Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Finding Joy in Beara.

Saturday, October 15th, 2022

Beara surprises, Beara challenges, Beara evolves, Beara uplifts, Beara is magic, once again the spell of Beara has been cast and returned wonderful memories over a week long trip characterised by unsettled weather, strong westerlies and rain. Between the showers however the sun did shine enough that coupled with revised plans of action and a more laid back approach some interesting fishing sessions were had alongside extra curricular activities such as walking the coastal paths, exploring for new fishing marks and musical interludes of an evening in O’Neills.

Roger, David and James, had made it over for the first time since October pre Covid, the summer of 2022 had been a scorcher for three months, but the weather had to break and it did in the week coming up to October first driven by hurricanes far out in the Atlantic. That said, Beara is a peninsula with enough nooks, crannies, sheltered bays and inlets that even in direct westerlies decent rock fishing can be found so long as one respects the sea and in particular heavy swells that can rise up ten, twenty feet or more out of nothing.

Using our years of collective knowledge we lure and bait fished a number of locations to catch pollack, coalfish, wrasse, garfish, mackerel, scad, dogfish and squid with a couple of new species witnessed being caught to boot.

On a wild windy rainy afternoon Roger and I met up with Mark and Tracey Noble on a not so secret rock mark. The venue in question over the years has produced some interesting and varied catches, it also can frustrate with blanks, hit and miss is what to expect when choosing this location. Perseverance though pays off and it did in spades for Tracey this day. Patiently sitting rod in hand over went the tip in a hoola hoop, whatever was on the end went off like a scalded cat, first running this way then that with no let up in the energy levels, this fish had it’s foot to the metal right up to it slid into the net.

We could not believe it when a smooth hound appeared at the surface twisting and running. A first for all of us and Tracey didn’t stop there, she went and caught another one both nine pound plus and in a night session the next evening landed a red mullet, the hounds on peeler the mullet on prawn, both two new species for us and one assumes the area as well.

It wasn’t all fishing though, O’Neills of Allihies is a great pub with a fantastic music session taking place every Sunday evening from six bells. Eccie (I hope I spelt your name right) and Pat are the masters of ceremony who along with a plethora of local talent play trad, folk, blues and anything in between to include curved balls like “Down at the Tube Station at Midnight” by the Jam.

On the last evening using fish caught that afternoon we prepared a slap up meal to include sushi stripped mackerel seasoned with salt/pepper and lemon juice, butter fried flour coated mackerel fillets, squid strips in chilli oil and a creamy chowder, where would you get it mmmmmm.

Next year is already booked albeit a little earlier in the season, there will be longer warmer days and shorter nights, the craic will be mighty, lures will fly out true, fish will be forthcoming, headlands will be tramped, pints will flow, songs will be sung, healthy seafood will be consumed and at the end a host of memories will be banked, until we hop down again just to bank some more. Beara……..Beautiful.

Dursey West Cork, Do We Really Need Beauty Interpreted for Us?

Saturday, January 29th, 2022

Cork County Council and Failte Ireland in October 2020 published a “Draft Dursey Island Visitor Management Plan”, within which is iterated very clearly on page three of the document; “Cork County Council is currently proposing to re-develop the Dursey Island Cable Car as a tourism destination“. To that end a Visitor Management Plan is to be developed and established so as to “control visitor numbers to an acceptable level given the sensitivity of the island“.

I am a tour coach driver guide since January 2016 and have been visiting the Beara peninsula, West Cork to fish since the early 2000′s. The beauty of Beara is its, ruggedness, its wildness and within the context of our modern world a relative lack of development, that is not to say that modernity has not reached Beara, it has just been limited. This mix of modern and old should be retained and strengthened to preserve what is a unique heritage and way of life, not in a time capsule way but sensitive to what is a special environment.

As a coach driver guide I love transporting people from all walks of life and diverse nationalities around Ireland, I feel privileged to do this job. However, although Ireland clearly has a successful tourism modal unfortunately it is based on a mass market “bums on seats” approach. The powers that be may deny that statement however a visit to the cattle market which is the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre, Co. Clare or wading through the hoards of people at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, or trying to enter into Killarney mid to late afternoon on any given day during the summer months while negotiating fierce volumes of traffic will attest to Ireland’s international tourism marketing strategy, we target volume and in the process we sell a high quality product in a yellow pack fashion.

The Beara is special because it is underdeveloped within the context of what is recognised as a “modern” tourism destination, in short infrastructure is limited a key feature of which are the narrow roads and they are its saving grace, limiting traffic and access. I do the “Ring of Kerry” regularly and Beara does not need that particular business modal because it will kill its unique selling point of wildness that envelopes you, a wildness and inaccessibility that actually protects a unique landscape, home to rich marine and land based biodiversity.

The draft visitor management plan alludes to mitigating physical damage to landscape, biodiversity, littering and traffic the result of increased visitor numbers upon completion of the project. The key to mitigation is not to build at all. The Dursey cable car originally was put in place for practical purposes to facilitate local access to and from Dursey Island. Upgraded on a couple of occasions since its installation in 1969, the last time in 2004, the Dursey cable car in its current format does have a tourist appeal just by being there, its old school look lends to the excitement of the journey. The latch on the door and the feeling that one could fall into Dursey sound at any moment as one flies across give the experience an edge in a Father Ted sort of way which is “real Ireland”.

I have used the cable car to access fishing on Dursey Island and as the report states one might get stuck if the mainland electricity fails which happened to my friends and I one November evening just as it was getting dark, however Paddy the then cable car operator, lord rest him, got us back later that evening around when the lights came back on. We flew across in a gale, the cable car rocking and the waters in the sound a green/white glowing maelstrom of phosphorescence below, an experience we will never forget and still get great enjoyment out of narrating in full the tale as it transpired. We survived and so did the cable car.

The cable car/interpretive centre proposal for Dursey is a vanity project for Cork County Council and Failte Ireland which in essence will turn a practical piece of infrastructure into a fairground ride and through road widening and signage will signal the beginning of the end of what makes Beara attractive as a visitor destination, its ruggedness and inaccessibility. Present day visitors to Beara have to make an effort, this is the type of mitigation that works, why open up a place to the masses when it is already open albeit in a particular way.

Ironically by leaving well alone the right people will be attracted to Dursey, people who appreciate it because they made the effort to get there, to bird watch, fish, walk, whale watch or just take in the views. People who have just stumbled across the place by accident like I did back in the early 2000′s and have come back year after year because of its unspoiled beauty and solitude. That is the unique selling point of the place and that is how it should remain, if tourists want a fairground attraction they should visit Tayto Park, Co Meath. To pursue and build this project is folly, the product of misled egos who will spend €10 million of tax payers money under the pretext that it will benefit the country. The real benefits into the future both local, national and international for Dursey Island will be derived by leaving well alone…………………

Ashley Hayden, who wrote this piece has extensive business development experience within the Irish food service and tourism sectors going back to 1985, holds a BA in Geography and Economics and an MSc in Business, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship where he researched into the provision of Green Tourism Infrastructure with specific reference to angling. Currently he works as a tour coach driver guide and has done so since January 2016.


Why we go Fishing.

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

I can remember being in my fourteenth year and heading out fishing on my own for the first time having been taught the basics over the previous few years by my dad. It was June 1974 at the beginning of my summer holidays and over a couple of sessions fishing Killiney strand and Whiterock I caught a large pollack and a flounder close to two pound. To me fishing was always about communing with and getting a better understanding of nature while occasionally bringing something home nice for the table.

Which is why I was delighted to receive and publish an image of young Douglas O’Toole cradling a lovely summer grilse caught and released off Carramore strand near Louisburgh, Co. Mayo during the recent heatwave. Tempted by a silver toby, the grilse was one of two which took Douglas’s lure that evening, the second throwing the hook, but hey that’s fishing.

Douglas’s father sent me another image of his son fishing that evening capturing a glorious sunset over Clew Bay and Clare Island once home to the pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaol). Young Douglas is dedicated to angling and can be found close to the water at every opportunity. Good man Douglas, the above brace of images explaining fully why people go fishing, who needs play station……….

Dawn Strike at an Old Haunt

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Rounding the shingle rampart of Kilcoole point I reached the wall of railway protecting rock armour which runs the length of Ballygannon, the southern end of which always produced a few bass. With high tide at I had commenced fishing a little after, just in time to observe a golden/red sun peep over the horizon revealing a flat calm sea beneath a cloudless blue sky. Temperatures over the last few days had reached the high twenties and it was warm already.

On the way up a few launce hit the 32 gram blue and silver kilty lure, surely there must be bass about? In the lee of Kilcoole point, rock armour now replacing beach this was the end of the line for me, a few casts before retracing my steps. Another launce, recast, count to five, a couple of turns on the reel, bang fish on, not a big one but definitely a bass. A splashy flip and a run to the right then kicking on the shingle a schoolie. Silvery/blue with a white belly, hook in the scissors removed then back in the water.

Walking and casting a lure along this stretch of beach is a pleasure I have indulged in since moving to Kilcoole in 1985. In those days pollack, coalfish, codling, mackerel, launce, bass and an odd sea trout could be expected, these days bass and sea trout are still available along with the launce. Mackerel used to run the beach late, usually in August with evenings being best, it’s nearly that now so yours truly will most definitely be back, maybe tomorrow………..

Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network.

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

The following is a submission by Ashley Hayden to the public consultation on the MPA Advisory Group’s Report, July 2nd 2021.

My name is Ashley Hayden, I am 60 years of age, born in London, England on the 26/11/1960 to parents both who emigrated to England from Greystones, Co. Wicklow in 1956, the family moved back to Ireland permanently in June 1970.

My current area of occupation since January 2016 has been within the sector of Tourism and Travel.

I have written and campaigned since 2007 about marine conservation, marine habitat destruction, marine species decline and possible solutions to address the above issues through articles published in magazines and on my website “”.

I presently reside in Co. Wexford, Ireland.

This submission is based on fifty years active involvement with Ireland’s coastal marine environment through the medium of artisan fishing off Greystones, Co. Wicklow in my teenage years (long lining, trammel netting and potting) and recreational sea angling (counties Wicklow, Wexford, West Cork) from the age of 10 to date.

In that fifty year period I have witnessed continuous marine environmental decline to include fish stocks decline and disappearance, species range increases due to lost species void filling, habitat destruction and pollution  with no improvement at all, the graph continuously downwards.

In my opinion a functioning MPA should include the following elements:

  • Is stakeholder driven – stakeholders being recognised as all citizens and not just those who have an active or professional interest in the marine.
  • Be community managed – locals know their area best – having an active stake leads to better protection.
  • MPA’s should work for communities so they have to be functioning to gain acceptance, therefore commercial and recreational fishing along with other activities have to be allowed albeit under strict management guidelines designed and agreed collectively by all.
  • All fishing gears or practices should be benign and the idea of no take zones in certain areas to protect and rehabilitate will and should be incorporated into future management plans.
  • Local fish species quotas, size limits and recreational bag limits will apply.
  • MPA’s should be interlinked – the marine habitat is a connection of migrations driven by the seasons and tidal flows.
  • Ireland should create an all encircling coastal MPA out to the 6 mile limit (under EU law we have jurisdiction out to 6 miles)  and adjust marine management legislation across all Government Dept’s to reflect a new environment led commercial approach.
  • Where national parks touch the coastline their range should be extended out to the six mile limit, ie, Co. Wicklow.
  • MPA’s will include an academic research mandate linked to local Universities, Schools and Colleges.

That when established in time MPA’s will garner enormous credibility for Ireland internationally, will underpin efforts to maintain and increase onshore and offshore biodiversity, will resurrect a now severely limited local artisan commercial fishing industry, will enable Ireland to market quality fish and shellfish, an International standard tourism recreational sea angling product and will act as a catalyst for marine cultural, heritage, tourism, educational and recreational activities such as diving, sea kayaking, natural history engagement and small boat hire.

The Expert Group provides a definition of what an MPA could be:

“A geographically defined area of marine character or influence which is protected through legal means for the purpose of conservation of specified species, habitats or ecosystems and their associated ecosystem services and cultural values, and managed with the intention of achieving stated objectives over the long term”.

I somewhat agree with this statement, however where I find fault is that as a nation we should just protect, rehabilitate and manage/maintain Ireland’s marine environment in total we should not need a specific local reason to implement protection or conservation, the reason being that all species and habitats are interlinked, one species/habitat cannot in human terms take preference over another, all are important, that is the law of nature.

That is why I recommend a nationally managed all encompassing MPA out to six miles underpinned by a future approach to fisheries management/legislation based on lower volumes and high quality products that command premium prices.

No one area of Ireland’s marine ecosystem is more important than another.

The marine expert group recommends the inclusion of existing legally protected marine sites which is admirable but an incorrect approach – most of these sites as we know are not fully protected anyway.

The right approach is just to be all encompassing – in my lifetime believe it or not the all encompassing approach was practiced by default – each local fishing harbour or port looked after its own patch. I observed this lifestyle operating along the south Dublin to north Wicklow coastline in the 1970’s.

The Bulloch harbour/Dalkey fishermen worked and protected the seas between Dunlaoghaire and Dalkey Island, the Homan family worked Killiney Bay from Dalkey to Bray Head and the Greystones artisan fishers worked from Bray Head south to the Breaches shoal.

The above all changed after Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 and applied a volume approach driven by Bord Iascaigh Mhara with the intention of developing a modern full time commercial fishing fleet to compete globally.

This approach, reflected by this submission process, has passed its sell by date and needs to be majorly readjusted. Commercial fishermen, their livelihoods and by extension families are actually taking the wrap for what has been Government policy for fifty plus years. In short the playing pitch needs to be changed.

Protection of Plant and Animal Species and Habitat

As stated already in this submission no one species or habitat should take preference over another as all are interlinked – domino effect.

In half my lifetime I have seen first hand the effect of change caused by the removal of both habitat and species. Taking the north Wicklow coastline as an example – Government sanctioned removal of the permanent mussel banks by dredging for mussel spat caused habitat destruction on a grand scale which ultimately destroyed what was once a productive mixed fishery off Greystones, Co. Wicklow.

Today based on media research one would think that Ireland’s seas are still productive and that Ireland’s most productive seas always were and still are on the West and South West coast.

Shifting baselines of experience and ignorance (in the true sense of the word) of how the marine presents both today and in the past has applied big time in creating this way of thinking. The seas and lifestyle that I fished and walked within between Dalkey Island south to Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, from the age of ten until my early twenties, were as productive as any, in fact they would make the Blue Planet series look tame.

Basking shark, Dolphin, Porpoise, Grey seal, Cod, Pollack, Coalfish, Plaice, Black sole, Lemon sole, Flounder, Turbot, Mullet, Ray, Tope, Mackerel, Bass, Wrasse, Conger, Brown crab, Lobster, all growing to a large average size and in good numbers.

All the above and more either gone or severely diminished today, the whole ecosystem changed beyond recognition to what it was up to the mid to late 1970’s.

In short, I would not afford legal protection to any one ecosystem, oceanographic, cultural or other natural process or feature ahead of another as part of any future MPA network. My belief is that legal protection should apply to all as they are all interlinked and play their part in creating a healthy dynamic marine environment.

I have seen in my lifetime off the north Wicklow coastline how an ecosystem reacts to the large-scale removal of key species, in this instance permanent mussel reefs and huge stocks of cod, the negative trophic cascade has been both astonishing and revealing as to how nature operates. This negative dynamic affects not only the underwater world but also land based cultural, commercial and heritage based human activities.

Other Effective Area Based Conservation Measures (OECM’s)

To include wrecks, spawning/nursery areas, renewable energy sites. Again, I would reiterate that all are considered and not one has special preference over another as they are all interlinked. The above concept is based on how Ireland should economically exploit its marine resource into the future; ironically it is a preference led approach that to date has brought us to this submission process in the first place.

Any future management approach needs to place the resource first, rehabilitate where necessary and manage at a level and volume of exploitation that maintains and improves instead of decreasing.

14 Key Principles Stated in the Report of the MPA Advisory Group 2020

From meeting Ireland’s International commitments, to Climate change, Protection and Recovery, Carbon sequestration, Conservation and Restoration, Education and Research, International interactive networking, New legislation and the setting up of a coordinated marine body encompassing inputs from all necessary Government Departments.

I have alluded to most if not all of the above in my narrative to date and would agree that the fourteen points in principle set out a roadmap for improvement of Ireland’s marine resource.

While I would not disagree with the approach I still am not convinced that future administrations will place the environment ahead of how the economy functions today. The body language from my perspective suggests the Government will tweak the current failed business model because politically it is easier to achieve, which ultimately will result in a false economy and a waste of good time.

Ireland’s marine environment/economy will only recover and become as productive as it was pre 1970’s if we apply a low volume high quality business model. This does not mean less profit but instead sustained profit over time which will result in greater benefits for all society into the future.

How should Ireland expand its MPA network?

In my experience most of the Irish general public and politicians do not know a great deal about the marine other than that it is there. It certainly does not feature on the average person’s radar unless they want to go and visit the beach and in terms of both the average citizen and politician they have no idea of the damage that has been wreaked on Ireland’s marine resource.

The above is not a subjective opinion but instead is an objective assessment based on fourteen years writing and campaigning on the subject.

To successfully deliver a functioning MPA network I would prioritise engaging with people who understand the marine and how it functions/functioned both now and in the very recent past.

Therefore I would be sitting down with commercial fishers, recreational fishers and those that earn a living from the sea in a tourism capacity (past and present) from whale watchers to angling charter skippers to accommodation providers and anyone in between.

The conversation should be predicated on the current failed business model and the design of a new business model that reflects an environment led approach.

In short, the current Government (to include National and EU) has to accept that it drove the narrative that led to decline, that exploitation of the marine resource to date across all commercial sectors was sold as a viable career alternative (which they are). That these careers can still exist into the future but that they will have to be prosecuted in a more benign fashion.

To achieve a new business future will involve paying off and decommissioning but this will be delivered in tandem with future new environmentally friendly management structures and legislation which will preserve and maintain the various business sectors into the future, albeit they may be smaller, but correspondingly especially in the case of fisheries will be more productive in terms of profitability.

The MPA advisory group report 2020 in its latter stages discusses stakeholder engagement and possible future legislation changes to achieve goals and cites working examples such as the Dundalk Bay Cockle Fishery and how the aquaculture sector liaises with Government when it comes to Natura 2000 sites.

In my lifetime legislation on the marine has been a top down approach that has resulted in a resource that today benefits very few due to massive decline. To give an example on Ireland’s east coast off Co. Wicklow the only commercially viable fishing option today is whelking. Yet in my lifetime the resource supported many families across a wide range of fin fish, shellfish and crustacean fisheries. These jobs are gone now because the fish are gone, not because of cultural shifts in society. In fact the idea of eating fish has never been greater in the Irish mind.

Any future plan for the marine has to start from the bottom up and has to be managed locally within the framework of a national plan that is designed and bought into by both Government and the people who will manage/exploit/protect the resource for all the citizenry of Ireland to enjoy and be proud of.

In short, the Government has to trust the citizenry and vice versa – Us and Them have to be removed from the marine equation, permanently.

The above are the views of Ashley Hayden BA MSc and represent my submission to the process which will ultimately result in the creation of a Marine Protected Network around the coastline of Ireland which will rehabilitate what has been lost to the benefit of all Irish citizens into the future.


Tradition Passed On

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

It was really nice to have three generations of Hayden’s getting up at the crack of dawn to make the journey down to St Mullins, skirting the Blackstairs Mountains while captivated by the mist shrouded undulating landscape of narrow hawthorn bounded lanes.

Arriving a little after seven bells with high water about, son Dan, grandson Myles and I walked upstream along the tow path before choosing a suitable pitch. On the way up along we observed a shad being landed which signaled that the species was present. Commencing fishing an hour later yours truly felt a bump through the line with no connection, a couple of casts followed then my seven foot Mitchell spinning rod bowed over to a good fish.

A couple of tail walking stunts and deep dives later young Myles netted what turned out to be the only fish of the session. No matter, the young lad was witness to a once common species rarely seen throughout both Europe and America in modern times due to mans harnessing of rivers with dams and weirs in conjunction with habitat and spawning bed destruction again the result of ill thought out human actions.

On the positive side young Myles appeared to catch the fishing bug casting like a veteran by late morning and quite obviously captivated by what is a beautiful and unique setting to cast a line, Mullachain Cafe toasties and hot chocolate consumed on a sunny river bank late morning adding icing to the proverbial. It’s always the simple things that make the difference…………..

Tail Walking at Dawn

Sunday, May 9th, 2021

Hard to believe that it has been eight years since I last made the early morning trip to St Mullins, Co. Carlow with shad in mind. Cousins of both herring and tarpon, this anadromous species (born in freshwater, lives and grows in seawater, spawns in freshwater) enters the river Barrow over the first and second spring tides of May to spawn below the weir upstream of St Mullins.

Setting the alarm for I arrived just as light was beginning to show about more or less bang on high tide. A neap tide in between the two springs the bush telegraph had told me there were fish in the river albeit in ones and twos the previous week being unseasonably cold with ground frosts every morning. That said, a few lucky anglers had made contact with the main shoal over the week which resulted in catches of 30 – 60 fish over a session, all catch and release.

Setting up a seven foot light spinning rod, reel loaded with six pound nylon attached to a 13 gram blue/silver tazmanian devil I walked up the tow path a wee bit and cast towards the far bank. It being high tide I let the lure sink before engaging the reel and applying a quick slow retrieve. A fisher upstream landed a fish about an hour in, by now the tide was starting to fall. The water was crystal clear so I could observe my lure as it came into view a few metres out.

I cast and retrieve for the umpteenth time, a bump simultaneously pulls the rod tip over but no connection. There is something out there showing interest. Another cast, another bump. I cast again, let the lure sink and begin retrieving, bang fish on, skittering left and right then up on its tail, a few more dashes then in the net, wet hands, hook out and release. No messing these fish are fragile and do not survive long out of water. Next cast a shad follows and turns away at the bank, a brief flurry of action peters out. It is now and I am hungry. With a good number of anglers now arriving I up sticks but already have a plan for next weekend when a big spring tide will find me yet again on the bank at dawn………….

Covid and Cuckoo’s

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

In my lifetime I never would have thought that world Government’s would pay the population not to work, but it happened in 2020 as a way of stemming the spread of the Covid19 virus. Locked down “as it was called” we walked our dogs, tended to our gardens, talked to our neighbours, improved our guitar playing or whatever hobby or pastime rocked our boat and dreamed of going fishing in places such as the Beara peninsula.

Locked down since the 12th of March I finally got the opportunity to get down to Beara for three days in early August. Stopping at Seaview B/B in the centre of Allihies village, “thank you Mary, Niamh and John for the great welcome“, I met up with Mark Noble and went rock hopping in weather that morphed from balmy Mediterranean to a misty damp midge filled sauna in the space of 24 hours. I’m not complaining, there was no wind which helps out on the headlands, but the steamy heat can only be described as Amazonian.

On arriving down with the sun splitting the stones I put a session in jelly worming and spinning for mackerel, the latter of which were barbecued later under a shooting star filled sky, yummy. Fishing a couple of marks, pollack to five pound plus came steady as did the mackerel particularly as the day closed to a spectacular sunset.

After nearly five months lockdown to bait dig at dawn, cast a fly line for pollack, feel the pull of a fish, be surrounded by wonderful scenery and quaff a pint of stoat reminds one that the simple things in life are best. Catching Beara species number 20, a shore caught cuckoo wrasse added icing to the cake.

Meeting up with Mark Noble, we had to abandon ideas to fish isolated rock platforms due to slippery conditions brought about by mist and rain, instead opting for a safer mark with wrasse in mind. Baiting with lug, hard back crab and limpet a number of nice ballans showed along with a cuckoo wrasse which took lugworm hard on the bottom.

When the weather is fine Beara blossoms and the last few days were no exception. It was nice to catch up with old friends and meet up with Mark for the first time, yes Covid19 meant no music sessions in O’Neill’s due to social distancing however that will return in time. The batteries were recharged, more lasting memories were banked and already the next trip down is being planned…………

Paradise Lost? Or How to Damage a Fishery within Five Years

Friday, June 28th, 2019

I first cast a line on the Beara peninsula in May 2005, close to the Dursey cable car, a 32 gram silver Kilty catcher and at a count of forty seconds, yes Dursey sound is that deep, I hit mackerel. Since then I have traveled down annually, sometimes bi-annually, on one fateful trip meeting and chatting with Roger Ball on the rocks at Garnish. Born out of that conversation developed a friendship centered around sea fishing, soccer and a love of the bountiful marine paradise which the rich coastal waters off Beara are, or should I say were, because they are under attack, from within.

Roger and his longtime friend Dave Hoskins have been traveling across from the United Kingdom and down to Beara for years, Roger came first in 1997. Both Cornishmen, they talk about how good the fishing was in the 1970′s around Plymouth where they grew up and how it was destroyed by over fishing. When Roger by accident found the Beara in 1997 while driving around Ireland he thought that he had landed in heaven, for there before his eyes were vast shoals of open sea mullet, his favourite fish to catch. From then on he returned most every year to walk the dogs along coastal paths with his wife and to fish.

Between Roger, Dave and I we have 22 years of knowledge built up about the shore fishing from Dunboy in Castletownberehaven around to Urhan close to Eyeries. In that time shore fishing mainly from rock platforms we have caught 21 species of fish ranging from bass to wrasse. What amazed us about the fishing was how many of the resident species such as conger, wrasse, pollack, bull huss, mullet, plaice and dab grew to their full potential size and also the numbers of fish available which in this day and age of over fishing at sea was staggering.

Well it was too good to last, year on year when we returned the fishing was as good if not better than the time before. Yes one could add that our improved catches were predicated on a build up of acquired knowledge, however the quality of fish and fishing never changed, for seventeen years it remained constant. Then in 2014 we noticed a change, the mullet were not as plentiful and the average size of pollack and wrasse on the marks that we fished began to shrink noticeably. Then, the clean ground marks which were paved with large dab up to specimen size began to produce less fish. Could all this be our collective imaginations running wild, were we losing our touch or getting paranoid. No, a trip planned for June 2019 unfortunately revealed everything that we had suspected.

On Saturday 22nd June 2019 we arrived at our holiday cottage all geared up for a weeks fishing. On the way we had supped Guinness in McCarthy’s Bar, Castletownbere, devoured bowls of Adrienne’s lovely chowder with brown bread and dug fleshy lugworms for a well looked forward to ground fishing session. The weather was not great, strong south to south east winds and rain but we persevered, lure fishing with spinners to catch a few medium size pollack but no mackerel on the first evening.

Sunday was a washout however things improved on Monday enough to seek out mullet and shore fish locally again for pollack and the hoped for mackerel which along with the mullet again were marked absent. A couple from northern Ireland who were fishing on a favoured mark near our cottage mentioned how they had been traveling down to fish for years but that on the last number of visits a perceptible decline in the fishing had set in. Might it just be an aberration said I, no it’s the result of gill netting they categorically said. My heart sank, as this is what Roger, Dave and I had always suspected but could not prove. The evidence was there, smaller fish sizes, dearth of mullet and flatfish, but we had never seen evidence, that is until the next morning Tuesday 25th June 2019.

With full tide around 11.30 am and a pet day ahead of us we hiked out onto the headland to a favourite mark which traditionally produces plenty of large pollack and wrasse. The form of this mark without fail is rods on the first cast doubling over to quality pollack hitting jelly worms. Numerous casts later we were fish less before a couple of juvenile pollack hit our lures, something was dreadfully amiss. Roger decided to wrasse fish and yes he had bites to hardback crab from the get go, but not from the mothers that we used to catch, instead their half pound offspring made up the offering. We were mystified but deep down knew, then we were informed.

The half decker tootled across the bay eventually lining up about eighty meters offshore commencing to shoot its net right across our casting line. It had taken us an hour to walk out and now we could not fish as this obvious gill net ( we could see it slipping over the stern of the boat) was well within our casting range. To add insult to injury a crew member lifted up a good size pollack and taunted us with it smiling as he motored by.

The really sad part is that they did not even have the whit to consider that it was tourists from another country they were mocking. Tourists that are long term friends and admirers of the Beara, tourists who sing its praises and encourage others to consider visiting, tourists who come twice a year, tourists who spend good money on accommodation, in O’Neills of Allihies, McCarthy’s Bar, Supervalu, the local petrol station, etc.

Now we knew the source of decline and it created a sick feeling in the stomach, a feeling of helplessness because Roger, Dave, Rob and I all knew the outcome of the action we were observing, a negative reduction of the fishery. These individuals were doing nothing wrong according to Irish law, they could carry on regardless and will, we all knew that nobody was going to stop this violation of a pristine marine biosphere, a diamond in the rough. I couldn’t continue fishing and said to the lads I’m heading back, they hung on for a while but eventually succumbed also as their heart was not in it.

For years we had respected this place, catch and release, an odd fish for the pot, our angling was a conduit, a way to connect with nature and give something back in return, the stories of basking sharks, dolphins playing tag, gannets diving, the sea alive with flashing fish, the few bob left in various local businesses, on Tuesday 22nd June 2019 modern life from our perspective caught up with paradise and chewed it up.

As stated earlier in this piece, from 1997 until 2014 the shore fishing we encountered between Crow Head and Cod’s Head to include Dursey never changed, it was totally consistent and always surprising us in the affirmative. To witness the mullet shoals was in itself incredible, when they merged with mackerel and sprat as we saw on occasions the spectacle was blue planet stuff.

Marine spectacles as described above are less likely to occur now in and around Dursey bay because post 2014 gill netting, using in this instance a net approximately 500 meters long (a legal practice) which did not occur in this area to the scale that we witnessed before 2014, has taken out the vast resident mullet shoals and is now having a right go at the pollack, flatfish and whatever else swims into their indiscriminate invisible plastic meshes. To cap it all the boat was targeting prime wrasse to be used as pot bait, what an ignominious end for a wonderful sport fish.

This writer comes from a family with coastal fishing in its bones, was taught how to dig bait, long line, trammel net, lay pots, tie knots, row boats and understand the sea by my father, grandfather and uncles. I was taught to respect the sea and respect the creatures within it. I was taught how to maintain a fishery by leaving some for tomorrow, never to be greedy. If this plunder continues, which it will unless there is Government, EU, or better still local intervention, there will eventually be no adult fish left and the dynamic of a wonderful local unique to Ireland marine ecosystem will be altered forever. It may take a decade or two but it will happen as evidenced on Ireland’s east coast.

It would make you weep, in just a few short years the fishing has been damaged, not as yet mortally, but if it is not curtailed the future for the coastal bays off Dursey Island and Allihies Bay is stark and I should know, I saw the incredible mixed fishery off Greystones Co. Wicklow disappear before my eyes within ten years once the mussel dredging commenced. However the future for Dursey could be different as there is still time, again it just needs people to be informed and not be afraid to speak out.

No one is saying for one moment that local people in rural areas should not earn a contribution to their living from fishing, quite the opposite in fact, community managed sustainable artisan inshore coastal fisheries are part of the solution to marine over fishing. However, in that context no individual has the right to say that a shared resource is theirs alone, which is exactly what is happening on the Beara peninsula and other such places around the Irish coastline and the state has to recognise this fact and be the catalyst for social change by introducing radical inclusive legislation acknowledging that all citizens have a stake in the marine and not just those who choose to commercially fish.

A way forward would be for the state to Firstly, ban monofilament gill and tangle nets forthwith as they are lethal indiscriminate fishing engines, continue to fish as “ghost nets” if lost in storms and these same lost nets become major contributors to micro plastic pollution as they eventually rot and break up. Instead artisan line fishing should be promoted and encouraged as an inshore fishing methodology which is more environmentally friendly being less indiscriminate and also delivers a higher quality end product for market.

Secondly, the targeting of ballan wrasse for pot bait should be banned immediately and instead fishermen/women should be encouraged to obtain carcasses and fish heads from fish processing operations for pot bait instead.

Thirdly, community managed marine protected zones should be established in key areas such as the Beara around the country to protect and preserve wild places, nursery areas, habitats and local ecosystems which are the foundation stones for the wider marine biosphere. These zones would not necessarily be no take but most certainly would be net free, with creeling (potting) allowed inside under a management plan, commercial line fishing outside or along the perimeter where the over spill of prime fish would occur, and sea angling would be catch and release using barbless hooks.

The above is a loose template but has merit for further discussion as within its frame resides inclusivity which is key to successful long term management of Ireland’s coastal resources. The present modal is predicated on take while giving nothing back as this story shows and that path as is abundantly clear has led Ireland’s and the worlds marine fisheries to where they are today, broken and or severely strained.

Meanwhile those who make a living or contribution to their income from fishing complain of lack of fish, or reduced access to fish when in actual fact there are reduced numbers of fish relative to what there was because of the methodologies and approach that the industry they are part of employs. In effect the industry is shooting itself in the foot while those who work within the sector point the finger at everybody but themselves as to why they cannot catch or access whatever fish are left. This race to the bottom breeds a mentality of take what you can while it is still there before someone else gets it.

In this day and age of climate change, biodiversity loss and musings on the value of natural capital how we interact with resources is vital and obviously changes in approach are essential. Sadly, when it comes to what is left of sea fishing in rural areas trying to introduce change is akin to sucking blood out of a stone as the same old cliches will be trotted out with vehemence even when the fishing as it used to be has died. Its our resource, we looked after it, its what we have always done. Compromise, which is the way forward, where everybody benefits will be a dirty word but that is where we must go.

So if anyone has read this piece and been moved by it, please send a letter or email to the Minister for fisheries, Minister for Tourism, Environmental NGO’s, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the CEO of Failte ireland and anybody else you can think of who might make a difference at a national decision making level, calling for protection of our wild marine places, the adoption of environmentally friendly fishing methodologies and practices and recognition of all stakeholders when it comes to resource use management. Your efforts could just make a difference. Thank you………..

PS: The images used in this piece are from previous trips, not the one described above.

Ashley Hayden © June 2019

High Tide Tigers

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

There’s mackerel showing north of the point and I’ve had a few bass and a nice sea trout to kilty lures while fishing of an evening over the last week or two“. It had been too long since I had met and spoken with Ger, too long since I had last cast a line. The beach called though and I responded, life is instinctive, maybe I was not meant to fish for ten months, a break to rekindle the desire, what better way to reconnect then to revisit a happy place filled with special memories.

Spinning rig for mackerel, pollock, coalfish, sea trout and bass.

The lads are catching mackerel this last week“, it was good to catch up with Dot’s, matriarch to a creative bohemian family and witness to great change along the strand rooted in both our lives. “Drop in for a cup of tea on your way back“, acknowledging in the affirmative I departed the cottage and initially followed the railway line north for a spell before scrambling over the rocky sea defences to fire my first cast seaward into the steadily rising tide.

A four meter full tide pushed southwards at a clip speeding up as it rounded the point. The sea calm and relatively clear due to a glorious two month spell of fine weather, a warm north west breeze lengthening the flight of my 32 gram kilty lure, breaking the surface I count to twelve and wind slowly. The lure pulses, my rod top dips and the line zig zags, flashes of blue/white and a skittery tail run in the receding wave, a beached mackerel drum rolls the shingle.

Shimmering silver/white, black and green striped, slippy, scales everywhere and that oily fresh smell of the sea. Mackerel are where it started for most sea anglers and they never lose their appeal. A nice stroll, good conversation and a half dozen for tea, batteries recharged………..