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Assembly Told of Victory in Fisheries Council

NORTHERN IRELAND - Northern Ireland had resisted potentially harsh cuts in their fishing industry during the debate in the December Fisheries' Council in Brussels, Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew told the Northern Irish Assembly this week.

"We wanted to see a more focused approach which would better protect vulnerable stocks and provide incentives for the industry."
Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew

Speaking to the Assembly, the Minister said: "The key issue for us was to resist the blunt cuts proposed by the commission. We wanted to see the commission adopt a different, more focused approach which would better protect vulnerable stocks and provide incentives for the industry to engage in responsible fishing practices.

In the four months leading up to council my officials worked closely with their counterparts to assemble evidence, agree priorities and the approach to the negotiations.

"The Commission was convinced by our arguments that its proposed 25 per cent cuts in days for both whitefish and prawn vessels operating in the Irish Sea were unjustified and it finally proposed cuts of 18 per cent for whitefish vessels and 10 per cent for prawn vessels. Our fleet will not necessarily be restricted by these 10 per cent and 18 per cent cuts. Over 95 per cent of our fleet targets prawns, fishing mainly in the Irish Sea and they catch other species as a by-catch but at individual vessel level their impact on cod stock is minimal.

Outlining the cuts in the days at sea following the December council, the Minister said: "Those vessels that have a track record for landing less than five per cent cod, can get 204 days at sea and those that land less than five per cent cod, sole and plaice can get 280 days.

"For vessels that don't have a track record there is an opportunity to participate in initiatives involving on-board observers that would lead to provision of similar days. Furthermore those vessels which are involved in the Irish Sea Data Enhancement project could gain up to 12 further days from taking part in the project. We successfully minimised the broad cuts proposed by the commission and secured agreement to a system that provided appropriate incentives for fishermen."

The Minister also discussed the quota cuts agreed at the Council.

She said: "There was a roll-over for the prawn quota which is by far the most important fishery for us. I secured a five per cent increase in the haddock quota in the face of an initial commission proposal for a 15 per cent cut. In relation to cod, the commission was determined to see through a 25 per cent cut in the quota, but this was limited to an 18 per cent cut. The cod quota available for our industry for 2008 is more than has been caught in 2007."

The Minister added: "The Commission's overriding concern is to ensure that the fish resources that are available to Member States are fished in a way which is sustainable while minimizing the impact that fishing has on the wider marine environment.

"I share that objective and I want to ensure that the fisheries that I am responsible for continue to be managed in a sustainable way. I am satisfied that in the circumstances prevailing in Brussels in December that I obtained the best possible deal for our fishing industry."

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