Local board plans a great leap forward on the back of salmon

 

"ANOIS teacht an earraigh", said Raftery, the blind Mayo poet, referring to the days following St Bridget's Day at the start of February.

Spring's coming heralds the arrival of leaping salmon in the Moy river in north Mayo. It also marks the renewal of a row between two fishery boards over the future of the country's best known salmon river.

The North Western Fisheries Board, which looks after most of the river, wants the Central Fisheries Board to give it control over the Moy Fishery, a two mile stretch of the river between Ballina and the sea.

The stretch includes the famous Ridge Pool in the town, which is regarded as one of Europe's foremost fishing "beats". It attracts hundreds of British and continental anglers each year.

With one day fishing licences costing about £45 - and over 5 000 salmon caught on the rod last year - the fishery plays a key role in the region's economy.

The regional board has its headquarters less than 150 metres from the fishery but has no authority over it. The central board, in Glasnevin in Dublin, maintains a separate office in the town with its own management structure, staff vehicles and equipment.

This arrangement results in "inefficient management and wasteful duplication of scarce staff and other resources", according to the chairman of the regional board, Mr John Walkin.

"This system means that both the regional board and the central board staff, operating under separate management and from separate offices in Ballina, are working on the same stretch of water, at the same time, carrying out largely similar duties," he said.

He is exasperated at what he describes as the reluctance of the central board to address the issue and has asked the Minister for the Marine, Mr Barrett, to intervene. According to Mr Walkin, a report prepared by Price Waterhouse for the Department recommends that state owned fisheries should be managed by locally based regional fisheries boards.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said the Price Waterhouse report is part of a major review of marine and fisheries policy which is not yet complete. The Minister has not decided if the report will be published, she said. "We wouldn't necessarily argue against the principle of subsidiarity," the spokeswoman added.

The Central Fisheries Board chairman, Mr William McLysaght, said it would be inappropriate for the board to decide what to do until overall Government fisheries policy is clarified.

"There is nothing basically wrong with the idea of devolution, but we must do it in a planned and organised way," he said.

But he added that the regional board has yet to come up with "hard empirical data" to show it could run things better than the central board. He says millions of pounds in taxpayers' and EU funds is now being invested in the river as part of the biggest ever investment in angling in Ireland.

It would be unwise to devolve while this money is being spent, he suggests. "It's just like building a house. You don't move in until it's finished."

The Moy Fishery was acquired by the State 10 years ago and passed into the hands of the Central Fisheries Board in 1994.

It was originally a commercial fishery with traps and draft net fishing, but the board has suspended all draft netting in an attempt to enhance its attraction to anglers.

Last month it decided not to open fishing traps on the river until May 15th, unlike previous years when they were opened in early spring. The decision gives early spring salmon a free run, but they will still face a gauntlet of anglers on the banks and offshore drift netters.

It is good news for the salmon but even better news for the anglers, who favour the spring fish because they are bigger. Their availability could give the tourist season in Ballina a vital early start. The regional board wants to develop this.