No net profit as trawlers are tied up in port
Two consecutive bad winters have had a devastating impacton fishermen
Trawlers at sea. According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, there are around 381 registered fishing vessels in the North which support just over 800 fishermen.
The seafood chowder on the menu at the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast has something of a cult following come rain or shine. But the recent storms forced chefs at the award-winning restaurant to be even more creative than usual.
The company, which operates three restaurants and employs 90 people, has been hit hard by the recent severe weather. It prides itself on serving the very best local seafood which it buys daily from fishing vessels based at ports like Annalong and Kilkeel. But because local trawlers have been unable to get out to sea, Mourne Seafood Bar has been forced to source from other suppliers.
Joanne McCoubrey, who owns and runs the business with her husband Bob, says it has been a very tough time for their local suppliers. In turn, certain fish has become more expensive for them to purchase elsewhere.
“We’ve just had to take the hit on that – we haven’t put our prices up in the restaurant but boats that should be going out are stuck in the harbour and that’s not good for anyone.”
The company, which has two restaurants in Belfast and one in Dundrum, Co Down, plans to open its first restaurant in Dublin next month. It hopes to create up to 35 jobs in the new restaurant that will be in Dublin city centre.
McCoubrey says its latest venture will also showcase fresh Northern produce and give the company new opportunities to support fishing communities that are suffering because of the storms.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, there are around 381 registered fishing vessels in the North which support just over 800 fishermen.
Latest industry figures also show that the fish-processing sector, based mainly in the ports of Kilkeel and Ardglass, had an estimated gross turnover in 2012 of £76.2 million and employed 551 people.
However the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation is warning that livelihoods could be under threat in local fishing industries. Alan McCulla, its chief executive, says two consecutive winters of bad weather have had a devastating impact.
McCulla, who is from a Kilkeel fishing family, says fishermen have been “wiped out” in the last 24 months because they have been effectively trapped in port.
Not at sea
“If they don’t get out, they can’t land anything, and that means they can’t sell anything. If they are not at sea, they aren’t making any money.
“There have only been a few days in the last six to seven weeks when fishermen have been able to get out and, even then, it has been down to a need-to-basis rather than a want-to- basis.”
He said the other issue for fishing communities is whether fishermen can afford to go straight out once the weather calms. The motion of the waves after a storm means it can take a few days for conditions to be right to fish and, because of rising fuel costs, fishermen need to pick their days very carefully even to pay expenses before making a profit.
The industry is in desperate need of emergency help, McCulla says, but it does not want to be a subsidised sector.
“Fishermen just want to be able to go to sea and make a living but they are hindered by a deluge of rules from Brussels.
“Fishermen have had to spend thousands of pounds to abide by these rules and, for the last two winters, they have also had to deal with unexpectedly bad weather. What they need now is some help.
“We would like to see the department actively try to help by agreeing to repay, as it did last year, the landing tax fishermen have to pay,” he said.
New EU quotas
South Down SDLP MLA Seán Rogers says the North’s Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill and her department needs to go further to protect jobs and the industry. He believes new EU quotas, which came into force at the beginning of this year, have already undermined the North’s fishing industry.
He says that the 9 per cent cut in prawn quotas imposed by the EU could result in the loss of £1.5 million to the local economy.
Rogers said the combination of the prawn quota cut and adverse weather condition had created the perfect storm for Northern Ireland’s fishing communities.
“We need to put in place a hardship fund for fishermen. The fishing industry plays a key role in the Northern Ireland economy. If fishermen are hit by the bad weather the knock-on effect for our economy is something we cannot underestimate.”