Cork and Kerry fishermen help out Fota Wildlife Park by donating fish

Fota will use the fish to feed penguins, pelicans and seals amid fall in revenue

They may be facing the prospect of British prime minister Boris Johnson ordering British gunboats to patrol waters that they have fished in for years, but Cork and Kerry fishermen have taken time out from such travails to help out the animals at Fota Wildlife Park with a generous donation of fish.

Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy explained that he had been contacted by a number of fishermen along the south coast when they learned that Fota Wildlife Park was facing a drop in income due to a fall in visitor numbers because of Covid-19.

"Some of our members, Neilly Minihane in Castletownbere, Tom Kennedy in Dingle and Anthony Sheehy from Baltimore, contacted me to see if they could help out with fish [for the park] and so we contacted Sean McKeown at Fota Wildlife Park and he was only too delighted with the offer of free fish.

"Ricky Kane of O'Catháin Iasc Teo in Dingle came on board and his factory workers put the fish in cartons and froze them so we brought up 1,200kg of fish on Saturday – 1,000kg of sprat and 200kg of anchovies which will help them reduce their animal food bill."


Mr Murphy said it wasn’t only Fota Wildlife Park that was benefiting from the donation of free fish by the group, but also the fishermen and their crews, who were receiving a positive boost at a time when the Irish fishing industry is going through one of its greatest challenges because of Brexit and Covid-19.

“Fishermen had the worst year possible this year and what they are facing next year will be like facing a tsunami in a canoe, but these lads saw an opportunity to do something good and get a good bit of mental health into their own heads by giving free fish to Fota.

“The payback factor to the fishermen is the feelgood factor and the good mental health that it brings – it’s good for the owners and for their crew that they can do something like this and help out Fota in a way that they can be rightly proud of,” he said.

Reduce bill

Mr McKeown, the director of Fota Wildlife Park, said receiving such a quantity of sprat and anchovies would help reduce the 100-acre park’s animal food bill, which averages about €35,000 a month.

He explained that Covid-19 had forced the park to close down from mid-March until almost the end of May, resulting in a loss of income from paying visitors, who this year look set to total about 90,000, compared with the 462,000 people who paid to visit the attraction in 2019.

“We have 127 different species and over 1,500 animals at the park – we have a sizeable food bill every month but this donation of fish will help us reduce our food bill for our penguins, our pelicans and our seals, and we will also give some fish to the tigers as a treat for them,” he said.

Mr McKeown explained that Fota’s 28 penguins consume some 20kg of fish every day, while their two pelicans and two seals consume another 10kg of fish every day, so the donation of 1,200kg of fish will be of significant assistance in the months ahead.

“We probably spend up to €5,000 a year feeding our penguins, pelicans and seals – we usually order it at this time of year but we hope to get about 4½ tonnes from the fishermen so that will keep us going until this time next year, which is great – it’s worked out really well for us.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times