Belfast Briefing: Fishing, farming markets feeling the pinch

Sea Source urging more businesses to buy fish and shellfish caught by local fishermen

Minister for Fisheries Michelle O’Neill: she  is more preoccupied with the dairy crisis in the North which has been sparked by the steep drop in milk prices. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Fisheries Michelle O’Neill: she is more preoccupied with the dairy crisis in the North which has been sparked by the steep drop in milk prices. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Not unlike many people in Northern Ireland Gráinne and John Lavery used “to be in property”. And like a significant percentage of the local population, the collapse of the short-lived property boom forced them to think about new ways of earning a living.

For Gráinne, it created an opportunity to retrace her family’s business steps and consider something different. The result is Fish City, the fish-and-chip shop she owns with her husband in Ballynahinch, Co Down.

Her parents had also had a fish-and-chip shop but Lavery is far from just following in their footsteps. Although they still pride themselves on their “classic fish and chips”, the Laverys are passionately committed to serving their customers fish that comes from sustainable sources.

Fish City, which won the Northern Ireland category in the 2015 UK National Fish and Chip Awards, was the first retail outlet in Ireland to be awarded a sustainable seafood certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Lavery says her customers want to be able to trace their fish from ocean to plate. It is also one of the reasons Fish City is keen to support the local fishing industry and why its own scampi brand is produced with Portavogie prawns.

Local fishermen

Anglo Irish Fish Producers Association

Through its Sea Source subsidiary, it is campaigning for more businesses to use fish and shellfish caught by AIFPO member vessels.

At the moment more of their catch is shipped to Europe than sold locally. AIFPO believes if there was more focus on persuading businesses and consumers to “buy local” , it would help local fishing-dependent communities.

The organisation is committed to promoting sustainable fishing methods, a key theme at this year’s World Seafood Congress currently under way in Grimsby in the UK.

Although the North’s Fisheries Department is attending the congress, Minister for Fisheries Michelle O’Neill, who is also the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, is more preoccupied with the dairy crisis in the North which has been sparked by the steep drop in milk prices.

The Minister on Monday attended an emergency meeting of the agriculture council in Brussels to discuss the EU’s agriculture markets.

Representatives from the Ulster Farmers Union, including president Ian Marshall, also travelled to Brussels to take part in a protest with farmers from across the EU to highlight the impact of falling prices on family farms across Europe.

Marshall and other UK farming unions want the British government to demonstrate greater support for agriculture and the European Commission to put new measures in place to manage market volatility.

“Farmers across many sectors are feeling the impact of prices that are not sustainable. We need an urgent review of the functionality of the supply chain. However, in the short term, the commission must come up with a plan to strengthen current safety nets and ease cashflow difficulties. This is vital as we approach what will be one of the toughest winters in memory for farming families,” Marshall said.

Foreign policy

“We cannot continue to suffer as a result of an EU foreign policy decision, which closed the Russian market to the European food industry.”

In the meantime the North’s Fisheries/Agriculture Minister is keen to highlight that she remains “fully aware of difficulties faced” by the North’s fishermen. Her department’s new fisheries headquarters recently relocated to Downpatrick.

O’Neill believes the relocation of her fisheries team will bring it closer to the industry. She also says the move could help Downpatrick to net other “social and economic benefits and encourage other public sector jobs to the town”.

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