Posts Tagged ‘Marine Conservation’

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.


A Stroll Along Kilcoole

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, Ireland holds a special place in my heart, catching large red spotted plaice and brown/red mottled codling initially with my dad and latterly with friends such as Gerry Mitchell and Francis O’Neill “God Rest Him”. The village became my home for 16 happy years, a great environment for raising our kids, with countless happy memories and many friends made to include the aforementioned Gerry and the Meakin family both of whom I met yesterday while taking a stroll.

Ashley Hayden lure fishing on Kilcoole beach, Co. Wicklow.

Boy has the place changed especially down on the strand where steel fencing on the landward side of the railway line and chain link on the seaward side has created a disconnect between the beach and the village. Pre 2001 you could walk across the railway line at any given point and know one ever got run over by a train unless “with all due respect” they wanted to, which can still apply today if a person is that determined.

The resultant can be summed up in the words of Mrs Meakin, still a fit lady in her seventies who used to walk twenty meters across from her front door to the beach and go swimming every day. “Now in the morning I hear the water invitingly lapping and I cannot reach it due to the obstacle course in front of me”. In short her way of  life has been diminished by blind bureaucracy.

Equally I would say that the same blind bureaucracy killed the fishing when licencing the removal of the offshore mussel banks. Today on my stroll while casting a Kilty lure I caught a solitary launce in front of the “Big Tree”. I scared a sea trout and the bass may still be there, however no mackerel, no mussel shells on the beach and very little weed. Conversations with Mrs Meakin (over 40 years resident in Kilcoole) and her daughter Lizzy made it very clear, the inshore environment has changed radically, getting progressively lifeless.

One is not being negative in saying this, just realistic. Yes it is sad, but the people iterating it are perfectly balanced and happy, they just have lived, breathed and observed a fuller environmental alternative which can still be resurrected from the bland reduced diversity habitat Kilcoole presents today. Yes, the beating heart of Kilcoole’s wonderful seascape can be revived, it just needs good people to believe. A starting point is to support the idea of a community managed Marine Conservation Area between Bray Head and Wicklow Head………..

For Further Information Click on: Reviving North County Wicklow’s Inshore Fisheries Socio – Economic Modal.

Creating a Managed Marine Protected Area off County Wicklow, Ireland

Saturday, February 20th, 2016
Ashley Hayden boat fishing off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

My family roots lie firmly in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, a once thriving fishing village situated 25 miles south of Dublin city on Ireland’s east coast. I possess experiential knowledge of the offshore fishing grounds comprising the Moulditch Ridge, Kilcoole Bank and the Breaches Shoal (all located south and east of Greystones) dating back to the late 1960′s.

I am familiar with the local marine traditions and I am fully aware what has been lost due exclusively to bad fisheries management decisions encapsulated by habitat destruction the resultant of licenced mussel dredging which commenced back in the early 1980′s.

I have a vision to establish a “community driven” Marine Protected Area (MPA) between Bray Head ( to the north) and Wicklow Head (to the south) encapsulating both holistic and socio - economic principles.

Best practice would suggest that the process to achieve this viable proposal will require most likely the setting up of a “driver organisation” possibly a registered charity with philanthropic and or EU funding to underpin it linked to a campaign ran by the wider local community while being supported by the state, which will include all vested interests and not just a narrow “marine” focus.

The MPA will be for “all” the people locally, nationally and from abroad.

The MPA will act as a pilot project which if successful can then be incorporated as a modal for best practice inshore fisheries management and subsequently rolled out nationally.

I envisage that:
  • Management of the MPA will include an academic research mandate to aid “best management practice” as well as to further progress marine scientific knowledge.
  • That the inshore/offshore MPA will be an extension of the Wicklow National Park so making the County not only unique nationally but also internationally.
  • That the MPA will extend out to the old three mile limit and its northern and southern limits will be designated by a virtual extension of the respective county lines.
  • That the MPA will not be exclusively “no take” but will allow, post a managed rehabilitation process, sustainable commercial artisan fishing methodologies, recreational sea angling and a variety of water sports and activities under a progressive management plan aimed to encourage local business and employment opportunities while both rehabilitating and preserving the integrity ongoing of North Wicklow’s offshore environment.
  • That within the MPA though there will be areas designated as “No Take” for both scientific and “spill over” purposes.
  • That when established in time the MPA will garner enormous credibility for Co. Wicklow internationally, will underpin efforts to maintain and increase onshore and offshore biodiversity, will resurrect a now defunct local artisan commercial fishing industry, will enable Co. Wicklow to market an International standard tourism 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.
In short the investment in time and effort will be returned many fold.

I am proposing that the vision is worth adopting because:
  • It will be a unique step for a county (public and private entities) to recognise and claim ownership of an offshore coastal resource with a view to managing its usage and future rehabilitation/development as an integral and symbiotic element of onshore economic development.
  • Rehabilitation of the inshore benthic habitats off Co. Wicklow will enable the county to market and sell itself abroad internationally as a local community that really cares for and understands the socio - economic benefits of pristine natural environments.
  • That the County Council supported by Public and Private interests can lead the way in proposing and developing a forward thinking “coastal county by coastal county” approach to national inshore fisheries management where community and state Dept’s/Agencies work side by side to manage and develop “their inshore/offshore patch” collectively on behalf of the nation.

Yours sincerely,

Ashley Hayden


Ireland Ranked Worst Offender in EU Waters for Over Fishing

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

Well it would appear to be official, Ireland is the EU member state with the worst record for politically granted over fishing within North East Atlantic waters.

A report entitled – “Landing the Blame” – compiled by the New Economics Foundation, an independent organisation promoting economic well-being based in London, was produced to assess and clarify those EU member states most responsible for setting fishing quotas above scientific advice.

EU commercial fishing quotas are set annually each December at a closed door meeting of EU agriculture and fisheries ministers in Brussels attended by Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture and the Marine Simon Coveney.

The report concluded that Minister Coveney negotiated the largest proportional increase in fishing quotas for Ireland above scientifically advised levels last December, with Ireland’s quotas exceeding scientific advice by 25%.

Griffen Carpenter, a co-author of the report, is quoted as saying “there is a lack of transparency around these closed-door negotiations and pressure should be placed on member states to recognise the benefits of following scientific advice and managing marine ecosystems in a sustainable manner”.

Environmentalists world wide agree that over fishing is harmful to the marine environment threatening the long-term viability of the worlds marine habitats.

Over fishing also contravenes the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy which set 2015, where possible, as the target date by which to end EU over fishing.

To read the Report Click On: Landing the Blame for Over Fishing in the North East Atlantic 2016.


Ireland’s Sea Fisheries Belong to All its Citizens

Monday, January 18th, 2016

My Grandfather Willie Redmond built clinker design boats in his shed behind Killians Hall a stones throw from the harbour in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, which was a great benefit to yours truly an outdoors loving young lad who gained access to a boat from a very early age. In my tenth year dad taught me to row, initially in and out between the moored boats in the harbour only letting me leave the confines of the pier head when I could show him that I could maneuver the craft to his satisfaction. The litmus test being that I could row between the said moored boats without touching them.

A young Ashley Hayden at the harbour Greystones in 1984 with his first born daughter Emma - Claire.

Around the same time I helped dad construct a long line out of heavy cotton line imported from Hong Kong to which were attached 100 mustad spade end hooks on two foot snoods at 12′ intervals. Dad’s modus operandi became clear in the late summer of 1971 when in early September we shot the line in a zig zag pattern off St David’s school, me rowing with the last of the ebb tide while dad payed out the baited hooks before two hours later as the flood tide commenced roles reversed dad rowed and I hauled, a series of large red spotted plaice flapping over the gunnels. The boy was hooked.

Today 45 years later I would be hard pressed as a young 55 years old grandfather of two wonderful grandsons to repeat the above exercise such is the decline that has occurred in Ireland’s inshore sea fisheries. If this decline had occurred due to natural causes one would not lament so, however the damage is solely man made. In 2007 I wrote a piece, “An Angler’s Tale” about that first day off Greystones in 1971 and considered how we all could work towards improving our sea fisheries so that my Grand Children might experience in some way the marine wonders that I saw, smelled, heard and felt as a young boy and latterly teenager.

Given that my first born grandson Myles is now three and second born Dillan is two months old that day is well nigh upon us and sadly Ireland’s marine fisheries have not improved, in fact things have only gotten worse. In the early 1980′s I considered the idea of artisan sea fishing out of Greystones but buried the notion very quickly as the writing was on the wall even then with regard to sea fisheries decline and I was only going to enter the industry if I could run a stand alone operation with no reliance on state or EU subsidies, what I caught governing whether I would sink or swim.

Would that other people had thought like that because today the Irish Government props up a failing industry due to political ignorance of how to manage effectively Ireland’s marine resource, political cowardice when it comes to the acceptance that the marine stakeholder brief is far wider than just those who choose to sea fish commercially and through State/EU funding continues to fuel an industrial sector that is mining itself into oblivion while stoking the raging bush fire of marine fisheries decline. By supporting the grossly undemocratic present marine fisheries development and management status quo the Irish Government and its servents are  denying my grandsons Myles and Dillan and their peers what is their natural heritage and birthright.

The industry talks about “Grandfather Rights”, well my two Grandsons have great great grandfather rights and it is about time that they were recognised. At this juncture there is little chance that either Myles or Dillan will be able to forge a career in marine sea fisheries either as commercial fisherman, charter skippers or sea angling guides such is the Irish Governments inadequate response towards rectifying the wanton destruction of what is arguably Ireland’s greatest natural resource. Myles, Dillan and their peers deserve better………….

EU Discards Deal Looks Like A Fudge

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Sir,- Having witnessed over my lifetime (I am 52 years of age) a national resource plundered, the positive headline “EU agrees ban on fish discards” (Breaking News, February 27th), reads like a damp squib based on the detail outlined in the subsequent report.

With many hard pressed whitefish stocks on the brink of economic if not actual collapse, why a phased delivery to begin January 2016?

Also, what are the management plans for zero total allowance catch (TAC) species such as spurdog (rock salmon) and species that are restricted or commercially banned like bass are to Irish commercial fishers?

In principal it looks like these fish could be targeted and landed legally by default.  Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney described yesterday’s agreement as an “historic milestone”, unfortunately it reads like a fudge.

The failed history of EU and Irish sea fisheries management looks set to continue.

Yours etc,

Published in Letters to the Editor, Irish Times, 28th February, 2013.

Overkill, The Euphoric Rush to Industrialise Ireland’s Sea Fisheries

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Ireland’s fishing fleet is four times larger and many orders more powerful than in the 1950′s when its industrialisation commenced. Its expansion has all but eliminated the fish resources on which it depends. Government policy strives to shore up an insolvent industry with whatever subsidies it can get from the European Union while, at the same time, appeasing the most powerful elements within it by making whatever fish remain available to them.

Overkill! by Dr. Edward Fahy M.Sc Ph.D - the euphoric rush to industrialise Ireland's sea fisheries.

I first contacted Dr. Edward Fahy post 2007 having read his industry reports on whelk fishing off the coast of north County Wicklow. It was clear from his writing that Ed Fahy was a scientist with not just a professional approach to his job, but a deep interest in the marine environment and a far seeing vision of the need to balance sustainable exploitation of the seas and oceans that surround us against profit for its own sake.

Dr. Edward Fahy M.Sc Ph.D. Irish Fisheries scientist retired.

Having witnessed first hand environmental destruction wrought by Government sanctioned mussel dredging off the County Wicklow coastline, which I try to highlight at every opportunity, it is timely, especially given imminent reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, that Dr. Fahy has published a true, fully referenced account of Ireland’s commercial sea fishing industry to date. The narrative examines the development of destructive fishing methods, the growing size of fishing vessels and the correlated evolution of fishermen’s representation and the increasing influence of wealthier elements within it, and how the interaction of financial, political, and biological issues culminated in a centralised fisheries-political establishment where the majority of fishermen have little or no voice and science accommodates heavier exploitation rather than prudent management.

Full review to follow.

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Fish For the Future

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The EU fisheries policy may seem complicated, but it is actually pretty simple: we must fish less now so we can fish more tomorrow. The infographic below explains the Common Fisheries Policy in five minutes.

Important discussions are taking place in the European Parliament right now and there are divisions between MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) across all national delegations and political groups.

Fish For the Future is a cross-party group of MEP’s who want to end over fishing and rebuild fish stocks. They are fighting against those who prefer the short term benefit of allowing fishermen to catch the last remaining fish over ensuring European fishermen a long term future.

The following graphic explains quite clearly the present state of our marine fin fish resource, and offers real solutions for rehabilitation and future management.

Beginners’ Guide to the Common Fisheries Policy – Fish For the Future
Courtesy of: Fish For the Future


Sea Fishing in Ireland, Pause for Reflection

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Where have all the fish gone? It’s mid July and mackerel are scarce off shore, yes we have had unseasonably wet and cold weather and a red tide developed along the west and north west coastline, but not as I understand it along the south and east coast, so why do beaches that would normally deliver at this time of year appear devoid of life. Flounder were always a summer mainstay on the beaches that I fish but have been getting more scarce over the last two seasons, likewise after twenty two years of bass conservation where are the bass that were frequenting my local beaches up to two years ago?

Fishing a dawn tide for bass.

My wife joked that I am losing my touch, but no, sea fishing is on a downward slide, and since reactivating my fishing diary in 2007 this downward trend is very apparent. Logic dictates, nothing has been done to address seriously depleted and continuously falling fish stocks within EU waters other than plenty of rhetoric but no action. Also there has been no widening of the brief to include interest groups other than the commercial sector at both EU and Government level. Too many departments have a finger or two in the marine without any joined up thinking, action, or policy emanating. The buck is passed on a number of fronts especially when it comes to illegal fishing and poaching (reference a deterioration in local bass stocks). The clock is ticking, our marine environment needs people with courage and vision to make key decisions swiftly. Please, if there is anyone out there possessing both of the attributes previously mentioned, make yourself visible NOW before it’s too late……

The Humble Cod has a Colourful History

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

To most people the humble cod is the primary ingredient of Birds Eye Fish Fingers, or comes battered as a constituent of the “one and one” that they have just purchased from the local chipper on the way home from the pub. Little do they know that this big headed, barbuled chinned, coloured a mottled olive green/brown/red, white bellied, much loved fish has most definitely played a major role in the historical development of western society both in Europe and America.

COD, by Mark Kurlansky, a must read for all those who are interested in the marine environment.

Cod was one of, if not the main source of protein for most western and central European nations from the middle ages right into the 19th century. In the Middle Ages dried cod or stock fish as it was known underwrote economies, it predated the gold standard. Basque fishermen from northern Spain crossed the Atlantic to their “secret fishing grounds” off Newfoundland long before Christopher Columbus claimed he had found the New World, and returned with their holds filled with dried and salt cod.

Cod enriched the Pilgrim Fathers who settled on the eastern shores of that mighty continent we now call the USA, to the point where they no longer needed support from their mother nation England. Cod enabled them to become financially independent with the potential to outstrip the burgeoning economy of their home country. Tied to a set of ground rules, one of which was that they could only trade with England, the first settlers sought independence which was refused so kick starting the American Revolution.

All these little gems and more are expanded upon in a wonderful book simply titled “COD” by Mark Kurlansky, first published in 1997 the author charts in vivid style how prolific the species was and sadly after 600 plus years of human exploitation how humanity has mined the North Atlantic cod to economic extinction. No longer do they swim in vast shoals across the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and closer to home reside, coloured red due to the kelp and diet of crab, on the Moulditch bank off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, mans ignorance and greed has seen to that.

Today however, due to some minor miracle or quirk of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, certainly in my opinion not a result of  good fisheries management, cod are swimming again in reasonable numbers off Ireland’s south coast. Averaging 2/3 lbs in weight, on certain tides they are coming within casting range of shore anglers fishing beaches, piers, estuaries, and headlands from Wexford to Cork. Fishing into the dark using lugworm or peeler crab for bait, rod tops have been nodding and for the lucky few who are putting the time in some fine catches have been made. Yours truly has made a number of trips to various locations since early November, enjoying some excellent results in the process, culminating in the freshest battered cod and chips that I have had in years. On form the cod will stay around until January, get out and cast a line while the going is good….