THE number of people visiting Ireland to fish for salmon has halved in the past six years, decimating parts of the tourism trade associated with angling.

Statistics showing the drop in the number of visiting anglers prompted a call from tourism bodies to scrap the practice of drift-netting.

The groups, including the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), the Irish Tourism

Industry Confederation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said action was needed to re-establish salmon fishing here.

They expressed disappointment at the failure of Marine Minister Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher to address the issue of commercial drift-netting when he announced reforms of the fishing sector last week.

But the minister said he believed that drift-netting and angling could live “side by side”, and did not rule out a voluntary buyout of some of the drift netting sector in the future.

“It’s not as simple as banning drift netting,” he said. “I would have to justify to the Government and the taxpayer the cost of a buyout.”

He added that he would re-appoint the National Salmon Commission in the coming weeks and would ask all relevant bodies to report their findings to him later this year.

IHF chief executive John Power claimed the country benefited by €423 when a salmon was caught in angling tourism, as opposed to €22 for one caught by drift netting.

He said angling tourism contributed€ 55 million to the economy annually, but visitor numbers had dropped from 54,000 to 27,000 since 1999.

Ian Powell, of the Blackwater Lodge Hotel in Co Waterford, said that his trade for June was down 46% compared with June 2004.

“Something needed to be done about this 10 years ago, but Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher seems to think that he knows better than anyone else,” he said.

Meanwhile, figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) yesterday showed a fall in other parts of the tourism sector, such as visitors from North America, and show that Irish tourists spend 145m more abroad than tourists visiting Ireland spend here.

Fine Gael’s spokesman for tourism, Jimmy Deenihan, called on the Government to increase the emphasis on domestic tourism.