Anglers claim quota system for salmon catches is discriminatory
Immediate government action has been called for to save some of Ireland's best salmon fisheries from terminal decline. Anglers on the Nore, Suir and Barrow rivers say salmon have become so scare that they fear salmon-fishing in the south-east will soon be a thing of the past. Similar concerns have been raised in relation to the Blackwater in Cork.
According to one estimate, a total of 14 salmon had been caught in the Nore by the bank holiday weekend, although the salmon-fishing season opened on St Patrick's Day. Ten years ago, that figure would have been closer to 200, according to Mr Ed Stack, an angler and member of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board.
Another board member, Mr Joseph Teesdale, who owns a fishery on the River Nore near Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, says an increase in commercial fishing off the west coast is to blame for the "disaster".
A new quota system, designed to conserve stocks, will in fact only perpetuate the imbalance between fishermen in the west and those in the south-east, he claims.
As reported in this newspaper on Monday, salmon fishermen in the west are opposed to the quota system, claiming it is unfair that the onus of conservation be placed on them alone. The Irish Salmon Traditional Netsmen's Association said they would not be opposed to quotas if they applied equally to fishery owners and anglers.
Mr Teesdale, however, points out that anglers are restricted to a quota of one salmon per day, "but it is completely academic. Most anglers, if they could catch one salmon in the year, would be delighted". He claimed the quotas recently announced by the Minister for the Marine, Mr Fahey, discriminate against commercial fishermen operating off the south-east coast, as well as anglers and traditional snap net and estuarine fishermen who use nets in the rivers.
The Kerry fishery district, for example, is to have a quota of 32,970 salmon and Ballina 28,635, compared to 13,455 for Lismore and 11,201 for Waterford. If sea catches are allowed to continue at current levels, however, there will soon be no salmon left for anyone to catch, he argues, as salmon migrating to the North Atlantic can no longer make their way back to spawning grounds in the south-east.
The problem has not arisen overnight. An analysis carried out by a Cappoquin-based fishery owner, Mr James Villiers-Stuart, in 1983 charted how the growth of commercial salmon fishing off the west coast from 1970 had had an increasingly detrimental effect on river stocks. Even by then, he warned, the level of salmon numbers in the Blackwater gave "considerable cause for alarm".
Successive government policies had been motivated by "short-term political considerations, rather than the need for a policy of rational exploitation with a view to maintaining a long-term sustainable yield". Mr Teesdale claims political considerations, rather than science, are also behind the new quota figures. As the owner of a bed and breakfast, he is already noticing the decline in tourists travelling to the south-east for salmon fishing.
"When someone phones me from England and asks how the fishing is this year, I have to be honest with them and say 'look, forget it'." It has been calculated, says Mr Teesdale, that for every salmon caught by a tourist, the value added to the economy is up to £1,000, taking into account the visitor's transport and other expenditure. "The various netsmen and rod anglers are all entitled to have a bite at the cherry," he says. "The problem is that the guys off the west coast are getting all of the cherry at the moment."