AT the recent NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) conference, the NGO’s put forth their concerns about the Irish Republic’s Drift Net Fishery. 

In support, the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) states it is time for the Republic of Ireland to bring a voluntary end to drift net fishing off the coast of the Irish Republic.  Compensation needs to be paid to net licensees through public partnerships with private interests. 

This action will help protect seriously declining Atlantic salmon stocks and help maintain recreational angling opportunities. 

While Minister Browne, who is responsible for Irish Marine and Natural Resources, promised in a 2003 press release “to do nothing is not an option”, little is happening. 

The Irish Drift Net Fishery continues to take in over 135,000 Atlantic salmon a year.  Over the past 20 years the number of wild Atlantic salmon has halved and continues to decline (NASCO 2004).  They are listed as an endangered species by the European Union.

For the Atlantic salmon stocks to recover, the recognized international scientific body, ICES (International Council for Exploration of the Seas) emphasises the urgent need to end drift net fishing by Irish nets. 

The UK’s Environment Agency data shows 5-10% of these salmon caught in Irish nets are destined for rivers in southern England.  Chris Poupard, Chairman of the NGO groups at NASCO and co-author of the report “NASCO’s Future” states, “these rivers now have very low Salmon stocks with virtually no in-river exploitation.  Additionally, fish destined for the rivers of France, Germany and Spain are also being intercepted by the Irish nets.”

All these countries are spending significant sums of money and effort on in-river restoration programmes. These efforts are being “partially negated by the Irish drift nets” says Chris Poupard.

The Atlantic Salmon caught in commercial Irish Nets are salmon destined for rivers that are already too short of returning spawning salmon to sustain their populations.  70% of the rivers in England and Wales have Atlantic salmon population that are below their Conservation Limits (EA publication, Our Nations’ Fisheries 2004).

 

Many of these rivers have the EU conservation designation as SAC (Special Areas of Conservation), which means the Atlantic salmon is a protected species.  “The Irish may be in breach of European Directives” states Chris Poupard, “as they continue to catch these protected and endangered fish.”

 

Not only is the commercial fishery harmful, it only provides a marginal socio-economic benefit when compared with recreational angling.  Paul Knight, Director of the Salmon & Trout Association explains that “The Indecon Report of 2003 valued an Irish rod caught salmon at something over 22 times that of a netted fish, proving the overwhelming socio-economic advantages of angling over commercial fishing.” 

 

Ecological protection is needed.  “In England, the Government recently put £1.25m into the buy-out of the majority of NE coast drift net licenses, a fishery exploiting 36,000 salmon a year.  This showed admirable governmental responsibility, not only towards the exploitation of local fish stocks, but also those destined for rivers in a neighbouring country; in this case, Scotland, of course.  It also proved the worth of partnerships between governments and private interests, an initiative which has proven to be equally effective in Northern Ireland. “ This measure allows recreational angling to continue. 

Paul Knight continues, “We heard that the Irish are heading towards a Total Allowable Catch for 2005 in line with scientific advice, yet this will still maintain a drift net fishery exploiting 135,000 salmon a year, together with a significant number of unrecorded fish stolen for nets by predators.”

“Taking into account ICES management advice to end mixed stocked fisheries, and the need to protect marginal numbers of Salmon, together with the recent success of the NE England buy-out, the Irish Government needs to work to bring about a voluntary cessation of drift net fishing off the coast of the Irish Republic, with compensation paid to licensees.”

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