Bad weather leaves fishermen in hardship

Bad weather leaves fishermen in hardship

Fishermen in Co Down are relying on charity hand-outs as continued bad weather has prevented them from earning a living.

In Ardglass, more than 80 fishermen have approached the Fishermen's Mission as they have found themselves in hardship.One of them, Martin Rice, told UTV: "Me and people like me, we're relying on borrowing money from friends, maxing out credit cards, asking utility providers 'can you wait til next week' - always thinking next week will get better, but it doesn't get any better, it gets worse and there's very little light at the end of the tunnel."Men and women queuing for food vouchers in the 21st century - we're at a low and would like help, families are on the edge here."Trawlermen in Kilkeel are also reporting difficulty making ends meet.I will be meeting with our local fishermen tomorrow to thoroughly examine the issues now affecting the fleet and possible options to assist the industry within the boundaries of current legislation.Agriculture Minister Michelle O'NeillMaurice Lake, from the charity, said they are struggling to deal with demand as they have had a sudden influx of around 200 people asking for help."This morning I expected a lot of people to come here but I didn't expect the flood of people that we got, basically we're urging fishermen to be patient, bear with us," he said."We still get lots of calls coming from Portavogie, the phone has been hot for the last 24 hours and we will respond to them as soon as we can."It's a question we have got to address, why didn't we know sooner, I know they are proud people but it's very difficult for them to come and ask us for help."SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has called for an emergency meeting of the Executive to deal with the situation."One fisherman I spoke with told me some of the men he knew don't have enough money to buy food and other essential commodities. He said they are turning to the Fishermen's Mission for help and, on one occasion, 85 fishermen had queued to get food vouchers," she said."The DARD minister says the fishing industry is facing challenges, but this is more than a challenge. While fishermen and the fishing industry are extremely resilient, there is no way they can withstand this - relentless bad weather which means they can't get out to fish their quota allocation.Fishermen already suffer as a result of 'days at sea' restrictions and this bad weather further compounds the situation. They simply cannot get out to work."She added: "These fishermen have no income and are facing serious financial difficulties. We need to help them because they are hurting badly in the ports of Kilkeel and Ardglass."Responding to the issue Agriculture Minister Minister O'Neill said she would be meeting with fishermen on Tuesday to see what can be done."I am acutely aware of the financial difficulties many fishermen, skippers and crews alike, have endured over recent weeks due to adverse weather which has prevented parts of our fleet from putting to sea," the Sinn Féin minister commented."While fishing activity during the winter months is generally much lower, the recent very stormy weather has been particularly disruptive."The Executive made available some £400k to address financial hardship experienced by fishermen last year, and it will be important to ensure that any further package of measures will assist the industry to address long term problems, respond to future challenges and help to ensure a sustainable fishing sector in the North."

© UTV

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