An Irish Anglers World

Irish Tourism Sea Angling, a Chicken and Egg Situation

Today is the 14th of July 2015, within the previous month I have been evening beach fishing on three separate occasions, twice on east coast beaches south of Arklow and once on a south Wexford beach. Did I experience good fishing? NO!! Within that time I have also kept my ear to the ground by following the catch returns, from beaches within south east Ireland, of a couple of friends who are very competent beach anglers. Are they experiencing good beach fishing, categorically NO!!

What determines “good fishing” is subjective to every individual based on experience over time and a host of other elements to include range of species, frequency of catch, size of fish, craic, scenery, Irish hospitality, accommodation, pubs, eateries, the quality and professionalism of the guide or charter skipper, etc.  Removing all the bells and whistles, when it comes down to it people go fishing to catch fish and hopefully a big one. To achieve this aim anglers desire fisheries to be well managed and also reasonable access to locations where they can enjoy a better than average chance of actually “catching fish and hopefully a big one”.

Smooth Hound.

The east and south facing beaches of counties Wicklow and Wexford used to deliver “a range of fish species with plenty of big ones” relative to the time of year, state of tide, specific location, bait and method employed and prevailing weather conditions. Today these beaches produce dogfish, a decreasing number of adult smooth hound, school bass to supplemented by occasional larger bass to specimen weight and immature fish species to include whiting, codling, dab, smooth hound and tope.

Oh I here you say, that’s bullshit, I catch smooth hound averaging 6/7 pound and bass averaging 4/5 pound along with ray between 5 and 10 pound and if you go down to Ballyhealy or Rosslare Point you can catch tope to 40 pound plus, sure what kind of angler are you? A 54 year old forward thinking one of forty years experience who is into the bigger picture rather than increasingly rare trophy catches thank you.

To illustrate that last comment, up to 1990, which was not a long time ago, sure weren’t Ray, Packie and David on the box last night reminiscing on the Italia 90 penalty shoot out with Rumania and didn’t they all look well. I digress, pre 1990 yours truly would not plan too hard when it came to shore fishing, where I was going to fish, the time, tides, weather and bait sufficing. The only aspect of fishing that drew any attention was how to deliver a long distance cast. Once that was learned a shore angler possessed the ability to potentially catch more or less anything that swam.

Recreational Fishing.

Having nailed that skill one then chose a venue and went, cast out and waited. If the time, tide and weather conditions were favourable multi species hauls from east and south facing Wicklow and Wexford beaches were the norm. Off the east facing Wicklow beaches an average session could produce a mixed haul for an individual angler containing good sized codling, pollack, coalfish, plaice, dab and flounder. Depending on the mark occasional bass, conger and ray could also be thrown into the mix.

Further south a few hours night fishing at the likes of Morriscastle or Tinnebearna could quite likely deliver smooth hound, ray, spurdog, flounder, plaice, codling and bass all within the one session. Regarding both counties a target species such as respectively codling off the Wicklow beaches or smooth hound off the Wexford strands would be the draw, however within any session a range of fish species to a high average size would always show up. In short, the most rudimentary of planning would deliver a decent evenings fishing where rod tops consistently nodded to good fish which is not the case today and sadly, certainly on Ireland’s east and south east coastlines, it is getting worse.

An interest of mine is tourism angling and how it is marketed. To succeed a tourism angling product needs to provide a quality fishing experience, which is a subjective aspiration at the best of times, given that one individuals “poor” is another persons “brilliant”. Allowing for craic, decent accommodation, food and interactions with welcoming locals, one thing is clear if the fishing is poor then the experience will fall below expectation. Taking the above statement a stage further, if the fishing is poor to non existent you will not have a tourism angling product and that when it comes to tourism sea angling is where Ireland based on current evidence would appear to be heading.

Bass from South Wales.

This writer’s primary piscatorial love is sea angling and information gleaned from seven years of diary entries contained within the An Irish Anglers World website is clear, sea fishing in the locations that I fish has declined year on year since 2008 the year the website first went online. Two hundred & ninety seven diary posts representing marks from Wicklow to West Cork portray a qualified and verifiable story of a deteriorating Irish sea fishing resource. In some areas the decline is slower than in others but overall the graph is falling with bad management spawned by lack of knowledge allied to subjective decision making, limited regulation and lack of prioritisation at Government level the cause.

A cursory glance at articles within the July 2015 edition of Irish Angler’s Digest provides a foundation for the above statement. Firstly, Sidney Kennedy in his piece on “Hunting Specimen Thick Lipped Mullet” (Page 31) discusses the decline in grey mullet numbers at Rosscarbery, Co. Cork linking the disappearance to recent large recorded commercial mullet hauls off County Cork. In 2013 I wrote about a fall in numbers of species to include grey mullet off the Beara Peninsula, the disappearance far from a figment of Ashley’s imagination. If mighty mullet shoals are present year on year from 2005 – 2012 and then they are not it does not take a rocket scientist to work out where the mullet have gone.

The above is one example of a tourism sea angler draw which is under threat. Anglers travel from all over Ireland to fish Rosscarbary and the Beara based on reports in the angling media and Irish Specimen Fish committee books. Removing the fish removes the reason to travel ergo no tourist revenue. In essence the Government has to decide whether a few local people make a short term killing or a selection of diverse local stakeholders with an interest in the resource derive a long term contribution to their overall income.

Black bream from Wales.

Moving towards the IFPAC News report within July’s Irish Angler’s Digest commencing page 58 one finds a brief entry on the European Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisory Commission (EIFAAC) symposium, which was held in Norway, themed “Recreational Fishing in an Era of Change”. The great and the good from both the public and private sector traveled, many at tax payers expense to hear statements such as “angler numbers are down 50% since the 1970’s and 1980’s due to interest in angling falling as people moved from rural to urban areas.

Let us hope that the hospitality was nice in Lillehammer because the above statement based on accepted research to include the Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland, Scottish Government 2009, is without foundation. Angler numbers are declining across Europe primarily because of commercial over exploitation of fish stocks, deteriorating and shrinking habitat the result again of commercial over fishing and pollution and increasing lack of access to quality wild fishing marks.

To an individual recreation has a value and that value has a foundation in the relationship between the amount of time and money invested in the recreational pursuit and the satisfaction gained from indulging in the pursuit. If a person chooses fishing, ultimately they want to catch fish, usually of a specific type and size; if that criteria is not met the individual will invest their time and money in other forms of recreation. That ladies and gentlemen is where your anglers have gone. In short, healthy productive fisheries attract, damaged unproductive fisheries repel.

In terms of Ireland’s overall tourism sea angling product the jury is well out, the product is waning due to historical Governmental acceptance that marine commercial fishing interests are the only gig in town and signs of an improvement of this imbalance as to how Ireland’s marine fisheries are managed into the future are not looking good. On Friday and Saturday 10th/11th July last Sea Fest 2015, a maritime conference in tandem with festivities was held in Cork. A celebratory vehicle promoting the Governments “Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland”, a glance at the conference itinerary is very clear, not one key note speaker represented or put forward a singular case for Irish tourism sea angling.

Alan Duthie displays a fine South Wales caught smooth hound.

This is an appalling oversight when one considers that exclusive of the multiplier effect the total contribution of sea angling to Ireland, to include tourism and indigenous interests is €127.5 million (Tourism Development International, 2013). The above quoted figure exceeding the combined contributions of both the aquaculture sector and whitefish landings for 2012 of €60.7 million and €49.2 million respectively (Bord Iascaigh Mhara, 2013).

Given that the market for travelling sea anglers within the United Kingdom alone is worth €120 million, which is €20 million more than the total receipts for Irish tourism angling in 2014, someone in Government needs to prioritise quickly Ireland’s most efficient and effective cost/return marine investment strategy to include sea angling before it really is too late.

A starting point as I keep repeating ad nauseum is to employ or contract and listen too objective professionals who know what they are talking about rather than heed the words of ill informed speakers while enjoying a junket in Norway, or worse still a total omission of necessary facts relating to Ireland’s tourism sea angling resource as happened at Sea Fest 2015 last month in Ringaskiddy.

Again to illustrate the above statement, the images supplied with this piece were taken while fishing with friends off Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, South Wales. The fishing is very similar to that off Ireland’s east coast and the photos clearly disprove the lie which I so often hear trumpeted by service providers and promoters within the Irish tourism angling sector that, “our fishing is still better than the United Kingdom’s”. To those people I say, “take your subjective heads out of the sand because the King is very quickly losing his clothes”…………

Ashley Hayden © July 2015