Marine scientist with a lifelong bond with mid-water fisheries

John Molloy: Born September 19th, 1940;died May 29th,2013.

John Molloy, one of the most charismatic and respected figures in Irish and international marine science, enjoyed a unique relationship with fishing communities right around this 7,800km coastline.

Enlightened environmental management measures, such as the recovery of the Celtic Sea herring stock from collapse, reflected his firm belief that fishermen, scientists and State authorities must work together.

His books on the Irish mackerel fishery, published in 2004, and on herring, completed two years later, are testament to his scientific legacy. Yet, as he noted in the introduction to his first book, he hailed from an agricultural background. “There wasn’t much fishing in Co Meath when I was growing up,” although a “fish van did call to the house on Fridays”.

He studied at University College Dublin, qualifying in 1961, and began work with the former Department of Lands's fisheries division in June 1962. This was the start of a lifelong relationship with mid-water fisheries. He served in various government departments and, latterly, the Marine Institute, until 2006. He was actively engaged with the fishing industry, carrying out scientific surveys on mackerel and herring.


A successful fisherman recalls Molloy's first arrival to Killybegs, Co Donegal. Not only did he "look different" from the stereotypical scientist, he "was different". His input helped shape the development of the mid water fishery there.

Scientific colleagues say he was "ahead of his time" in his co-operative, rather than confrontational, approach to management. While he spent many years in Killybegs, and in Dunmore East, Co Waterford, measuring and dissecting fish, he was also constantly talking and listening to fishermen, garnering information on the fleet, on fishing methods, on movement of shoals, spawning areas and times.

The communication was two-way, for he contributed many informative articles to the Irish Skipper, the industry journal founded by Arthur Reynolds, in which he related the outcomes of the latest scientific surveys, explained the story behind the data, the trends in stocks and interpreted advice on quotas.

Fishermen trusted Molloy and the knowledge he gained from them was applied to his international work. An international scientific colleague recalls how he would always point out the flaws in the latest science if it was “not representing the behaviour of the shoals” or “not reflecting what Irish fishermen were seeing on the grounds”.

He was very involved in international fishery science from the early 1970s, through the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), working on herring and mackerel. He also served on ICES’ advisory committee for fisheries management and the EU’s scientific technical and economic committee for fisheries.

He took part in many stressful 10-day scientific meetings in Copenhagen (headquarters of ICES), clocking up work on 30 herring, 20 mackerel and 20 advisory committees and earning the respect of his colleagues.

The meetings were long, tense and sometimes fractious as they dealt with the size of the following year’s EU fishing quotas.

Before the State acquired its largest marine research ships, Molloy would ensure that Ireland was represented in international fisheries surveys taking place off our west coast by hiring an available fishing vessel.

On one memorable occasion, in 1986, the 86ft wooden Killybegs trawler Emer Marie was chartered for an international mackerel survey.

The British authorities were not convinced that the trawler could be part of such an important survey and “detained” it off the north of Scotland. Happily, a combination of Molloy’s charm with the British authorities and a flurry of diplomatic activity over a bank holiday weekend secured the release of the boat.

Molloy had many loves – his wife Oonagh and family, his religion, his parish, sport, people, his dogs, gardening and saving the turf. He also edited a book on the history of Caragh, Co Kildare, the native parish of his wife Oonagh, where they lived happily with their family in a close-knit community.

His many and varied interests were all reflected in the large and diverse group which paid its respects at his funeral.

Many of his former scientific colleagues from Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark and Norway sent messages reflecting fond memories of man with a great sense of humour, an ability to communicate and an incredible knowledge and passion for the Irish mid-water fishery.

He was pre-deceased by his son, Tom, and is survived by his wife Oonagh (neé Dawson) and daughters Róisín, Mary and Orla.