An Irish Anglers World

Spare the Rod

Only in Ireland”, as they say. The Government has been taking soundings among angling associations as to how the statutory agency Inland Fisheries Ireland might manage, develop, fund and protect both our marine and freshwater fisheries resources. Still aesthetically and commercially viable but in many areas showing signs of stress due to pollution, poaching, water abstraction and over fishing, it is incumbent on the state to implement policies and plans that maximise the return from Ireland’s fisheries now and into the future.

At the time of writing, underpinning future direction is a draft proposal to create an annual charge, a register of anglers, identity cards and a penalty points system as a means to generate funding from a direct user source whilst also obtaining relevant information which can be used in the formulation of management plans ongoing.

Angling Council of Ireland, Mission Statement.

The Angling Council of Ireland supports the initiative however the proposal has been vehemently rejected by the Trout Anglers Federation of Ireland (TAFI), based on correspondence published in the April edition of Irish Anglers Digest. On form if the Government develops legislation and proceeds to implement it, a repeat of the so called rod war of 1987 – 1989 could very well be on the cards.

Why do we as a nation get so polarised about a management initiative which if one just stood back and took an objective look, is actually a step in the right direction. When a resource is not directly owned and managed the tendency is for it to be irresponsibly exploited. Ireland’s sea fisheries are a case in point where even allowing for the mess created by the EU common fisheries policy Irish based vessels have been complicit in the decline.

Inland waterways have also taken a battering over the last twenty years ironically in part due to anglers who religiously take wild trout, sea trout and salmon home at session end because it is their “right”. Having been a one time member of four angling clubs, this writer witnessed first hand the attrition while offering viable solutions regarding catch and release in tandem with increased size limits since as far back as 1994.

Spring fishing on the Avonmore River, Co. Wicklow.

Sadly these common sense environmental initiatives were always rejected at committee level resulting in today fisheries such as the Avoca system being a pale shadow of what they were twenty years ago, an avoidable decline caused in part by selfish anglers who should have known better.

Without question the state is historically complicit in the above scenario through ceding increased autonomy to the clubs and federations. However when one begins to consider the influence of Ireland’s colonial past allied to our parochial social structures then the inability to introduce even the idea of a national management framework becomes increasingly clearer.

Nations that have been subjugated for long periods of time as Ireland was begin to perceive the state as the enemy, its rules there to be broken, tax evasion becomes an anti state weapon of choice; cronyism is rife while ironically any means of siphoning off public money either through public jobs or funding is actively sought after.

When the oppressor departs and the sovereign nation takes over, the old administrative structures are left in place, positions are filled by local people and everything just continues as before right down to the national mentality of state mistrust, cronyism and the desire to access as much state money as possible. In other words “the nation shoots itself in the foot“.

Rathdrum Trout Angling Club, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Angling clubs and federations provide extremely important social services and functions, creating a sense of place, negotiating access, providing water keepers, combating poaching, developing youth, kick starting local and national economic initiatives amongst a suite of positive actions,  which can and do lead to revenue and job creation. However, good works are dependent on good committees and that is the rub.

Fishing since 1971 this scribe, allowing for the presence of voluntary angling structures, has seen an overall decline in the resource both fresh and salt water over the years. Yes, the socio – economic environment that we live in today along with its associated pressures has changed utterly, and yes, there have been improvements many of which have emanated from the aforementioned voluntary structures.

That said, it would be disingenuous to discount the influence of EU legislation such as the “water framework directive” and associated structural funding channelled through Government agencies when it comes to on the ground Irish fisheries success stories. Left to our own devices Ireland would on historical form most likely have slurried and overfished our rivers, lakes and oceans into oblivion.

Fisheries board staff electro - fishing in Co. Wicklow.

As stated in April’s published article on “pike culling” an Irish Times MRBI poll showed quite clearly that within Irish society opinion trumps objectivity when it comes to public knowledge which is a dangerous and ineffective trait. When it comes to the future development, protection and management of Ireland’s fisheries this scribe would prefer to see professionals rather than well meaning amateurs run the show every time.

However, for the state to do its job effectively it needs to employ people with the required knowledge and experience, a position which due to the current public service employment embargo unfortunately it is not able to fulfil.

Therefore when it comes to advocating radical changes which are tantamount to formalising a hobby, its target audience already genetically programmed to be suspicious are equally concerned that the state agency does not carry the expertise to achieve its proposed mandate.

How does one square that conundrum? Firstly, open up a dialogue, a primary step which the state would appear to be doing. Secondly, federations and clubs should embrace the move and at least tease out the plusses and minuses of formalising the pursuit of angling rather than indulging in opinion driven rhetoric which serves no purpose other than to polarise.

TDI socio - economic report on Irish Recreational Angling, 2013.

The 2013 TDI report clearly showed that there are more unaffiliated anglers resident in Ireland then those linked to clubs and federations. This scribe sees the benefit of paying a nominal fee to the state on the basis that by that action the state has declared Ashley Hayden a stakeholder in the resource with subsequent rights of expression enshrined in law, a status quo which does not exist at present.

Having lived through the corrosive 1980′s rod licence dispute one might have thought that the nation and its citizenry had moved on, sadly it would appear old habits die hard. Living in a democracy one respects freedom of expression, so even though the Angling Council of Ireland is supportive of the proposed changes it is refreshing that associated federations can express opposite views.

That said this writer like many others, by choice neither a member of club or federation would like to see this radical but potentially positive development, one that if structured properly has the potential to deepen stakeholder input while further improving fisheries, debated fully rather than be kicked into touch by narrow, negative historical precedence. It is in the genes as they say………

Ashley Hayden © April 2014