53% of all jobs on Northern Ireland registered vessels are filled by non-UK citizens, with non-EU/EEA workers making up 29% of the non-UK group. The data also showed that 59% of workers on Northern Ireland registered vessels are over the age 40, which is “around double the figure for other home nations”.313 Local fisherman Andrew Orr summed up the problem:

We can get all the quota, all the boats, all the grants and all the money, but if you can’t have an environment where you have crew for the boats, the boats and the quota are worthless. You need crew. We have two boats relying on Filipinos. We had other boats we had to sell because we just could not get crews.314

122.All the fishermen we spoke to wanted to see local people working in the industry and wanted new measures to encourage young people to start out in fishing.315 However, the POs described the difficulties they have encountered trying to recruit local fishermen:

Over a six-week period during September/October 2017, the Department of Communities in Northern Ireland ran a recruitment drive for 150 crew for local fishing vessels. This campaign spanned Northern Ireland and the EU. There were 30 expressions of interest in the positions from across Europe. Some 19 candidates (including 7 from the EU) were invited to interview. Of this 6 attended for interview. Subject to their successful completion of sea survival training 5 of the candidates will be offered positions on Northern Ireland fishing vessels.316

123.Research conducted by the POs found that the Northern Ireland industry now has a “clear preference” for hiring non-EU/EEA crew.317 Survey respondents described non-EU/EEA crew as “more reliable, better trained and more professional”.318 Alan McCulla told us that fishermen recruited from non-EU/EEA countries, compared to EU crew, were qualified, experienced and had been through at least the statutory courses on fishing.319 On the Committee’s visit to Portavogie we were told by two skippers that crew from Ghana, Sri Lanka and the Philippines were particularly desirable due to the added skill and safety their experience brought to vessels.

As part of this inquiry we asked fishermen what they think are the key opportunities and challenges facing the sector, here is a clip from the interviews on crewing shortages. A full version of the interviews can be found on our website here.

124.Non-EU/EEA nationals have no automatic legal entitlement to work in the UK, including in territorial waters between 0–12 nautical miles from shore, and are subject to the rules of the UK’s points-based system for immigration. The Tier 2 (General) visa is the main visa category for bringing non-EU/EEA workers to the UK, and is restricted to skilled workers. Immigration Rules sets out the skill level and appropriate salary rate for those jobs under Tier 2. Despite the demands of the difficult and often dangerous work, fishing vessel crew members are not deemed to be sufficiently skilled to fall under the ambit of Tier 2. This type of work (and that of many other industries) is therefore considered ‘lower-skilled’ work for the purposes of UK immigration. In addition to the skills requirement, Tier 2 visas are restricted to jobs paying a minimum salary of £30,000 a year, which is in excess of the average salary for a Northern Ireland fisherman. The Migration Advisory Committee gives the following explanation for the absence of a visa entry for low skilled workers from outside the EU:

Currently, the UK migration system does not have an explicit work route for lower-skilled workers from outside the EEA, because the view has been taken that free movement ensures a sufficient supply from within the EEA.320

Consequently, UK Immigration rules only permit non-EU/EEA crew to be engaged on fishing vessels operating outside the 12 nautical mile limit (UK territorial waters).321 Fishing outside UK territorial waters means that non-EU/EEA crew only require a transit visa to enter the country and join their ship, rather than permission to work in the UK.322

125.DAERA acknowledged that not being able to recruit non-EU/EEA crew to fish within the 0–12 nautical mile limit is particularly problematic for the Northern Ireland fleet because much of its fishing grounds are inside this area.323 Local fisherman Jimmy Kelly described how the topography of the Northern Ireland coast line exacerbates the problem:

This is the Irish Sea we are fishing and 12 miles from Portavogie, you are near enough in Manx waters. There are 26 miles between the places. Let’s be realistic, a wee bit of common sense, take an even-handed approach to employment of all seafarers within the UK but vet them properly.324

126.We heard that the restriction on using non-EU/EEA crew in territorial waters has rendered some areas of sea “no-go areas” for boats using these crew.325 Andrew Orr told the Committee:

There have been a lot of boats sold in Northern Ireland this last while, mainly down to not getting crew. The same thing has happened in the Clyde where, because it is enclosed, you cannot get outside the 12-mile limit. The west coast of Scotland is the same. The boats that have Filipino crew cannot go and fish there because they are all frightened of the Border Force pouncing on them and lifting their crew. Now they are forced to fish in places that are not as productive as long as they are outside the 12 miles. They cannot go to the places that are productive, where they traditionally used to go, because they are frightened of losing their crew. It is not a very good situation, the way it is at the moment.326

127.Northern Ireland’s POs have highlighted the issue of crewing shortages, contributing to the fishing industry’s submission to the Migration Advisory Committee inquiry into future immigration arrangements.327 They have also presented proposals aimed at addressing these issues to the Home Office. They advocate introducing a time-limited visa concession for non-EEA crew in the short term and, in the longer term, finding a better regulatory mechanism for assessing the activity of vessels with non-EU/EEA crew than simply “the extent a vessel operates in territorial waters.”328 The first proposal derives from a decision by the Government, in March 2010, to allow a temporary concession for 1,500 non-EEA fishers to work inside UK territorial waters. The concession, which experienced relatively low take-up at the time, came with strict conditions and was intended to give the industry “sufficient time to transition to using local labour for such jobs”.329

128.The Home Office is currently operating a similar concession, introduced in 15 June 2017, for seamen working on wind farms in UK territorial waters.330 The concession allows workers leave to enter the UK until 21 April 2019 for the purpose of joining a vessel engaged in the construction and maintenance of a wind farm within UK territorial waters.

129.When questioned about crewing shortages, Minister Eustice said “the truth is that, at the moment, we have fishermen who want to catch more fish than they are able to”.331 He told us there had been a recent recruitment drive which brought 500 new fishermen into the industry and that, although some foreign labour would be needed, “we should not buy into the idea that we just need foreign crews”.332 Caroline Nokes MP, the Immigration Minister at the Home Office, admitted that the Northern Ireland and Scottish fleets have a “heavy reliance on overseas workers, predominantly from outside the EU” but insisted that the Government would wait for the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee, which is expected to publish its report in September 2018, before taking action.333 However, the Scottish White Fish Producer Organisation has said it will take 10 to 15 years to develop enough local employment to fully crew ships.334 We heard that, vessels which operate with skeleton crews due to shortages of available workforce are adding extra risk to an already dangerous employment.335

130.Manpower shortages encouraged by current rules pose an existential threat to fishing businesses. Crewing fishing vessels is a skilled job, and experienced and qualified crew are required simply to maintain the current Northern Ireland fleet. Access to crew will become even more essential if the fleet is to take advantage of increased quota dividends and grow the industry after Brexit. In the short term, we recommend the Government grant a time-limited immigration concession for non-EU/EEA crew, as it did in March 2010, to help sustain and develop the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. In the longer term, we recommend the Government creates a visa pathway for fishermen which allows crewing of boats by EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA workers from the 6-nautical mile limit in recognition of the topography of the coast lines surrounding Northern Ireland.

Infrastructure investment

131.The Committee heard that strategic investment in infrastructure at Northern Ireland’s ports would enable fishermen to deliver increased economic prosperity for the industry, coastal communities and the wider Northern Ireland economy.336 Alan McCulla told us investment would ensure the UK could take advantage of the “tremendous opportunities” presented by Brexit because the fleet would be able to “take, land and process” its future share of catches within the UK.337 We heard that that lack of investment had contributed to a decline in the availability of boat building and repair services. On the Committee’s visit to Portavogie, we saw that issues with the size and availability of boat repair slipways mean vessels regularly travel to Bangor or Fleetwood for repairs. The shortage of appropriate slipways in Portavogie and Ardglass also means larger vessels are unable to dock safely for emergency repairs.338 Northern Ireland fisherman Jimmy Kelly, told the Committee:

If you go round Ireland as a whole, you will see that investment has been put into Killybegs, Fenit, Castletownbere, every other major port on the west coast. Northern Ireland investment has been very limited lately. Every small jetty in Ireland has a 5-tonne crane. As a safety measure too, if a small cradle boat hits the rocks and gets a hole he can get into the harbour, get a strap around him and lift it out. As it stands in Portavogie, we have no means. We have one slip now.339

132.Local fisherman Andrew Orr told us that there is nowhere, on the whole of the east coast of the island of Ireland, with a dry dock big enough to repair his largest vessel. Although it is possible at Harland and Wolff in Belfast, they are often busy and so he travels to Fraserburgh in Scotland for repairs. He suggested that building a dry dock in Kilkeel, Ardglass or Portavogie would attract passing trade.340 The Ardglass Harbour Development group is seeking investment to deepen their harbour so large pelagic vessels can dock locally, rather than travelling to Belfast, and to open a boat repair facility.341

133.We heard that insufficient processing capacity at ports in the UK means that fishermen from Northern Ireland often land their catches abroad into ports with appropriate facilities.342 Alan McCulla told us:

Two-thirds of the catch that is made by the Northern Ireland fleet is landed outside Northern Ireland. A large part of that is what we call pelagic species. That is mackerel and herring. To go back to the trade issue, you find that over 12,000 tonnes of pelagic species are landed into Killybegs in County Donegal. We want to bring a proportion of that catch home. We have plans in place to provide the infrastructure. We have plans to provide the processing capacity and work collaboratively in Northern Ireland with the existing processers to be able to handle that fish. In doing so, of course, that will add value to the entire Northern Ireland economy and it will create jobs.343

134.The Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority (NIFHA) is the executive body responsible for managing Northern Ireland’s three main harbours of Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie. The main sources of revenue for the Authority are a levy on the value of fish landings, revenues generated from services provided at the harbours (e.g. ice sales and the provision of slipway services) and rentals from land leases.344 The Authority uses its surplus to fund minor infrastructure projects but its revenue surplus is affected by factors such as restrictions on fishing activity.345 Consequently, DAERA told us that NIFHA is “dependent” on EMFF funding for major harbour improvement work.346

135.Between 2014–2020, €3.3 million in EMFF funds was earmarked for port development in Northern Ireland.347 The British Ports Association, which represents nearly all of the top 50 UK Fishing Ports, highlighted that 72% of ports rely on EMFF funding to create new services and 94% have used it in the past to fund expansion.348 As discussed in paragraph X, the Fisheries White Paper states that the Government will “consider whether and how” to replace EMFF funding after the UK leaves the EU but makes no commitment to continued funding for infrastructure.349 The British Ports Association gave the following critique of proposals in the Government’s White paper on this issue:

We remain concerned at the lack of focus on fishing ports, which are a crucial part of the journey from sea to plate. There is not a single reference to infrastructure in any of the 60 pages [ … ] Whilst there is a provision to enable Ministers to create a domestic successor to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), we are very disappointed that there is no firm commitment to do this and no details on its size or what it might look like.350

136.The Committee also heard that a £35 million project for the expansion of the outer harbour at Kilkeel has been “held up” for over 16 months due to the lack of an Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland.351 The project, which has been approved by the Strategic Investment Board, aims to make Kilkeel a major hub in the UK’s marine economy with reclaimed land being used to create space for larger boats, new businesses and processing units and a maritime skills training college.352 Alan McCulla told us:

Even before we started talking about Brexit, the numbers stacked up. [ … ] a large proportion, the majority, of fish and shellfish caught by the Northern Ireland fleet is landed outside Northern Ireland, and we want to bring that home. While the concrete for that project is based around Kilkeel, it is not a project designed purely to benefit Kilkeel. This is for the whole of County Down.353

Andrew Orr told us that a new harbour would bring in more ships for repair, fish for the market and “create a hub” which would attract business to the fishing industry.354 Lynn Gilmore of Seafish noted that the harbour extension would enable a huge new vessel, the Voyager, to land its catch into Kilkeel with corresponding benefits for local employment and the processing sector.355 The £30 million trawler, purchased in September 2017, is too big to land its catch into Northern Ireland and so it operates from nearby Killybegs in Ireland.356

137.The Kilkeel Strategic Partnership has been working in conjunction with local councils, DAERA and Invest NI to progress the project which is scheduled to complete environmental and engineering impact assessments by December 2019.357 However, in the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland, it remains unclear how the project can progress from the development stage.358 Alan McCulla said:

It’s hugely disappointing that this essential investment is being delayed by current political difficulties. It’s ironic and very disappointing that the fishing and seafood industry here, which universally supports Brexit, will see opportunities to benefit from greater freedom outside EU quota restrictions undermined by Northern Ireland’s current political problems.359

138.Lack of investment in Northern Ireland’s harbours has resulted in the loss of vital repair services and reduced the economic benefit that local communities receive from the fish caught by the Northern Ireland fleet. We recommend that the Government make a clear commitment to invest in infrastructure at Northern Ireland’s ports to ensure fishermen can bring home the benefits of renegotiated quota to their local communities.

139.It is deeply disappointing that absence of an Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland is preventing progress on a valuable infrastructure project at Kilkeel. Important opportunities for economic development must not be kept on hold due to the collapse of Stormont. In the continued absence of devolved government, and in light of the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the limit of civil servant’s decision-making powers, we recommend that the UK Government create a new mechanism to enable decisions on infrastructure investment at Kilkeel.

The Lough Neagh Wild Eel fishery

140.Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the UK, is home to the largest wild eel fishery in Europe. It is managed by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society (the Society) and supports 250 fishermen who catch between 300–350 tonnes of eels annually whilst also implementing strict conservation measures.360 The sale of wild eels from Lough Neagh contributes approximately £3.2 million per annum to the local economy, which means that eels can be more valuable than any other fin fish landed in Northern Ireland.361 The Society exports approximately 80% of its eels as a premium smoked product to mainland Europe for sale in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. The remaining 20% are sold within the UK as a jellied eel product through London’s Billingsgate Fish Market. The Society told us that an EU-UK deal which maintains trade with European markets, where there is a strong tradition of eel consumption, is “imperative” for the Lough Neagh fishery.362

141.Since 2007, the European eel has been listed as an endangered species under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).363 Appendix II is for species which, although not necessarily immediately threatened with extinction, may become so unless trade in specimens is subject to strict regulation.364 The CITES listing permits trade in eels domestically within a country or between Member States of the EU but prohibits any other international trade unless a CITES permit is granted.365

142.For over 40 years, and before the CITES listing, fishermen at Lough Neagh employed conservation measures such as daily quotas and licensing restrictions to ensure the long term sustainability of their industry.366 Crucially, the Society’s flagship restocking programme released 110 million supplementary juvenile eels into the river system over a 25 year period at a cost of approximately £4.8 million.367 When EU regulations were introduced in 2009 to protect the European eel, they were modelled on the management regime at Lough Neagh and the Society has subsequently been deemed fully compliant at each review.368 Since 2009, the Society has benefitted from EMFF funding for the restocking programme but its own net contribution to restocking exceeds £3.6 million.369 The conservation measures undertaken by the Society enable it to run a commercial fishery whilst also being a net contributor to the European eel species across Europe.370 Pat Close, CEO of the Society, highlighted that the restocking programme is a long-term investment as eels can take up to 25 years to reach maturity and there is no guarantee that juvenile eels will return to Lough Neagh after spawning.371

Trade in eels post-Brexit

143.When the UK leaves the EU, Lough Neagh will no longer benefit from the intra-EU exception for trade in European eels under CITES.372 Both the UK and the EU are signatories to CITES so, consequently, to continue its trade with European markets, the Society will require a non-detriment finding (NDF).373 An NDF is a scientific assessment of eel stocks which results in a finding that the export or import of the eels will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.374 Pat Close told us that his business is facing a “cliff edge” on 29 March 2019 unless CITES issues an NDF for trade in European eels.375 He told us:

My concern with it is that we are not being advised of, for example, what an NDF should contain, what it looks like, what we need to prove to make that workable. [ … ] We have met CITES representatives and all of these people on a few occasions now I don’t think anybody, including the Department, is clear about whether an NDF is even possible.376

144.In December 2010, the EU CITES Scientific Review Group examined the status of European eel stocks and decided it was not possible to make an NDF for the eels at European Union level. In 2015, ICES provided advice on the criteria that may be required to make a non-detriment finding for the European eel as there are currently “no hard rules” on the NDF assessment procedure. Pat Close told us that if the NDF stock assessment was held at river basin district level, rather than across Europe as a whole, it might be possible.377 However, he added:

We may very well tick all the boxes in Lough Neagh, but because it is a single stock, the scientists at this point in time are not minded to say that there is sufficient indications of a recovery in the stocks across Europe as a whole to allow [ … ] that as the way forward for the species as a whole.378

145.When questioned, the Minister acknowledged the potential problem but said that securing an NDF will become an issue at the end of the transition period, should there be one, rather than in March 2019. He told us:

Obviously, we would be very keen to argue that nothing has changed, in the sense that this is still a sustainable fishery managed in a sustainable way and, although the process is slightly more difficult to get that permit outside of the European Union, we are looking at ways to ensure we can.379

146.The 2009 export ban on eels from Europe has also had an impact on traditional markets for eels in Asia. In Japan, eels are part of a traditional dish and shortages in the local stock (Japonica eel) have greatly increased the value of imported eels and created an illegal market in smuggling eels.380 Europol believes that during the 2017 season alone, 100 tonnes of eels have been smuggled between the EU and China. Demand is such that eels are valued at around EUR 1,000/kg on the black market.381 In 2018, an eel smuggling ring was found to have made over 37 million euros from illegal exports to Asia.382 Pat Close told us that he had received interest from Asian sources and that, if the current ban on exports under CITES were lifted, such trade would be possible.383 In 2011, the Lough Neagh Eel was the first Northern Ireland product to be awarded with protected geographical indication (PGI) status and joined an exclusive club of regional products alongside feta, champagne and Parma ham.384 An NDF finding on the sustainability of the Lough Neagh wild eel fishery could open the possibility of legal expansion into lucrative Asian eel markets and ensure continued trade with EU.

147.The Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Cooperative Society plays a vital role in bringing economic prosperity to the Lough Neagh area and conserving the wild European eel for future generations. The long-term future of the Lough Neagh wild eel fishery depends on securing a Non-Detriment Finding under CITES and maintaining financial support for the restocking project. We recommend that the Government set out, in its response to this report, what steps it has taken to secure a Non-Detriment Finding in advance of the UK’s exit from the EU in March 2019 and whether it intends to continue the current levels of EMFF support for the restocking of eels into Lough Neagh.


261 The FQA Register, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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

263 ‘Not in the same boat’, New Economics Foundation

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

267 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

268 A working paper on the management of the UK’s public fishery: a large squatting claim?, Dr Thomas Appleby, Ytzen van der werf, Chris Williams, 2016 ‘Not in the same boat’, New Economics Foundation

269 A working paper on the management of the UK’s public fishery: a large squatting claim?, Dr Thomas Appleby, Ytzen van der werf, Chris Williams, 2016 ‘Not in the same boat’, New Economics Foundation

276 Choke species is a term used to describe a low volume quota species which, if reached, would lead to vessels having to tie up even if they still had quota for other species. (see Seafish blog ‘Addressing the issue of choke species in a mixed fishery’, 24 January 2014

278 Fisheries White paper: who is this for?, New Economics Foundation, 4 July 2018

279 UK Government Fisheries White paper, Open Seas, 6 July 2018

280 Defra, Sustainable fisheries for future generations, July 2018, UK Fisheries

285 Why devolution matters to fisheries policy, Dr Christopher Huggins, Centre on Constitutional Change, 12 July 2018

288 European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, UK Fact Sheet, European Commission,

289 European Maritime and Fisheries Fund: Written question - 143757, 14 May 2018

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

291 European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014–2020, DAERA

292 Defra (FSH0004), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010)

293 Defra (FSH0004)

294 Defra (FSH0004)

298 NI Marine Task Force (FSH0005)

299 Q112, Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002), EU Commission, Questions and answers on the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2021–2027, 12 June 2018

300 Professor Richard Barnes (FSH0008)

302 Q341, New Fishermen Scheme, Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Scottish Government, applications for first time purchase of a vessel by young fisher, Important Update 18 December 2017

305 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

306 Defra (FSH0004)

309 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

312 Size and Performance of the Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Processing Sector, Subsector Statistics 2016, Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

313 Seafish (FSH0011)

315 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002), Q338

316 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002), Q83

317 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

318 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

320 EEA workers in UK labour market - briefing note, Migration Advisory Committee, 4 August 2017, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/call-for-evidence-and-briefing-note-eea-workers-in-the-uk-labour-market

321 Section 8, Immigration Act 1971.

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

325 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002), Q390

327 Call for Evidence; a response by the Fishing Industry, July 2017 Migration Advisory Committee Commission

328 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

329 Transit Visas (UK Trawlers), Volume 554, UK Parliament Hansard, 28 November 2012

334 (Douglass Ross MP), Non-EEA Visas: Inshore Fishing, Hansard, Volume 644, 17 July 2018

335 (Jim Shannon MP) Non-EEA Visas: Inshore Fishing, Hansard, Volume 644, 17 July 2018, Fishing News, ‘Crewing Problems Worsen’, 5 June 2018

336 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002)

337 Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (FSH0002), Q36, Q81–82

338 Investment required for Ardglass harbour - Chris Hazzard,

341 Down News, New Call for Major Improvements at Ardglass Harbour, 10 October 2017

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

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

356 New £30m trawler for fishing fleet, BBC, 28 September 2017

357 Newry, Mourne and Down Local Development Plan 2030, Preferred Options Paper, June 2018

360 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003)

361 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (FSH0010)

362 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003)

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

367 Q364, Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003)

368 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003)

369 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (FSH0003)

379 Q426 (Minister Eustice) Oral Evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Committee inquiry into Agriculture, 18 July 2018




Published: 15 September 2018