An Irish Anglers World

A Call to Arms

Let’s fight to save Ireland’s Inshore Marine Fisheries.

“First published in the December 2015 edition of Irish Angler’s Digest, the original article was a response to the super trawlers Margiris and Annelies Ilena fishing off Ireland’s west coast for scad. However in light of the bass debacle unfolding after the annual December “Brussels Fisheries Stock Lottery” the message within the article carries more weight than ever…………Regards, Ashley

Back in November 2007 I wrote my first angling related piece in over twenty years entitled “An Anglers Tale”. Prompted by a first boat angling trip in 15 years off Greystones, Co. Wicklow in the month of August that year, accompanied by two friends Gary Robinson and Scott Ring the change in how the fishery presented was both stark and depressing. Pelagic mackerel were small and hard to find as also were the demersal fish my friends and I targeted with lugworm.

At days end we had boated eight species of fish to include codling, whiting, coalfish, mackerel, dab, launce, dogfish, and an octopus, most returned as immature. We kept a few of the larger mackerel and three small codling. A once wonderful mixed fishery for those who had experienced its glory, as I had, was now without question a shadow of its former self.

An immature coalfish, Greystones Co. Wicklow, summer 2007

It was clear to us all that under the collective watch of various government departments, agencies, and vested sea angling interests, an environmental tragedy had been allowed to happen. What in the very recent past had been a bountiful Garden of Eden, benefiting the wider local and national economy, sadly had been turned into a desert.

In writing and publishing that piece, which can still be accessed through the media section of my website, I naively thought that passionate and influential people might just pick up on the message it contained resulting in some class of forward traction regarding inshore habitat rehabilitation and a broader more enlightened approach to sea fisheries management, sadly this aspiration did not occur.

MFV Margiris, a Dutch registered Super Trawler.

Instead, eight years on, the picture is even more grim the malaise of habitat destruction and “race to the bottom” sea fisheries management practices continuing unabated within both Ireland’s offshore and inshore waters, exemplified as I write on the 13/11/2015 by the super trawler Margiris plying its “perfectly legal” trade fishing for scad west of the Aran Islands.

The presence of this “protected in law” environmentally destructive Leviathan in Irish territorial waters has spawned a clatter of indignant protests on social media from individuals and NGO’s but complete silence from Government sources, an action made all the more stark by a tweet from the Irish Wildlife Trust dated November 13th which reads, “yesterday we wrote to @simoncoveney & the sea fisheries protection agency regarding the super trawler, neither responded”.

Ireland's Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney.

The silence is deafening from Government spokes people and National media journalists with responsibility for marine matters, none of which are popping their heads above the parapet and calling it like it is. The practical on the ground experiential and scientific evidence is beyond argument for those who look at our marine resource through honest eyes. If Ireland’s marine fisheries were metaphorically a ship, a torpedo has struck amidships well below the waterline and at present the life boats are being lowered. The time for procrastination is long over, our political decision makers need to act on the citizens’ behalf now and not instead continue to support a few “commercial sea fishing industry” vested interests in what is actually an extremely undemocratic process that is failing the state.

Ironically and one could even say criminally, Government statistics actually show the truth of current marine fisheries mismanagement practices but are for some reason left hidden in a virtual cupboard until somebody deigns to unearth and interpret them correctly. So readers for your delectation:

Irish Demersal sea fish landings by value for all ports in 2014 amounted to €132,123, 000 represented by 56,263 tonnes, figures garnered from the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) website. Drilled down these figures give an average landed per kilo price of €2.35 across all demersal species to include cod, plaice, haddock, etc.

As a double check and to remove any doubt that the above quoted figure is either low or non representative of individual species a cross reference with UK figures supplied by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for 2011 dovetails with the Irish situation. The average UK per kilo landed price for plaice in 2011 being €1.87 and for cod €2.86.

A brace of Beara Plaice worth over €100 to the local community if caught by a tourist sea angler.

Tourist sea anglers depending on species sought and whether fishing from licenced charter vessels, small boats or shore will spend between €120 and €200 per day, a figure underpinned by Government sponsored research and accepted as fact. The two plaice held smilingly for the camera by yours truly in one of the images supplied for this piece have a combined weight in the region of 1.5 kilograms. The landed value of these fish amounts to about €4.00. I travelled to West Cork, stayed in self catering accommodation, caught those plaice (a rare catch nowadays) and delightedly cooked and ate them for my tea. Combined they generated €100 plus euro in tourist angler spend for the local community that I holidayed in.

Understanding the above quoted fact and then applying purely commercial logic; which activity benefits both the local and national economy more? The two said plaice swept up in a habitat damaging trawl then sold on for €4.00 or the B/B, Pub, Shop, Restaurant within the West Cork coastal community all benefiting from the €120 plus euro a day that I shared around during my stay.

A no brainer says you, but that does not seem to sway either our public servants or politicians, who are paid for by the citizenry with a mandate for that privilege to manage Ireland’s resources in a way that gains maximum return for the people. Well the above little exercise makes it plainly obvious that the aforementioned public servants, many of whom hold permanent pensionable work contracts or enjoy hefty pensions on being voted out of or retiring from office, do not for what ever reason seem to understand or agree with the simple truth illustrated in the previous paragraph.

This national decision makers oversight does not just extend to sea angling but also to small inshore commercial fishers who would appear to receive very little support or recognition from Government evidenced by the disappearance of artisan style sea fishing all around the Irish and UK coastlines and the resultant setting up in recent years of representative organisations such as the UK based “Low Impact Fishers of Europe” and Ireland’s “Irish Island Marine Resource Organisation” to fight for better recognition of their economic contribution and way of life.

It would do no harm for sea anglers and inshore fishers to get together and fight the inshore marine resource corner together, for there is no doubt they can exist as bed fellows as this writer knows full well given the positive connection between artisan fishers and sea anglers that this writer witnessed year in year out at Greystones, Co. Wicklow up to circa 1990.

If we want our seas to be rid of species destroying, fishery destroying, livelihood destroying, local coastal economy destroying scourges epitomised by vessels such as the Margiris and the Annelies Ilena then a good starting point would be for sea angling and artisan fishers to join forces and promote quality coastal economies based on sustainable inshore fisheries resource management where the resource is king and not a few greedy locals supported by what would appear first hand to be uninformed and in many cases under qualified yet protected public servants.

To that end I am making a call to arms with a view to changing current inshore fisheries management structures so as (1) a wider stakeholder body to include artisan commercial fishing and recreational angling is finally recognised and (2) decades of habitat destruction is curtailed by the implementation of sustainable fishing practices and the setting up of Marine Protected Areas. If interested in helping please contact me through my website and we will work together towards delivering a better future for Ireland’s inshore fisheries……….

Ashley Hayden © December 2015

See also: Marine Conservation.

See also: An Anglers Tale.