The Fisheries Bill, which covers sea fisheries and inland fisheries powers, will also ensure EU commitments are met and will strengthen the regulatory framework, keeping it up to date and fit for purpose.
Minister O’Neill said: "The fishing industry is generally in support of greater enforcement powers to protect and enhance the limited stock and to ensure law abiding fishermen and businesses can compete.
"However, the nature of the sea-fishing industry and the difficulty in regulating much of its activity, as it takes place at sea, means there is a requirement for a raft of regulatory and enforcement activity. Therefore, legislation is essential to deter wrongdoing, protect vulnerable fish stocks and to address the long term sustainability of the communities that rely on these stocks," the Minister explained.
The Bill, which was prepared in conjunction with DCAL which has responsibility for inland and salmon fisheries, will considerably increase the deterrent from breaching sea fishing legislation. It will also allow DARD and DCAL to meet their statutory obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy, the Water Framework Directive and the EU Services Directive.
It will protect sea-fishing by allowing for inshore fishing activities and for the licensing of activities while still ensuring protection of the environment. Without these there is a risk that certain activities would have to be halted. The legislation also provides new enforcement powers, including a system of fixed penalties for more minor offences, which in turn will free up resources to deal with more serious matters.
Referring to the inland fisheries provisions within the Bill, DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: "The inland fishery provisions will help to modernise enforcement activity and to re-align existing legislation with our obligations under EU Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive and the EU Services Directives. My overall aim is to ensure that our legislative powers remain fit for purpose and that DCAL has the flexibility to respond to evolving fisheries management practice and its EU obligations."
Minister O’Neill said: "It is important that there is adequate legislation to protect fish stocks and sensitive aquatic environments. The Fisheries Bill is important legislation. There is a risk to livelihoods if we cannot ensure the sustainability of stocks to enable local fishing communities and future generations to enjoy a reasonable income from their operations and investments. Ultimately there is also a risk of infraction if we fail to protect stocks and environments due to inadequate powers of enforcement and deterrents."