The Lough Neagh fishing industry's wait for details of a six-figure support package continues, despite Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots saying they will be released 'imminently'.
A commitment on the package was first given on September 15, but a delay in announcing details of the support has led to frustration from the sector.
“Fishermen are naturally frustrated over the delay. They are entitled to the support and should have it as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson for Lough Neagh Fisherman's Co-operative Society.
“The market is heavily dependent on hotel/restaurant trade and the tourism trade in mainland Europe. Hospitality outlets were closed for an extended period in the early summer months and tourism all but vanished.
“The eel industry on the lough is a significant contributor to the local rural economy and its fishermen are custodians of an important natural asset playing a vital role in protecting its future viability.
“While the Department is well aware of the importance of the industry it does appear that other sectors for which they are also responsible have had their plight recognised with more urgency.”
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots last week confirmed a £336,000 scheme in correspondence with Mid Ulster MLA Emma Sheerin, who has followed up with a request for clarity.
“I along with my colleague John O’Dowd met with Minister Poots back in the summer about support for Lough Neagh fishermen, and at that stage a commitment was given to us around a package,” she said.
“I repeatedly questioned the minister about this, both on the floor of the assembly and through written questions and correspondence, at every junction being told departmental officials were working on it.
‘It’s disappointing that money has not yet been delivered, but I am heartened by correspondence received from the Minister last week confirming a scheme worth £336,000 will be released imminently.
“I have again followed up on this with a request for details of criteria immediately, so as to efficiently and expediently support the fishing community on the shores of the Lough.
“It is ridiculous that Edwin Poots has taken this long to deliver funding for these fishing families, people working in a sector already plunged into uncertainty about the future as time runs out on the transition period.
“80% of Lough Neagh Eels are exported to Germany and Holland, and so Brexit casts major risks for the industry locally, and it is support and help that is required, not further uncertainty.”
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