`This really is our darkest hour...It is unworkable'

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The Independent Online
IN THE Northern Ireland village of Kilkeel, fishermen reacted with despair to the news from Brussels of the quota cuts. Peter Forsythe has fished from here for 30 years, having taken over the business from his father. This week, for the first time he is considering quitting.

"It sounds dramatic but this really is our darkest hour... What they're proposing... is unworkable. They must know it will push us out of business. Why are they doing it? I really can't understand."

Paul Leeman, chairman of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation (Nifpo), was bewildered. Speaking from his trawler off Co Down, he said the industry was on the verge of collapse. "In 10 years' time I wouldn't be surprised if there was no fishing industry to speak of in Northern Ireland." Other officials said they feared the proposed cuts in white- fish quotas would force fishermen to seek their living in the already oversubscribed prawn sector.

But for Mr Forsythe this is not an option. "If everybody is trying to get a slice of the cake there, that industry will just collapse in time as well. Realistically, in Kilkeel I think we're just going to see a lot of boats going to the scrapyard."

There are about 1,200 fishermen in Northern Ireland, with thousands more employed in the processing and distribution sectors. Tom Bryan- Brown, of Nifpo, said the recommendations would mean huge hardship for many. Although fishing industries experience peaks and troughs, many in Northern Ireland feel the Brussels directives will prompt an irreversible slump.

Mr Bryan-Brown said: "Young men who would traditionally have gone to sea are becoming electricians and so on ... But for the men who've been in it a long time and who know nothing else, it's very hard to just up and leave." "Significant" numbers of people have contacted Northern Ireland's fishing authorities asking for advice on how to dismantle their businesses.

Mr Forsythe has three sons, only one of whom wants to follow in his footsteps. "I'm trying to put him off," he said. "It's a hard, hard business and in the end there's not much reward."