The aim is to bring forward new legislation within the current Assembly that will allow the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to directly meet their EU obligations, provide adequate protection of marine and inland aquatic environments, modernise enforcement powers and allow effective and proportionate enforcement of sea and inland fisheries and aquaculture licensing.
Minister O’Neill said: "Fisheries legislation is needed in order to protect and enhance a limited resource. Over the past 10 years fishing in the in-shore area has more than doubled in size and has become much more prominent and valuable to fishing communities along our coastline. In recent years, fishermen have been pressing for better enforcement and regulation in these areas, in order to ensure the sustainability of the stocks to enable them to enjoy a reasonable income from their operations. These proposals would seek to address this need.
"There is also a need to make sure that DARD can directly meet its EU obligations, provide adequate protection for sensitive marine environments and limited fish-stocks, and to ensure that enforcement powers are appropriate to allow effective and proportionate enforcement of sea-fisheries regulation and aquaculture licensing."
She added: "In line with the changes proposed by DCAL, and to address a commitment made by Ministers at the North South Ministerial Council in 2012, the proposals would also see the introduction of powers to allow the Loughs Agency to issue fixed penalties for angling offences in the Foyle and Carlingford areas."
In proposing changes to legislation on inland fisheries which is the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Minister Ní Chuilín said: "In bringing forward this review of inland fisheries legislation, I aim to ensure that DCAL’s powers under the Fisheries Act (NI) 1966, remain fit for purpose with the flexibility to respond to evolving fisheries management practice and EU obligations.
"In particular, the introduction of powers to issue fixed penalties in the DCAL area will effectively decriminalise low impact fisheries offences and free up resources to tackle those offences which pose the greatest risk to inland fisheries. It is of vital importance that fisheries legislation is modernised to ensure protection of a finite resource. Fish stock management must reflect best practice and meet the requirements of EU legislation."