The project is a joint initiative bringing together the Fishermen's Mission, Seafish, DARD (Department for Agriculture and Rural Development) through the European Fisheries Fund, the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation (NIFPO), the RNLI, the MCA and Asda. The project will be helping to ensure that fishermen will receive a grant- aided PFD and the training required to ensure its proper use.
An essential element of the events is a safety training session led by the RNLI's Fishing Safety Coordinator for the UK- Frankie Horne: he told us 'I am a fisherman myself and this project is about changing hearts and minds- we want fishermen to see the benefits of wearing a PFD or lifejacket and then wear it voluntarily. This will be an ongoing process for us- talking to fishermen and working with the manufacturers to ensure that the PFDs provided are the best possible design for the fishing industry. We are already seeing fishermen wearing the PFDs around the coast of Northern Ireland and this is a huge encouragement to us that the safety message is being heard'.
Bob McMullan, Honorary Secretary of the Northern Coast Lobster Fishermen's Association said at the Cushendall event 'We welcome the provision of grant- aided lifejackets to our members and thank all those who have worked hard to deliver this project. Fishing is a dangerous occupation and the Mullion Compact PFDs provided are an excellent, user-friendly design which we hope will encourage fishermen to wear them at all times'.
Fisherman Peter Boston from Portstewart who was also at the Cushendall event and received a PFD and safety training said 'As fishermen, we understand the importance of good quality equipment; from our boats, engines, nets and lobster pots to the standard of our clothing- in harsh weather conditions especially, having the right gear for our jobs is essential. These PFDs are comfortable and easy to wear and I anticipate that the PFD provided today will become a standard part of the kit I use when going to sea.'
Fishermen at the Cushendall event were drawn from the north coast (including Rathlin Island) and the east Antrim coast. The fishery in this area is mainly an inshore pot fishery for lobster and brown crab. The second event in Portavogie attracted fishermen from the North Down and Outer Ards as well as Strangford Lough. The fishermen were a variety of pot fishermen, who often work single-handed in small open vessels as well as trawlermen and scallop fishermen from the larger vessels in Portavogie Harbour.
Speaking in Portavogie, Dick James of NIFPO said 'Our members are delighted to receive their PFDs today and as an organisation we welcome all measures aimed at keeping fishermen safe while carrying out their jobs in often harsh conditions. We will work with fishermen to ensure everyone is well versed in the correct use, maintenance and upkeep of PFDs to ensure long term benefits from this project'.
Superintendent Maurice Lake from the Fishermen's Mission, who, working closely with Seafish, has applied for the funding for the PFD's says 'It is imperative to provide user friendly equipment to fishermen to improve the current safety record. The Fishermen's Mission is committed to the safety of our fishermen remaining a key priority. We are deeply grateful to the European Fisheries Fund, DARD, Seafish and Asda who have all contributed towards the purchase of these PFD's'.
Dr Lynn Gilmore, from Seafish Northern Ireland, who played a key role in ensuring the success of the venture, added 'The local industry and community will benefit by having a better equipped crew and families will have peace of mind knowing their loved ones are better protected while at sea. One life saved is well worth the total value of this project. '
Further events are planned around the coast of Northern Ireland during August and September and anyone wishing to find out more should contact Superintendent Maurice Lake by emailing KilkeelCentre@fishermensmission.org.uk .
For further information regarding the work of the Fishermen's Mission visit their website www.fishermensmission.org.uk.