Northern Ireland news

Multi-million pound Lough Neagh fishing facing 'apocalypse'

Lough Neagh eels
Connla Young

A multi-million pound fishing industry on Lough Neagh could be facing an “apocalypse” if a no deal Brexit goes through.

Fears are growing that if the British government leaves the EU next month the eel fishing industry on Lough Neagh could end overnight.

Ireland’s biggest lake is home to Europe’s largest wild eel fishery which supports dozens of families who earn a living from its waters.

The operation is managed by the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Operative, which was set up in 1963.

Eighty percent of eels caught on Lough Neagh are flown to Holland every day where they are processed and sent to markets across Europe.

The remaining 20 percent go to England.

During peak season up to three tonnes of eels, which have protected status, are handled every day.

The co-operative has put in place a series of conservation measures to help protect and replenish stocks including introducing 110 million fish to the lough over the past 25 years.

In a bid to ensure the industry’s future co-op chiefs have made a ‘non-detriment finding’ (NDF) application to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which is an international agreement between governments ensuring the trade of wild animals does not threaten their survival.

However, the Scientific Review Group, which is linked to the Eurpoean Commission and allows imports into Europe, has said it will not consider the NDF application until after Brexit has taken place.

Co-operative chairman Pat Close said this has created uncertainty ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit.

“The scientists, the Scientific Review Group, has already stated that they are not prepared to look at this application seriously until after the UK has left the EU,” Mr Close said.

“So that leaves us very much in Limbo at the minute, we can’t plan for the future really.

“It’s difficult to make any long term plans, it’s difficult to sustain the confidence of fishermen in their own future and as a co-operative that’s really what we are all about, the fisherman.”

Mr Close said that in the absence of an NDF the Dutch trade will be lost and that the domestic market does not have the capacity to absorb the eels produced by the co-operative.

He explained that while Asian markets may now open up it will require “huge investment in facilities and manpower to deal with that”.

Mr Close said that long standing relationships have been established with business partners in Holland and Lough Neagh fishermen.

“Obviously that need niche market that we have supplied for many decades now is one that we want to protect and I would go as far as to say that the future of our business relies on the market still being open to us.” 17.01

The businessman said the prospect of no deal could end Lough Neagh’s commercial fishing trade.

“I think a lot of other food producers and agricultural interests would agree that the no-deal scenario is apocalypse, that’s catastrophe,” he said.

“Because effectively it shuts down our markets overnight.

“And that’s before you even get to consider the additional administrative and logistic problem’s that’s going to present.

“For us, assuming Brexit is inevitable, which I think we all have to accept, it has to be on the basis of some sort of transition period.

“It just can’t be a cliff edge otherwise it is pretty dire for us.”

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