Saturday 21 September 2019

'It's scary to think about EU fishing boats flooding our waters'

Fears Irish Sea to be split down middle

Fisherman Tomás Whelahan mending his nets on the pier at Clogherhead harbour, Co Louth, is worried about Brexit’s impact. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson
Fisherman Tomás Whelahan mending his nets on the pier at Clogherhead harbour, Co Louth, is worried about Brexit’s impact. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Elaine Keogh

There are around 50 families involved in fishing in the small village of Clogherhead in Co Louth.

That's according to Tomás Whelahan, who is from one of those families and who has two fishing boats. Fishing is in his blood and he never thought of doing anything else.

"It is hard...There are long hours, irregular landings and irregular wages but, over the 12 months, it is OK," he said.

He is a prawn fisherman and 70pc of his catch is exported to Italy and Spain.

"For every crewman on board a boat, there are four people employed ashore in spin-offs. There is the oil man, the transport, the co-ops, the fish merchants, the net manufacturers and the processing sector as well," he said.

His primary Brexit concern is the knock-on effect if EU boats, including Irish ones, are not allowed to fish in UK waters. "We spend 50pc of our time in British waters and if the other boats - for example, French and Spanish - are displaced from British waters, they will end up in our waters," said Mr Whelahan.

This is of greater concern to him than Ireland not being able to fish in UK waters.

"We have the biggest and most productive fishing waters in the EU and [what worries me] is the fact that other boats could be displaced out of the North Sea and English Channel," he said.

Fisherman Barry Faulkner said Brexit was sold to UK fishermen "as bringing major changes and they would get back all of their quotas, they would become more independent once out of the EU". He believes Britain will seek to have the waters up to 200 nautical miles off its coast as its own.

"In effect, it would mean the Irish Sea would be split down the middle with one Irish side and one English side," he said. "This is not an Irish-UK thing, it is an EU-UK thing so we'll all be affected."

Mr Whelahan said the outcome of Brexit will be felt by the fishing families too.

"We have got 23 lads on our two boats. That has an effect on a lot of families - it will affect us all if our catch is down, our quota is down, our income is down and our already over-exploited waters will be exploited even more.

"It is scary to even think about, to tell you the truth."

Despite those concerns, he is optimistic and said: "We will survive, we have plenty of waters, we just have to diversify."

The optimism is reflected in the Clogherhead Co-Op, which represents "a group of owners from the Clogherhead area working together since 1999," according to general manager Paul Boyd.

The Co-Op boats are larger and they catch Dublin Bay prawns which are all frozen at sea.

"It is export-orientated, primarily because the main product is prawns and the market is primarily Europe," Mr Boyd said.

Mr Faulkner's message to Foreign Minister Simon Coveney is: "We need strong negotiations and negotiators to ensure we have as much access [to waters] after Brexit as before, even if it turns out to be common access for EU and British boats."

Irish Independent

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