Anglers from both sides of the Border converged in Enniskillen on Saturday to highlight their fears for the future of endangered fish species if fracking goes ahead.
A cavalcade of 50 boats on trailers was driven through the Co Fermanagh town as fishermen claimed the controversial method of shale gas extraction could threaten popular angling lakes on both sides of the Border – including Lough Melvin, Lough Erne, Lough Allen, Lough McNean and Lough Arrow.
Malcolm Finney, honorary secretary of the Garrison and Lough Melvin Fishing Association, which organised the rally, said a referendum on fracking should be held to coincide with the local elections in Northern Ireland on May 22nd.
"We asked members of all the angling associations to give up the first day of the season to come here. Some of them are in mourning, but we wanted to highlight the importance of this protest," he said.
Iron Age trout
Finney pointed out that sonaghan trout is unique to Lough Melvin, which stretches from Leitrim to Fermanagh. "It's been here since the Iron Age, but would disappear if fracking goes ahead," he said.
“We have other rare species including Arctic Char which is dying out all over Ireland. We put 200,000 salmon fry into our system over the past six years and we want to protect all that.”
Lough Melvin has been designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and also as a Special Area of Conservation .
“We have the highest degree of protection from the EU, but it would only take one accident to destroy the lake if they start to drill,” said Mr Finney.
Shane Gallagher runs the Drowes fishery on the Leitrim/Donegal border, which has a reputation for regularly yielding the first salmon of the year. He was among the 150 or so protesters.
"We get clients from Germany, Spain, France, the US, even Japan, who come here because we have a reputation for near pristine waters," he said.
“Fracking poses a serious threat to that reputation because no drilling company can operate without using chemicals. If we lose our green image it will be bad for tourism and for agriculture, while the visual impact on our countryside cannot be ignored.”