Environment Secretary fails to take action on ‘workforce crisis’ in Northern Ireland’s fisheries

26 April 2019

In a letter to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indicates that some progress has been made on resolving fishing rights in Irish waters, but that there is no plan yet to tackle the workforce crisis in Northern Ireland’s fisheries which rely heavily on workers from outside the EU.

Michael Gove outlines progress on resolving long standing disputes

In a delayed response to the Chair of the Committee’s letter on 12 December 2018, Michael Gove outlines the Government’s progress on resolving long standing disputes over fishing rights in Irish and Northern Irish waters, but provides only vague detail on how the Government intends to address the workforce shortage in Northern Ireland’s fisheries after the UK leaves the EU.

The Committee published a report on Brexit and Fisheries in Northern Ireland in September 2018 but was disappointed by the lack of urgency expressed in the Government’s response to the report issued in December.

The Secretary of State’s letter points to welcome progress on resolving the dispute over the Voisinage agreement – a long-standing agreement permitting fishing vessels from Northern Ireland and Ireland reciprocal access to each other’s territorial waters.

Little action taken to resolve the issue of illegal oyster farming

The Irish Government has made progress on re-instating the pre-2016 status quo.

However, little action has been taken to resolve the long-running issue of illegal oyster farming in Lough Foyle.

Government is on track for delivering a new digital catch certification system

The letter does however indicate that the Government is on track for delivering a new digital catch certification system to facilitate fisheries trade – a key recommendation from the Committee’s report.

On the Chair’s request to take action on workforce shortages in the Northern Ireland fishing fleet, the Secretary of State’s response does not appear to recognise the current importance of foreign workers in the industry and does not commit to any specific action to address the issue.

More work here is needed

Commenting on the letter, Chair of the Committee Dr Andrew Murrison MP said:

“I very much welcome progress on the Voisinage Agreement, and digital catch certification in advance of Brexit.

However, I am disappointed by cross-government failure to resolve the Lough Foyle border issue which has been grumbling on for years and the apparent failure to understand the full impact of a shortage of foreign workers willing to crew Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet, exacerbated by current visa inflexibility. More work here is needed.”

Further information

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