On Wednesday 25th January Inland Fisheries Ireland held an information event in Buswell’s Hotel on its activities over the past year, its plans for this year and the work that the organisation carried out.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the state agency responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources. Ireland has over 74,000 kilometres of rivers and streams and 128,000 hectares of lakes all of which fall under the jurisdiction of IFI.
As Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources I addressed the event outlining the work carried out by IFI, the contribution of inland fisheries to our economy and communities as well as some of the challenges facing us.
As Minister of State with responsibility for Inland Fisheries, I am pleased that today’s Information event promotes engagement by Oireachtas colleagues directly with Inland Fisheries Ireland. Frank, open and genuine engagement across both the political and angling spectrums should be the hallmark of governance and development.
Inland Fisheries Ireland have generously hosted the information day so that we might commence in earnest an inclusive national conversation about our inland fisheries resource, which offers huge value to communities, mainly rural, across Ireland.
Ireland has a unique and wonderful natural heritage and our fisheries resource and the aquatic landscape where our wild indigenous fish populations live and thrive, are precious commodities which bring significant recreational, social and economic substance to this country.
Recreational angling is already enjoyed by over 273,000 domestic anglers. The splendour of our landscapes, the clean green environment and the Irish welcome combine together to enhance the angling experience in Ireland.
As a natural meeting point of northern colder waters and warmer Southern waters, Ireland enjoys a good mix of fish species. When blended with other key visitor experiences, Ireland has an enduring appeal across the world of angling.
But it is not just those in the angling community who can benefit from our fisheries. The resource contributes €836 million to the Irish economy annually and supports upwards of 11,000 jobs. The majority of this spend and these jobs are in rural communities.
Angling tourism supports both angling and non-angling service providers. Accommodation providers, restaurants, cafes, grocery shops and so forth also profit from angling tourism from domestic anglers as well as the overseas visitors, 163,000 alone in 2015, who enjoy angling here.
The resource is extensive however and requires significant protection measures due to ongoing illegal activity. Unfortunately, there are those who continue to carry out environmental crimes which have significant and long-lasting negative impact on the aquatic habitat.
This is no small issue – there were 103 prosecutions initiated by Inland Fisheries Ireland last year for fisheries related offences and 160 on the spot fines.
But Inland Fisheries Ireland continues to hold those responsible to account and works at every level to protect our fish populations across the country. On the ground, fisheries officers are patrolling lakes, rivers, coastal and estuarine waters to challenge those who are poaching, fishing illegally or releasing toxic pollutants into our waters. There were 31,180 patrols carried out last year.
These patrols are an effective way of identifying and measuring illegal fishing in an area. In addition to boat patrols, fisheries officers also undertake other land and water based covert surveillance and overt operations at various times of day and night, throughout the year.
Officers patrol the waterways with a view to optimising staff resources and use a variety of methods and equipment to do so – bicycles are used to access river banks quickly, kayaks for silent river patrols, quad bikes for beaches, jet skis for shallow estuarine areas and RIB boats for coastal areas. Night time patrols are now aided with thermal imaging equipment, night vision scopes and hidden cameras.
Fisheries Officers, our custodians of the resource, often face aggressive and threatening incidents in their daily work as they police our waterways to protect our natural treasure.
Last year alone, they identified and seized 301 illegal fishing nets, measuring 14,782m, enough net to take us here from Buswells Hotel to Dublin Airport along with 1,487 of illegal fishing equipment. All signs of the necessity of our protection work.
Shoulder to shoulder with the protection work on the ground, research staffs are also involved in a broad range of fisheries research and monitoring activities examining water chemistry, aquatic vegetation and fish species. Many of the projects are applied fisheries management projects dealing with diverse pressing issues such as measuring the attainment of salmon conservation limits or reporting on the conservation status of EU Habitats Directive species.
Recently, Inland Fisheries Ireland published new research into the migration and behaviour of one of Europe’s most mysterious fish, the European Eel. This study monitored eels further and longer than any previous research with one of the tags from an Irish eel registering a journey of 6,982 kilometres and 273 days at sea. The study has overturned previously accepted theories on the migratory behaviour of the fish, which will impact on how this critically endangered species will be managed and conserved into the future.
This is just one of several research projects which are crucial in protecting our resource as it informs us of what we need to do to ensure that our wild fish stocks continue to be maintained.
But while we protect, we are also working on enhancing our angling potential in a conservation focused manner. The National Strategy for Angling Development outlines a set of measures focused on delivering an accessible and sustainable, world class inland fisheries and sea angling resource for all. It is a pathway towards realising the enormous benefits which can accrue from investing in the resource with the potential to grow the economic contribution by €96 million over the next five years, to create an additional 1,800 jobs and attract another 40,000 tourists annually.
Just a few weeks ago, I was delighted to announce just one of the many small steps on that pathway, funding to the value of €500,000 to angling clubs and community groups nationwide to deliver projects which are aimed at improving access to angling. We want to grow angling participation and in order to do so, we will focus on making it easier for those of all ages and abilities to take up angling.
This will be achieved by improving infrastructure, information and providing support to novice anglers. I am determined that we invest in the resource but also empower our stakeholders to deliver angling improvements in their own communities. I intend to announce further funding initiatives and supports this year.
There will continue to be many challenges in the year ahead as Inland Fisheries Ireland operates in an ever changing environment. Climate change continues to impact the natural environment, while socio and economic factors as a result of the recent UK Referendum may see us need to adapt to a changing angling tourism landscape.
Collaboration across government agencies and local government will be crucial if we are to realise the opportunities which the resource presents, alongside a positive, partnership approach with angling communities and stakeholders.
I am delighted to see Inland Fisheries Ireland staff from across the country here today who will be briefing political representatives over the next few hours with a view to keeping the door to this resource open at all times.
I would like to close by thanking you for your attendance. As Minister, I am proud to be involved in this positive initiative in my role to protect, conserve, promote and develop the fisheries resource.