COVID-19: Fishing Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP 2:15 pm, 3rd November 2020

8. Miss McIlveen asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs how his Department has assisted the fishing industry during COVID-19. (AQO 1000/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

On 3 April 2020, I announced a temporary support package for the sea fisheries sector that was geared to cover 50% of a fishing vessel's costs for three months from March to May 2020, provided genuine losses had accrued as a direct result of the pandemic. The aim of the scheme was to get support on the ground as soon as possible as a result of the total loss of markets. In total, £1·32 million has been paid out through the scheme to 171 fishing vessel owners. Approximately £1·02 million has been provided to over-10-metre vessels and £300,000 to vessels of 10 metres and under.

On 26 May, I announced a support scheme for Northern Ireland aquaculture undertakings that had incurred financial losses through lost markets from March to May inclusive. Up to £360,000 was made available to the sector. In total, 19 aquaculture businesses were invited to apply for support, the level of which was based on the income forgone as a result of COVID-19 from 1 March to 31 May. Fifteen applications were received, and 15 offers of financial assistance were made, with 14 accepted. To date, £83,600 has been paid to 13 eligible applicants, and a further £13,000 of support is being processed for the remaining two applicants. The initial level of support that was anticipated to have been required was overestimated, as the figures supplied by business owners were not, in many cases, as large as originally indicated.

More recently, on 5 October, I announced a further £1·7 million financial support package for the sea fisheries catching sector, which continues to be impacted by lost markets as a result of COVID-19. The support package is to deliver a £1·31 million temporary cessation scheme under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for trawlers and dredgers and is currently open to applications. Invitation letters were issued to owners of 111 vessels, and, to date, 76 applications have been received to the value of £956,000. A £390,000 fixed cost scheme for static fishers will be open to applications in early November 2020. Under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, I am also working with my officials to provide a £336,000 support package to the Lough Neagh fishermen.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I welcome the Minister's response. We can all agree that this is a challenging time for the fishing industry. Can the Minister outline how the support compares with that in other regions, and, in addition to that, can he detail the steps that he is taking to ensure that any Brexit dividend in respect of additional landings is proportionately distributed across the United Kingdom and that the Portavogie fishermen get their fair share?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 2:30 pm, 3rd November 2020

I thank the Member for the question. First, that was the quickest and most generous of the packages that was offered anywhere on these islands. Secondly, in thinking about how we go forward, we need to ensure that we get our share of the additional fishing. It is great that we have the opportunity to bid for it. We have been restricted for so many years in the number of fish that we can catch whilst others have utilised our waters and the fish in them, so I want to ensure that people in Portavogie, Ardglass, Kilkeel and all others in Northern Ireland get their fair crack of the whip after so many years of not having it.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

That ends the period for listed questions. We will now move to 15 minutes of topical questions. Question 4 has been withdrawn.