The organisers of Ireland’s most prestigious pike fishing match are being urged to address serious welfare concerns, amid growing calls for a boycott of the event.

Pike Anglers Club officials met organisers of the Fermanagh-based Erne International Pike Fishing Classic back in April, calling for them to abandon the use of barrels to retain fish.

The PAC said it had serious welfare concerns both over the use of the barrels and the lack of stewarding at the event, meaning pike would be retained for long periods or transported some distance to be weighed.

The club fears fish will be deprived of oxygen while beign retained and pike stocks already under pressure could be further depleted.

PAC secretary Mark Barrett said: We met with Richard Turner, Keith Collen and Mark Lichtenburg, the main organisers for the match.

Many aspects of the match were spoken about during this meeting, the central issues being the retention of Pike in barrels and the poor stewarding in the boat section of the match.

But talks broke down with the organisers refusing to budge over the way this year‚s event will be run.

To say the organisers were unresponsive would not be far off the mark, said Mark Barrett.

Mark Lichtenburg walked out of the meeting claiming he could spare a few minutes, despite knowing for several weeks that the meeting was going to take place, with Gordon Nesbitt travelling from Londonderry and myself flying over from England.

Gordon informed organisers that the PAC‚s Northern Ireland region would be happy to supply 14 boats and 28 marshalls, walkie talkies and pike tubes, but this was rejected.

Since that point further negotiations have been briefly carried out, after organisers called the PAC offering to look again at the issue of barrels and stewarding.

But again no real concessions were on the table and Richard Turner, who had recently joined the PAC, was expelled from the club for refusing to modify his stance over the issue of fish being retained in barrels.

The Erne International Pike Fishing Classic is being backed by a group of organisations dedicated to promoting tourism in Northern Ireland, including Fermanagh District Council and the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Hundreds of anglers from across Europe are expected to take part, from October 19 ˆ 21.

It‚s unfortunate that an event designed to promote Ireland‚s pike fishing as a tourist attraction is now having the opposite affect, said Mark Barrett.

We have today been made aware of calls to boycott the Erne International.

The door remains open and we are willing for now to return to the table for talks on improving the welfare standards of this event, but unless we see real progress soon, we will have no alternative but to support the boycott and urge our 2,500 members to do the same.

“If this is a Premier League pike fishing competition, it should also have Premiership standards of fish care.”