A £2.6m grant for Portavogie harbour has been hailed as a massive vote of confidence in the local fishing industry which could increase its operations by more than 50%.

    The cash injection, awarded by the UK government, will help future-proof the village’s capacity to service fishing boats both locally and those from further afield. 

    The money will be used to replace and enhance ‘elderly’ equipment, including upgrading the existing boat cradle and winch that pulls fishing vessels out of the water for maintenance.

    The grant will also be used to install solar panels at the harbour, with renewable energy being used to power its machinery.

    Granted by the UK Seafood Fund infrastructure scheme, the fund is intended to strengthen the UK seafood supply chain, within which Portavogie landed £6.23m pounds worth of fish in 2022. 

    It also aims to reduce the seafood industry’s impact on the environment.

    The existing cradle and winch system at Portavogie is only used at 30% capacity due to the limited range of boats it can support.

    The money, being delivered via the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority (NIFHA), should help increase that capacity to between 80 and 90%. 

    Kevin Quigley, chief executive of the NIFHA, welcomed the news. He said the grant will facilitate ‘much more efficient’ practices at the harbour and that it ‘guarantees the facility for the foreseeable future’.

    Mr Quigley said ‘it will make it less costly for us to operate’ the running of the harbour, considering the current cradle ‘is nearly at the end of its useful life’.

    Confirming current operations of the harbour were running at approximately 33%, he said he believed the improved facilities will entice vessels from further afield.

    “Boats are changing and they are getting bigger in two ways, including in terms of weight and draft (or depth), and this will now allow us to cater for the bigger boats that are coming, like boats in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland that we think will come.”

    He said the equipment didn’t currently cater for smaller, catamaran type two-man vessels, but that the new cradle and winch would now facilitate this.

    “We hope this will increase usage up to 80 to 90 per cent as a result and that means an increase in revenue and an improvement in affordablity of the harbour.

    “We look forward to being able to service the changing shape of the future of our industry,” he stressed.

    Mr Quigly confirmed the improvements would not result in a reduction of staff but would help generate more business in the Portavogie industry, in terms of fuelling a more comprehensive range of maintenance services for vessels. 

    Harry Wick, CEO of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation which represents the majority of the Northern Irish fishing fleet, said the news was a big vote of confidence in the local industry.

    “It’s not just a boost for Portavogie but for the whole of Northern Ireland and fisheries beyond. It’s a real statement of confidence from the government in the Northern Ireland fisheries industry.”

    “In a competitive grant system we were up against projects from all over the UK so we were thrilled that it’s been successful so we can take the project forward.”

    Mr Wick agreed the upgrade of the current ‘elderly’ equipment ‘will improve the scope of vessels it caters for which he said was ‘quite narrow at the moment’.

    Commenting that the primary grant mechanism for Northern Ireland fishery fleet has up until Brexit, been the European and Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), Mr Wick said with that concluding at the end of this year, its successor is the MFF – the UK government’s Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

    He said the MFF ‘should have been in place already’ however, due to the ongoing absence of Stormont, ‘the legal process can’t proceed’ to commence this. 

     Turning to the grant’s environmental focus, he said the environmental considerations ‘were specific to the project’, stating that the use of renewable energy was built into the design of new equipment servicing the Portavogie facility.