‘Further discussions needed with EU’ over NI fishing vessels – Stormont minister

Rebecca Black, PA
·3-min read

Stormont’s agriculture minister has said the UK will resist Northern Ireland fishermen being subjected to further checks when landing their catches.

Edwin Poots blasted what he described as the EU view that there is a need for customs and regulatory requirements for fish caught in UK territorial waters.

He said this potentially could mean additional controls for landing fish at Northern Ireland’s fishing ports.

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots (NI Assembly/PA)
Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots (NI Assembly/PA)

“This would be extremely burdensome and totally unworkable for most of the smaller vessels as some of these requirements mean they have to land in a port under customs control which may be a considerable distance from their home port,” he told the Assembly on Tuesday.

Mr Poots said customs formalities are not a devolved issue, but that advice has been sought from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“The UK Government has provided us with a different legal interpretation on these customs formalities and I’m advised that Northern Ireland vessels will only be required to meet pre-existing obligations such as those contained within the fisheries control regulations when landing into ports in Northern Ireland until further notice,” he said.

“This is in line with the approach taken to the implementation of the protocol more broadly where there is a need for pragmatism as traders and fishers adapt to new requirements.

“The UKG have assured me that they would robustly defend this approach should any challenge to it be raised by the European Union, though it is important to note that this has been the subject of engagement between the UK and EU during the course of joint committee proceedings.

“It is accepted that this approach will require further discussions with the EU, however the UK position is clear, that Northern Ireland vessels should not be subject to any new customs requirement until further notice.”

Asked about the quota which Northern Ireland’s fishermen have received, Mr Poots said there has been 10% uplift across the fleet, but that “greater volumes should have been obtained”.

The fishing industry has argued it got only £14 million of the £20m-a-year worth of additional quota it believed it was due.

Mr Poots added: “We will be revisiting that in 2025.

“We have on average a 10% uplift across the fleet so in that respect the fishermen are considerably better after Brexit but it could have been much better than that again had a tougher deal been negotiated with the European Union by the UK Government,” he said.

Mr Poots also slammed the EU over a “significant problem” around the importation of cattle and sheep in Northern Ireland.

“As a consequence of that, there is a large number of black face sheep in particular, not exclusively, which are currently in Scotland having been bought in September and the farmers cannot get them home,” he said.

“The EU have been very rigid about this thus far in spite of our requests and I think that we need to get some flexibility.

“There are farmers in the Antrim Hills, in the Sperrins, in the Mournes who have invested heavily and are not getting those animals brought home.

“As well as that, the pedigree industry has been badly affected … it is a ludicrous issue in terms of securing the single market.

“It has no impact whatsoever on the single market and the European Union really need to back down on this, and wise up, and treat Northern Ireland with a degree of respect.”

Meanwhile Mr Poots said the demands of implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol will require 600 officials at ports, and close to 200 vets which he said “do not exist”.

“You don’t train vets in six months, you train vets over five years so the vets don’t exist for that job and the problem is that if we draw vets off other services are we damaging animal welfare,” he said.

“We’re left in this ridiculous position where vets will be checking food which came here for years without checks.”