Under the Government's renewal of the whitefish fleet programme, 1998-2001, significant grant aid has been made available for the purchase of new and modern second-hand vessels, as well as funding to modernise existing vessels and to purchase and install state-of-the-art safety equipment. The overall objective of the programme has been to enhance the operational and technical efficiency, competitiveness and safety of the whitefish fleet.
By the end of last year 728 projects have been approved involving total investment of some £70 million. These projects include the introduction of 31 new vessels and 21 second-hand vessels, 77 vessel modernisations and the installation of safety equipment on 599 vessels.
In parallel, and following agreement with the Commission on the Community Support Framework, 2000-06, the new round of investment support strategies for the fleet and the seafood industry as a whole is being put in place by my Department. Under the national development plan £171 million will underpin overall investment strategies for the sector.
My Department is working with BIM to finalise the detailed grant schemes which will strategically focus on the further enhancement of the safety, quality, efficiency and competitiveness of the whitefish fleet. I expect that EU approval under state aid guidelines will be secured shortly at which stage I will announce details of the new fleet investment initiative.