NI fishermen say incomes lost over licence delays

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

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media caption"The boat is lying here, not making a penny"

A County Down fisherman has said he has lost his livelihood due to a delay in issuing licences for him and others to access Irish waters.

Ian Brown's crab boat, Amity, has been tied up since January and he said he had lost his entire income.

Other boats in Kilkeel are said to be similarly affected.

The issue is also having an impact on Irish-registered vessels which want to fish close to the coast of Northern Ireland.

The rights to reciprocal cross-border access for inshore waters were retained under the UK/EU Brexit deal.

But the boats now have to be licensed by the respective authorities and that has not happened.

"It materialised in late January that we needed a piece of paper [the licence]," Mr Brown said.

"We had to remove all our pots from southern waters.

"We were told it was maybe a two-week process to get this done...and three and a half months later we're lying here not making a penny."

image captionFisherman Ian Brown says he has lost his entire income

The list of vessels that the UK and Irish authorities want licensed have been swapped, but there has been no further movement.

The sheltered waters of Dundalk Bay are important to small boats that fish for shellfish such as crab and lobster.

It is a safe place to work and boats can be there and back in a day from Kilkeel which is just five miles from Irish waters at Carlingford Lough.

Mr Brown said he was deeply frustrated by the delay in having the licences issued.

'Disbarred from Irish waters'

It's not the first time reciprocal cross-border access to inshore waters has proven controversial.

In 2019 Mr Brown's boat was one of two impounded by the Irish Navy for fishing inside the six mile zone.

image captionThe mouth of Carlingford Bay, where northern and southern waters meet

A 50-year-old gentleman's agreement, which covered the practice, had broken down after a legal challenge in the Irish Supreme Court.

It took controversy over the impounding to see it fixed with a change in Irish law.

Then Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar said he was sorry the boats had been detained and he'd work to ensure it didn't happen again.

Mr Brown acknowledged that the law was changed but said the licensing situation meant he was effectively disbarred from the Irish waters which he considered his traditional fishing grounds.

'Get on with issuing licences'

Many fishermen voted for Brexit but reciprocal access for Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland vessels to each others' waters was written into the wider agreement.

The only additional requirement are the licences.

image captionIn 2019 Mr Brown's boat (right) was one of two impounded by the Irish Navy

Alan McCulla of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation urged the authorities to get on with issuing them.

He said the Northern Ireland Protocol gave a trading advantage to fishermen in NI, but in order to sell their seafood they had to be able to catch it first.

Mr Brown said he could set his pots in Northern Ireland waters but that would affect fishermen who already used those grounds and might adversely affect stock sustainability.

He said he also risked losing expensive pots to boats dredging for scallops.

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