Fishing quotas deal a 'positive result' for Northern Ireland industry

Prawns in fishing crate More than 550 people are employed in Northern Ireland's fish processing industry

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The EU quota for prawn fishing in the Irish Sea has been increased by 6%, in a move that has been welcomed by the fishing industry.

However, other fish quotas, such as cod, haddock and whiting have been cut.

The deal was struck at the annual Brussels Fisheries Council, after two days of talks concluded in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation said overall it was a "positive" outcome for their industry.

Stormont's fisheries minister, Michelle O'Neill, attended the talks in person and said the prawn quota was a "great result" that would help to protect jobs in Northern Ireland.

"The 6% increase in the allowable catch adds some £900,000 to the sector which is already worth £15m and means a sustainable supply to our local fish processing businesses which have sales in excess of £70m and employ over 550 workers," she said.

However she said that the condition of other fish stocks in the Irish Sea was "not so good and this was reflected in the catch limits set".

The cod fishing quota has fallen by 95 tonnes, the haddock quota has decreased by 62 tonnes, the whiting catch limit is down by five tonnes and the plaice quota remains unchanged.

Ms O'Neill said the talks process had been "long" and "difficult" but claimed her department's "main negotiating objectives" had been achieved.

Her counterpart in the Republic, Irish Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney, also said he was "very pleased" with the outcome of the talks.

The European Commission had initially proposed a 12% cut to Irish Sea prawn quotas and the NI minister said her "top priority was getting a good deal for local prawn fleets.

The chief executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, Alan McCulla, praised Ms O'Neill's efforts, but said they shared her disappointment with the Irish Sea cod quota.

"A 25% cut on what is classed as a choke stock is unjustifiable and will work against us assessing what exactly is happening with cod in the Irish Sea," he said.

"Nevertheless, we cannot complain about the overall result from this Fisheries Council, which provides Northern Ireland's fishermen with additional catching opportunities over and above what they had in 2012."

MEP Diane Dodds welcomed the deal.

"Significant increases in the prawn quotas to the west of Scotland, which is particularly important for fishermen from Portavogie, as well as a very welcome increase for the prawn quota in the Irish Sea is a reward for the sacrifices our fishermen have made elsewhere," the DUP member said.

"I realise there are issues in relation to the number of days fishermen can go to sea, but the decision to freeze days at sea at their 2012 level is something I have lobbied hard for and provides us with a good spring board to address the problems fishermen have faced in the Clyde this year."

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