The North's eel fishing industry - the largest producer of wild eels in Europe - could be devastated if 'special status' is not secured post-Brexit, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has warned.
The Derry MEP was speaking after meeting representatives of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative in Brussels to discuss concerns over the impact Brexit is likely to have on the industry.
"Lough Neagh eels are highly regarded across Europe and the Lough Neagh fishing industry has benefited significantly from EU funding and promotion.
"Over the years EU funding and support has helped develop sustainable eel fishing in Lough Neagh and opened up new markets to the point where 80 per cent of Lough Neagh eels are now sold to continental Europe," she said.
Two years ago Mark Allen and Dr. Dan Hull estimated the Lough Neagh eel fishery was the largest producer of wild caught eels in the EU with around 400 tonnes of eels landed annually.
That's 16 per cent of the EU's annual wild eel catch with 80 per cent of it traded via the Netherlands to the European market.
However, since 2010 all imports and exports of eels to and from the EU have been banned while the Lough Neagh fishery has also been restocked using glass eels from Spain and France for the past eight years.
Thus fishermen are understandably concerned about what will happen after March 2019 when the United Kingdom leaves the EU, taking the North with it.
Ms. Anderson said: "Given the fact that the life cycle of an eel can be up to 25 years, current EU investment will not come to fruition for many years which means that any loss of EU funding as a result of the Tory Brexit agenda could have a devastating impact on the industry.
"Together with the EU ban on the import of eels, Brexit could put the future of the entire Lough Neagh eel fishing industry in doubt.
"The best way to protect the Lough Neagh eel fishing industry is to secure special status for the north within the EU and that is what Sinn Féin is trying to achieve."
While concerns are currently centred on Lough Neagh, the North's commercial eel industry also formerly incorporated a fishery in Lough Erne.
The Lough Erne eel fishery has been closed due to sustainability concerns, however, a significant recovery in the Fermanagh eel population could lead to its reopening at some point in the future.