Reviving North County Wicklow’s Inshore Fisheries Socio – Economic Modal
My Grandfather Willie Redmond built wooden clinker designed boats in his shed behind Killian’s Hall in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. He fished trammel nets for bottom species on the local fishing grounds as did my uncles on both my mothers and fathers side of the family. My dad and Uncle Liam Hayden taught me how to dig lugworm, build a long line, set it, shoot and haul it for the abundant plaice which visited the inshore mussel banks every summer and autumn.
My father caught plaice to eight pound weight on Riley’s Ridge the most well known section of the widespread mussel bank off Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. I myself landed them to 5.5 lb weight and witnessed fish up to six plus pound being boated. Then the mussel dredgers arrived, some time in the early 1980’s if memory serves me right and started tearing the heart out of what was an amazing and abundant habitat, home to a diverse range of marine species.
Initially gouging visible holes in the mussel bank structure, ripping through the substrate, cultch (empty mussel shells upon which future mussel spat fix) and cobbles to over many seasons eventually render a permanent mussel reef impermanent, dark blue solidity replaced by shifting white sand upon which no mussels could fix.
I fished off Greystones with my father, uncles, cousins and friends, first dipping a line around 1971. Sea fishing wise Greystones to a young boy and latterly teenager in the 1970’s was a piscatorial marvel. Plaice and codling visited the kelp beds of the Moulditch Ridge and inshore mussel banks which extended southwards through Kilcoole and Newcastle in abundance joined by a host of other species to include dab, lemon and black sole, pollack, coalfish and mackerel.
Plaice fishing was my favourite occupation, utilising a seven foot heavy spinning rod in tandem with a flowing bead and spoon decorated trace I would happily sit over the turn of a tide trotting lugworm baited hooks down stream bumping and searching along the bottom until the bump, bump lean of a good plaice was felt. Then feeding line one would wait for a more forceful weighty pull down to occur before subsequently lifting into the fish.
A large plaice when hooked uses its flat wide shape to catch the current while also head shaking, occasionally diving and swimming in a circular motion. On light tackle they are great scrappers and of course make for fantastic eating, which was my primary motive for targeting them. Oh and fresh out of water with their olive green backs liberally spotted with red spots they are a stunning fish to look at.
When the mussel dredgers came to the inshore fishing grounds off Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow my heart sank. Anchored near them one could see and hear the destruction as everything came up in the clanking noisy dredges. On departing they left a calling card of emptiness. Riley’s Ridge was fished by my father and uncles from the 1950’s. It was still there when I commenced fishing in the seventies, in short Riley’s Ridge was a permanent mussel bank built up over many decades.
I used to know I was on Riley’s by triangulating reference points such as the Rock of Kilcoole, the red shed and various trees and white washed gable ends with each other. On sunny days one would then cross reference with the colour of the sea around the boat, sun light penetrating the water only to reflect off the sea bed thirty feet below. If the sea was dark blue we were over the mussel bed, if it was blue white we were over sand. Once satisfied that the dark blue mussel bank was below the anchor was dropped and fishing commenced.
A feature of the extensive mussel banks off Kilcoole was their ability to filter feed the offshore water columns until in prolonged periods of calm the sea would become crystal clear. I witnessed this phenomenon on one or two occasions where a mile offshore fishing in thirty foot of water at slack tide I could see below fish approaching and taking my lugworm baited hooks, the rattle transmitting through my index finger in unison with the vision.
Once dredging started blue white replaced dark blue, initially in patches however overtime the blue white patches merged and dark blue disappeared along with the fish. Today consulting research documents produced for Bord Iascaigh Mhara on behalf of the Bottom Mussel Dredging Industry they cite transient mussel reefs off Wicklow as against permanent structures, this is due to thirty years of licenced destruction. There were permanent mussel beds off north County Wicklow as the above narrative illustrates, sadly they were obliterated resulting today in a reduction of marine species diversity off north Co. Wicklow and cloudy inshore waters.
The reason the inshore waters off Greystones Co. Wicklow were so productive was because of the local habitat of shallow rocky kelp strewn reefs and mussel banks washed by strong tides. This perfect mix of physical features combined to create an extensive honey pot attractive to a vast range of marine life. Greystones, 25 miles south of O’Connell Street, provided artisan fishing opportunities for the local population while also being the home base for recreational sea anglers living in Dublin city.
For decades there existed a symbiotic relationship between the two interests which lasted right up until when the fish disappeared sometime around the early 1990’s. Local fishing family names to include Redmond, Hayden, Ryan, Kinsella and Spurling vacated the now crumbling harbour as did in time the stalwart sea anglers of the Knights, Dublin City, Dolphin Richview and Inchicore, their annual opens receding into distant memory and folklore.
Today the basis for a revival of Greystones fortunes is feasible, it just needs the right people to grasp and run with the vision. Sea angling off the venue can be revived as can the tradition of artisan fishing. The twin aspirations of a recent heritage can be restored to transport Greystones forward into a modern age of real time history where old traditions can become mainstream activities transforming a suburb of Dublin into a living breathing seaside town harbouring true connections with its offshore marine environment.
Tourism jobs, artisan fishing jobs, small businesses both seasonal and year round, locally caught fresh fish sold in shops and restaurants, an active vibrant harbour and sea front, colour, smells, bustle, international angling competitions, boats on the slip and at moorings embarking to fish in the now again abundant inshore fisheries, all the above is possible it just requires will and ironically not a great deal of money as nature will do most of the work.
Nature though has to be enabled and that is why I am seeking support to start an initiative the aim of which is to restore the inshore fishing grounds off Greystones between Bray Head and Wicklow head as a pilot project the long to medium term aim of which is to ultimately redesign how Ireland’s inshore waters are developed and managed socio – economically into the future.
Ireland’s inshore waters if managed correctly can support a far wider range of stakeholder interests then is currently recognised by Ireland’s decision makers with the potential economic contribution multiples of what exists today. I can say this because I lived it. I can say this because in 1981 I considered becoming an artisan fisher working a boat off Greystones in Co. Wicklow. The marine environmental writing was on the wall back then so I moved in another direction. It need not have been that way. There is still time to right the sins of the past. Contact me through my website www.anirishanglersworld.com and be part of something really special………….
Ashley Hayden © January 2016
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