Fisheries Minister Edwin Poots has announced that a multi-million pound investment in Northern Ireland's three key fishing harbours has moved a step closer.
During a visit to Kilkeel Harbour the Minister welcomed the latest development which could mean a major investment in the fishing infrastructure ensuring the industry was fit for the 21st century.
"Our fishing vessels and seafood processing industries are vital to the Northern Ireland economy creating an annual turnover of Pound 135million and supporting 1,550 jobs," said Minister Poots.
"For the future of these industries it is vital we move ahead with these major developments. If we get approval for funding we envisage around Pound 100million will be invested in key infrastructure at Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie.
"My department has secured a significant amount of money, which I believe reflects my commitment and support for the future of our fishing industry, to procure and carry out essential environmental and technical studies to progress the harbour development proposals to the next stage.
"These projects are complicated and take time and there is some way to go before we can take final decisions to build new harbours.
"However, this is an important first step and we look forward to working closely with the Harbour Authority, the fishing industry and others to further develop the proposals to a stage where we can secure necessary approvals and finance to transform our fishery harbours," added Minister Poots.
The proposals include Pound 73million to create a new harbour at Kilkeel which would also see it become an Irish Sea Marine Hub - a centre of economic and marine activity for things such as aquaculture, leisure boating and boat repair and decommissioning - supporting the fishing industry and wider blue economy. It would also have a deeper approach channel to allow larger vessels to land. The approach channel at Ardglass would also be deepened costing some Pound 20million.
The Pound 5million proposal for Portavogie would including developing the existing harbour and abandoned buildings.
Last year the Fishing and Seafood Development Programme (FSDP) published a report setting out a clear vision for developing Northern Ireland's harbour infrastructure.
Minister Poots welcomed that vision saying: "Our fishing and seafood industry must be fit for the 21st Century and be prosperous and sustainable. It must be in a position to take advantage of new fishing opportunities and contribute to green growth.
"To remain competitive replacement fishing vessels need to be more efficient, safer and comfortable places to work. They will need to adapt to net zero carbon targets, reduce emissions and be able to use fishing gears with less environmental impacts. This is likely to mean larger, deeper or wider vessels, and this means investment in the infrastructure to support this new generation of fishing vessels."