Northern Ireland

EU prawn 'discard ban': NI fishermen apply for waste licence

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Media captionThe ban will apply to fishing boats in Northern Ireland from January, as Conor Macauley reports

Fishermen say they have been forced to apply for a waste licence to dump prawns at sea because of a new rule that stops fish being thrown overboard.

The European Commission's "discard ban" - aimed at conserving fish stocks - will apply to fishing boats in Northern Ireland from January 2016.

However, local fishermen say the ban has not been thought through.

It means Northern Ireland's fishing fleet will have to land virtually all prawns they catch.

These include under-sized ones that would have previously been discarded.

As these prawns cannot be sold for food, and there is no plan for what to do with them, a fishing co-operative has applied for a licence to take them back out to sea and dump them.

Image caption Several thousand tonnes of prawns were landed in Northern Ireland ports last year

Alan McCulla, of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation, applied for the licence in early summer.

He said several different uses had been considered, including pet food, fuel for anaerobic digesters and as food source for a "maggot farm" - but none had proved workable.

"What we've had to resort to doing is applying to the Department of Environment (DoE) for a disposal at sea licence," he said.

"So effectively we're not allowed to discard the stuff the first time round, we have to bring it into port, get it counted and the only solution that's available to us at the minute is to bring it back out to sea and dump it again."

The co-operative is still waiting for a decision from the department.

Image caption While larger prawns are processed and packaged for sale, smaller ones cannot be sold for food

Seven thousand tonnes of prawns, worth £15m, were landed in Northern Ireland's ports last year.

The DoE confirmed receipt of the disposal at sea application and told Mr McCulla that alternatives would have to be looked at.

Mr McCulla said some of that work had already been done, with financial support from Invest NI, and those details had been sent to the DoE.

He said he believed there was no workable alternative at the moment.

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