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Committee demands action on Government's strategy for NI's fisheries post-Brexit

13 December 2018

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has written to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seeking more detail on crucial elements of strategy, after Government response to Committee's report fails to match urgency of crisis facing NI's fisheries.

The Committee welcomes the Government's progress, in line with the Committee's recommendation, towards securing a 'Non-Detriment Finding' for exports of the European Eel after the UK leaves the EU. We await the outcome of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea for scientific peer review on this issue, which is crucial to the economic prosperity of the Lough Neagh area.

The Committee recommended that the Government must be prepared to take decisions on fisheries policy for Northern Ireland post-Brexit if there is no Executive in place to do so. The Government response to the Committee's report exposes holes in the Government's preparation for the challenges faced by Northern Ireland's fisheries sector. The Committee has written to Michael Gove MP to seek further information on the Government's policy.

Chair of the Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, said:

"The Government is coasting on its plans for Northern Ireland's fisheries post-Brexit. Key challenges remain unsolved such as the crushing shortage of labour, illegal oyster farming in Lough Foyle and Ireland's continued suspension of fishing rights under the Voisinage Arrangement.

My Committee is unconvinced that the government's response on these issues matches the level of urgency facing NI's fisheries, and we are calling on the Secretary of State to change tack."

Shortage of labour

In order to alleviate the immediate crisis of workforce shortages in the Northern Ireland fishing fleet, the Committee recommended that the Government make a time limited immigration concession for non-EU fishing crew. In the long-term, it recommended establishing a new visa pathway for the crewing of fishing boats by non-EU nationals. The Government has rejected proposals for a time limited immigration concession and stated that the Migration Advisory Committee has not recommended introducing separate sector-based routes for lower skilled workers.

The solutions proposed by the Government are an apprenticeship scheme and Careers Strategy to attract young people into the industry. However, it is unclear how this will encourage enough young people to fill the gaps and the evidence the Committee heard suggests migrant labour is urgently needed. Similarly, any measures contained in the Immigration White Paper are unlikely to come into force in time to tackle the current issue.

No Deal and access to fish

The Government response does not commit to providing a timetable for delivering a new IT system capable of providing catch certificates for all UK fisheries trade, raising concerns that any digital system will not be ready for 29 March 2019. The Committee's letter to the Secretary of State presses for a timescale to be produced as soon as possible.

The Government is addressing some aspects of Northern Ireland's governance gap by amending some secondary legislation on matters relating to fisheries and aquaculture at Westminster. However, in the continued absence of devolved Government, it remains unclear how policy decisions on important issues such as the distribution of new fishing opportunities and implementation of the discard ban will be taken for Northern Ireland. The Fisheries Bill provides "England only" proposals in these areas.

Long-term disputes

The Government's response demonstrates no commitment to resolve long-running issues such as illegal oyster farming in Lough Foyle and Ireland's unilateral suspension of the Voisinage arrangement – a long-standing agreement permitting fishing vessels from Northern Ireland and Ireland reciprocal access to each other's territorial waters.

The Government has ignored the Committee's suggested deadlines and instead simply reiterated that it is working towards resolution of these issues. The Committee's letter presses for timescales to be introduced immediately.

Further information

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