Apologies, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, for being slightly late. We were told that the debate would be at 4.30 pm, but then it came up on the screen. I had a bit of a rush down, but I am here now.
Members will recall that, on 3 April 2020, I announced an initial £1·5 million support package to ensure that the Northern Ireland fishing industry was supported through the COVID-19 pandemic. That financial support package was in response to the unprecedented difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an immediate impact on the industry after the introduction of social-distancing measures and the collapse of the European and domestic fish markets.
The Northern Ireland fishing industry faced extreme difficulties as a result of COVID-19. It was in urgent need of support to ensure that there was a profitable fishing industry to return to once COVID-19 subsided. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to have a significant impact, I announced a second financial support package for the sea fishing industry on 5 October 2020. Part of that second package was a scheme specifically to assist with the fixed costs of the fishing vessels of commercial fishermen that deploy static gear, such as pots and creels, typically to target crabs and lobsters. That sector continued to be badly affected by the closure of the hospitality sector.
The scheme covered the period from 1 September 2020 to December 2020. The regulations, which are the subject of this motion, provided for the financial assistance scheme and were developed in consultation with the main sea fishing industry organisations in response to my announcement on 5 October 2020. The regulations were made under powers conferred on my Department by the Fisheries Act 2020.
Under those regulations, Northern Ireland fishing boats were eligible for support if they: had a valid safety certificate issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; at the date of the application, were insured for the purposes of commercial sea fishing; had, during the period 1 November 2018 to 31 October 2020, conducted more than 50% of their sea fishing activity using static fishing gear; had, during the period 1 November 2018 to 31 October 2020, landed more than 50% of their value of declared sea fish landings into ports in the United Kingdom; had declared sea fish landings for the year 2019 that were valued at £10,000 or more; and had a minimum of 12 declared sea fish landings during the period 1 June 2020 to 31 October 2020.
The financial assistance that was available to eligible Northern Ireland fishing boats under the scheme was calculated at 50% of the potting fleet's average monthly fixed costs, as evidenced in their previous three financial years. The support covered a maximum of four months, and the total maximum amount payable for each month was capped at £1,250 and a total of £5,000 over the four-month period under the scheme. It was specifically designed to assist the smaller inshore vessels, which target shellfish such as crabs and lobsters. Just over £142,000 in total will be received by 51 vessels.
The regulations that you are being asked to affirm today replace a previous scheme that was made under the confirmatory procedure in March 2021. Unfortunately, that scheme was made under repealed primary powers and had to be remade and laid under powers under the Fisheries Act 2020. Before it was brought to my Department's attention that the previous scheme had no legal effect, it had made payments totalling £139,000 to 49 vessel owners. As soon as my Department became aware of the issue with the scheme, it stopped making payments under it and brought in the replacement regulations. The regulations allow the owners of the remaining eligible vessels to be paid and bring the total amount of payments to the potting fleet to just over £142,000.
Since the start of the pandemic, my Department has been actively engaging with all sectors in the sea fishing industry to deliver a number of financial assistance packages to overcome the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses. The latest scheme brings the total amount of support to the sea fishing industry to £2·87 million, of which £287,000 was specifically for aquaculture.
I thank the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee for its prompt scrutiny of the SL1 for this statutory rule that provides financial assistance to the potting fleet.