Fishermen warn of backlash over netting ban

Wed, Nov 1, 2006, 00:00

The Government's decision to adopt a complete ban on drift-net fishing has received a mixed reaction from Opposition parties and environmental groups.

A group representing drift-net fishermen warned the Government would face a backlash at the next general election for approving the ban, which  comes into force in January.

The Irish Traditional Salmon Netsmen's Association said the ban will destroy livelihoods and that the €25 million hardship fund was too small.

Up to 400 netsmen marched on the Dáil today as the Cabinet made its decision to outlaw the practice next year and release a multi-million euro compensation fund.

The Association's spokesman Martin Kerin said: "The compensation is paltry. Some of the fishermen will only get €2,000 or so.

"To impose a ban is just unbelievable," he said.

Mr Kerin warned that salmon fishermen and their families may refuse to vote for Government candidates at the next General Election. He claimed UN laws of the sea say that fishing communities have the right to fish stock that is there.

But the Stop Nowgroup, representing the main game angling federations, welcomed the Government decision, saying it was of critical importance for the future of Irish salmon.

The group's chairman Niall Greene said the Government is to be commended for acting quickly and decisively on foot of the Independent Salmon Group report.

"The decision to ban drift-net fishing for salmon presents everyone involved in the sector with an unprecedented opportunity to work in partnership to rebuild our salmon stocks."

Anglers are more than ready to play their part to ensure that wild Irish salmon return to Irish rivers in abundance over the coming years," Mr Greene added.

Green Party marine spokesman Eamon Ryan said today's decision should be the first phase of a new campaign to restore our wild salmon stocks. 

"Such a campaign should involve new river management schemes to improve the water quality conditions in our rivers and new research into the effect that climate change appears to be having on the salmon feeding grounds at sea," he said. "We also need a major change in policy to provide a sustainable and profitable future for our inshore fishing fleet."

Progressive Democrats Senator John Dardis, who has campaigned in favour of the ban, said the Government had no option but to act in view of what he said was clear scientific advice about the collapse of salmon stocks.

Mr Dardis welcomed the fact that Ireland would no longer be in breach of the EU Habitats Directive, and stressed that all stakeholders would have to endure some pain.

"Some hardship will be involved for netsmen and anglers alike. But the benefits of the ban can be translated into genuine gains, given that the future of a species that has been central to Irish life has been secured by today's decision," he added.

The European Commission also welcomed the Government's pledge to stop salmon drift netting

Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, Martin Territt, said: "This means that Ireland will now take the necessary steps to fully comply with the Habitats Directive, which is a key nature conservation law that protects certain habitats and species, including the wild Atlantic salmon that spawns in Ireland.

The Irish Hotels Federation said there was now an opportunity to create a foundation to rebuild salmon angling tourism to the levels seen in the late 1990s. John Power, IHF chief executive, said salmon angling tourism could potentially contribute some €100 million  to the Irish economy annually.