An Irish Anglers World

Who are Irelands Marine Stakeholders? How a Narrow Political Definition is destroying a Key Natural Resource

My name is Ashley Hayden, I was born in November 1960 in London the only son of Johnny Hayden and Jean Redmond, both of Greystones, Co. Wicklow, who married and migrated to the United Kingdom in 1956. Most, if not every summer during the late 1960’s mum and dad would pack the car along with my two sisters and I then drive up the M1 heading towards Holyhead, board the car ferry to Dunlaoghaire eventually arriving at our rented holiday bungalow in the Glen of the Downs south of Bray for the annual two weeks vacation.

Taken in 1985, Ashley Hayden with his first daughter Emma - Claire on the boat slip, Greystones, Co. Wicklow.

From this base we would visit Granny and Granddad Redmond and the various uncles and aunts who lived in Bethel House behind Killians Hall which was situated at the bottom of Trafalgar Road, a stones throw from Greystones harbour. From memory my father would head out of an evening in one of a number of wooden clinker boats built by Grandfather Redmond to set trammel nets and fish long lines down along Ballygannon and Kilcoole. Although dad’s profession was management within the manufacturing industry his recreation was reliving the old artisan fishing traditions and skills which he had learned as a boy.

In those days back in the late 1960’s grandfather always had a boat on the go in his shed, built to his own design at that time one could find a Willie Redmond built clinker boat within many harbours along Ireland’s east coast. Grandfather also leased from Wicklow County Council one of the fisherman’s huts with the blue doors down at the harbour to store oars, engines (rope started seagulls with the black oblong petrol tanks attached on top), ropes, nets, buoys and other nautical paraphernalia. I still to this day love the smell of freshly sawed wood and musty sea water tinged two stroke which defined both the wood shed and boat hut respectively.

Willie Redmond, Boat Builder, Greystones, Co. Wicklow

During those years and especially after my families permanent return to Ireland in June 1970 when dad and mum bought a house off Rochestown Ave, Dunlaoghaire, my father set about introducing me in his free time to all that he knew and loved about the fishery off Greystones. He also set about exploring the waters south of Bulloch Harbour, Dunlaoghaire, around Dalkey Island and down on into Killiney bay. That period in the summer months between 1970 and 1974 was a time of fun and learning for me as I observed and was taught sea lore by my father at the weekends while spending countless week days swimming in the sea from Sandycove to Silver Strand in the company of mum, aunts, my sisters and various friends.

By 1975 in my 15th year I was deemed experienced enough to take a boat out myself which led to many adventures rowing the Jean Anne out to fish for plaice, codling, mackerel and a host of other species which swam in the very productive waters that existed at that time between Dunlaoghaire south to Wicklow head and as I have learned subsequently beyond. My friends, cousins and I rod and line fished, hand lined, trammel netted, tangle netted and long lined as the fancy dictated for recreation and pocket money, becoming less so for me around 1981/82 as college, exams, girls and the responsibilities of adult life began to increasingly take hold.

Ashley Hayden motoring off Bray Head, Co. Wicklow

It was clear at that time also that a change was occurring within the fishery off Greystones, at this stage there were still plenty of fish in terms of numbers and variety however the signs of a possible decline were apparent. It was that barely perceptible hint of negative change which weighted my decision to knock on the head in 1981/82 the idea of becoming a commercial small boat artisan fisher. A good call as it turned out because by 1990 the fishing as I knew it off the north Wicklow coastline was gone with whelking the only game in town and that did not exist as a career move in Greystones pre 1980, in fact it did not exist at all.

The decision to remove bottom growing mussel in the late seventies early 1980’s from the ecosystem off north Wicklow in conjunction with commercial fishing within the greater Irish Sea and beyond signalled the death knell of not just a bountiful local fishery but a way of life that had survived in Greystones for decades. Migratory patterns of fish changed and or diminished, species became smaller, in modern parlance uneconomic or disappeared and slowly but perceptibly the harbour ceased to be the centre of Greystones life, no local fishermen setting out of an evening to set or haul pots or nets, no nets drying on the wall, no boat angling competition days, no more big plaice, cod or ray.

Now 57 years of age I remember these times like yesterday because in the scheme of life it was only yesterday. If tradition was bankable my account is full. Ironically nowadays in terms of marine stakeholder recognition tradition is a well accepted argument by the state to fund and retain coastal ways of life for many people around the coast of Ireland. The undemocratic aspect of current state recognition for marine stakeholders is that one needs to be currently working within or present a track record of earnings relating to commercial fishing before you, your views or opinion are worthy of consideration.

In short, those who were reared by seafaring families, so possessing a real understanding of how Ireland’s inshore fisheries did present pre modern exploitation levels but who chose to earn a crust away from the sea because fisheries were becoming uneconomic save for subsidy intervention. Who because of their deep levels of extremely recent experience can put forward very positive cases for improvement unfortunately are not listened to by the current crop of marine decision makers. Correspondingly many who entered commercial fishing, especially off Ireland’s east coast, post the mid 1980’s catastrophic decline in fin fisheries, who never experienced the bounty will cite tradition (a period which may amount to 20 odd years of their own lives with no previous familial marine input) but get listened to by Government.

In this way the decline of marine fisheries off Ireland’s east coast and further afield continues as shifting baselines of experience held by many of those working within commercial sea fishing today convert serial marine decline and benthic habitat impoverishment into plenty because what presents is perceived as plenty. Sadly, key decision making marine administrators employed by various Government agencies and a succession of respective fisheries/marine ministers would appear to pay credence to this current message while the real truth and possible solutions for improvement proffered by those who experienced real marine bounty pre modern levels of exploitation appear to be conveniently overlooked.

All the while as this current status quo prevails the ability of Ireland’s marine resource to provide multiples of what it offers today continues to diminish at an ever advancing rate. In 2018 off Greystones as the year progresses there will be no summer mackerel, pollack, plaice, cod, ray and a host of other species, there will be no sea anglers and there will be no artisan fishers setting out to set pots, nets and long lines.

Oh yes day trippers will scratch for mackerel and haul in a few joeys along with an odd small gurnard and immature dab, whiting and codling to bottom fished baits. Smooth hound will be everywhere, this species hardly figuring thirty years ago but has expanded its range to fill the void where once cod and whiting reigned supreme. There will be an odd boat out on the Moulditch fishing for tope but not the flotilla which defined weekends throughout the summer not twenty years ago.

Today in Greystones there are no dedicated fishmongers or fishing tackle shops. Ironically though there are now a plethora of restaurants selling fish none of which is caught locally with many species originating from aquaculture or imported from abroad. This is a pattern becoming increasingly repeated all around the coast of Ireland, a pattern which the state, its decision makers and commercial interests have bought into. Yes it is fantastic that modern Irish people now crave fish where before due to religious reasons it was shunned, sadly many Irish consumers are completely oblivious as to the provenance or origin of much of the fish they eat or the fragility of their future existence.

Repositories of practical, positive information such as I exist in every coastal county of Ireland, with passion, vision and a will to reverse serial national and international marine decline and inspire an age of marine rehabilitation as a precursor to a future of managed coastal plenty. Sadly and I say this with a heavy heart, to espouse progressive change in how Ireland’s coastal sea fisheries are managed and to voice it passionately and coherently dubs you the enemy within the minds of many who work in and on behalf of the commercial fishing sector today.

I did not enter the industry back in the 1980’s because in terms of whitefish it was becoming uneconomic. However just because I have earned my crust in fields other than the marine over the intervening thirty odd years should not exclude me or other similar people from being part of any future or existing policy discussions relating to marine fisheries management. Understanding how the nation’s coastal fisheries used to present is key to planning Ireland’s future marine resource based prosperity. Government agencies, fish producer organisations, marine journalists, marine publications and present plus future fisheries Ministers need to take account of that fact before Ireland’s marine resource is mined completely into economic oblivion……….

Ashley Hayden

January 2018