Omagh Anglers challenge Loughs Agency regarding ‘Catch & Release’ Policy

Fasta Associates may use this as a template if they wish to register their own opposition to any extension of the Catch & Release Policy.

Catch & Release Letter to D Anderson

Minister O’Neill visits Loughs Agency HQ

You may find it worth your while to read the article regarding the Minister of Agriculture Michelle O’Neill’s visit to the Loughs Agency headquarters:

Ministerial Visit

FASTA Response to Loughs Agency Trout Strategy Document, October 2011

FASTA RESPONSE TO LOUGHS’ AGENCY TROUT STRATEGY DOCUMENT

October 2011

This document was considered in depth by FASTA at its recent AGM.

Summary

This is a wide ranging document containing some 19 policies in relation to trout in particular, and other matters, especially Policy 11, where reference is made to the voluntary buy out of salmon nets by anglers. It is informative on the life cycle of both sea trout and brown trout.

It is a document that is overdue, given the decline in sea trout numbers over many years. Within it is a combination of aspiration and the dead hand of prescription. It is a matter of regret that the LA has imposed a whole series of regulations in recent years on anglers ranging from logbook filling to hook size to mandatory catch and release. This avalanche of regulation, foisted on law-abiding anglers, is turning a relaxing sport into something alien to that pursuit. The overuse of regulation does indicate a reactive management rather than a proactive model which does not foster confidence among the angling stakeholders.

The Policies

Many of the policies outlined are sensible and pragmatic. Some are worthy of more consideration. Policies 7 and 15, which seek to prevent serious damage to fisheries and to seek to improve prevention of escapees, are a case in point.

On the Foyle, a stretch of sea trout fishing was decimated due to the extraction of gravel. This action was perfectly legal yet the damage will take years to undo.

On the Camowen, a hydro scheme was put in place, which will allow coarse fish to enter an area where they were absent hitherto.

On the Mourne system, there are persistent reports of pollution emanating from a fish farm. In the same area and upstream from the farm, there are consistent reports of rainbow trout which are escapees. They may not be able to breed but we believe the native brown trout are in serious decline in that specific area.

Near Ardara in Donegal, there was a major incident in October 2010 when thousands of mink were released from two farms by animal rights’ protesters. Only the prompt action by the local fishing and shooting clubs in the immediate area prevented the decimation of fish on the spawning beds in that area. In the previous programme for government, the mink farms were to be closed. However, the new government did not pursue this course of action. The animal rights’ activists have promised to repeat their action. FASTA is advised that security at these sites is not fit for purpose. These farms pose a real and enduring threat to the Finn/Reelin catchment spawning head-waters.

It should be noted that what has been outlined above demonstrates a clear threat to part of the system now and should have been addressed rather than a proposal made to address them in the future.

Policy 14 again points to prescription rather than to proactively addressing the problem. There is strong anecdotal evidence that the commercial nets would have taken the large early running sea trout in the first two weeks of the season. To attempt to restrict sea trout angling without due consideration to restocking on waters eminently suitable for same is a triumph of dogma over pragmatism.

Policy 11 is a significant if overdue development. Anglers would have a positive attitude to a voluntary buyout of netting licences as long as a package would be based on the original hardship fund and those left fishing would have their season proportionally reduced. Legislation would be needed to ensure that no new licences would be issued. FASTA is acutely aware of the decision of the Agency to introduce new netting licences on Lough Foyle when it was apparent that the system was already in distress.

Policy 14 relates again to restricting angling in terms of the sea trout population. Restrictions on angling are in place on the Finn/Reelin catchment. The result of this measure has resulted in the vast majority of anglers not fishing. Incomes to riparian owners have been drastically reduced. Angling tourism on the catchment is dramatically reduced. Tackle shops have suffered a drop in turnover. There is a resultant increase in angling effort on other rivers. The attitude of the Agency is that anglers will have to change their ways. Such an attitude does not give us confidence in those charged with managing and developing the system. Measures other than catch and release, which were suggested, were ruled out. It is the view of FASTA that other options should be considered before the drastic action of mandatory catch and release is put in place. It should be noted that the option of a five-year rolling restocking programme in selected sites should form part of the policy. Mandatory catch and release is deemed a failure of the fishery management and yet there does not appear to be any accountability within the Agency for this failure.

FASTA notes the aspiration in Policy 19 to collaborate with others in implementing the strategy document. However it cannot but also note that the pitch is rather crowded. The afforestation of the upper Derg has resulted in the increased acidification of that river, with the result that the quality of wild brown has suffered drastically. The sea trout have effectively disappeared. Before any restocking can contemplated, remedial action to rebalance the acidity of water has to be undertaken. The NIEA is leading the hydro programme on rivers within NI and seems to be leading the fishery expertise in this matter. How can there be collaboration when the voice of the Agency is neither heard nor seen to be taken on board?

It is time, at joint ministerial level, for a review of the function and role of the Agency and the place of the Agency in these matters should be enacted as necessary. FASTA is aware that the Agency is managed by both governments and that the wheels of political bureaucracy turn in a tortuous manner. However, the vast majority of anglers are not interested in the political background of angling. They are concerned with having an abundant resource that can be shared with tourists in a regulated manner. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if it is perceived that the Agency is underperforming, calls will be made for the dissolution of the Agency in favour of the two jurisdictions managing the system.

Conclusion

As stated previously, this is a document with some 19 policy proposals. It is worthy of consideration. It is possibly the first step in an attempt at transparency and therefore a welcome development. The acid test will, of course, be whether the views of the anglers and their organisations will be taken into account and acted upon. The history of the Agency to date in terms of inclusiveness with the angling stakeholders has not been a fruitful one. The number of anglers on the system purchasing an annual rod licence exceeds some eleven thousand people and yet they are not directly represented at main board level at the Agency. In the main, angling clubs are well structured and well run. Private owners also are, in the main, responsible and involved in the running of their fisheries. Anglers have consented to the system being managed by the Agency. It has now put forward a trout strategy, which, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts. FASTA would advise caution in how matters will be progressed. Omagh anglers are an excellent example of how the trout resource has been managed. They have, over many years, restocked where necessary and managed their brown trout resource in an exemplary way resulting in an excellent fishery which is a source of pride to the local community and an important tourist attraction. The system has not necessarily benefited by significant overregulation with regard to the salmon resource. It is to be hoped that renewed interest in the sea trout and brown trout resource by the Agency will result in an enlightened strategy where restocking will play its part and overregulation will be used as a management tool of last resort.

The link below is to the Loughs Agency’s website page with the document under consideration here. Scroll down to the actual Trout Strategy document.

Trout Strategy

Upper Mourne End of Season Report October 2011

The water levels in October on the Upper Mourne were not kind to the fisherman.  The river was in flood for most of the month.  We received a constant deluge of rain during the whole month.  Thirteen salmon were landed for the month which was very disappointing for the fishery.  Joe Hutton landed a 7lb fish on the Snaa on 2 October.  4 October Colin Maybin caught a 4.5lb fish using an orange shrimp in the Half Water.  Ian Caldwell, using a cone head, hooked a fine 7lb fish on the Snaa.  13 October Russell Whiteman caught four fish from 3–9lbs in the Derg Hole and Snaa; all fish returned.  Richard Kingston, London, caught three fish all at the 5lb mark using a park shrimp in the Derg Hole.  The next day he landed another fish at 6lb in the same pool.  17 October Ken Lawrence netted a 3lb fish in the Snaa using a red cone head.  The season closed on 20 October with the final fish netted by Ian Caldwell who caught and released a 6lb salmon using a yellow cone in the Snaa pool.  The fishery yielded a total of 112 fish which was a big disappointment.  We all look forward to next season in 2012. We have new images on our updated website: http://barons-court.com/salmon-fishing/

Mourne/Derg Report October 2011

Mourne  The Mourne closed on 20 October but it hardly mattered as the whole month was a wash-out. Flood water poured down the entire system with fresh bands of rain arriving daily from the south-west. A few hardy souls tried their luck and some were successful, mostly spinning, but a few on the fly when the river cleaned and approached a fishable height. For many it was hoped the last week would provide an opportunity to pay a final visit to a favourite spot or a chance to argue the pros and cons of the season with fellow anglers, but no, it was not to be as more heavy rain finished the season prematurely.

Derg  A similar story to the rest of the system but it cleaned and dropped to fishable heights more quickly. There was little angling effort to talk of on the lower end and very few fish landed but as usual a fair amount of effort on the upper river above Killeter with a fair few landed and thankfully many returned.

October catches:

3rd Desy Patton 13lb spinning Gravenue

5th Darwin Patton 7lb spinning The Dam

6th T Lynch 4lb and 6lb upper Derg

7th Travis Gough 10lb returned Fly Bigh

20th K Kelly10.5lb spinning The Dam; G Ruddy 14.5lb and 4lb Fly Gravenue returned; Glen Woods 20lb+ fly returned Derg

Summary 2011  The 2011 season will surely be remembered more for the amount of rain and floods than the numbers of fish in the Mourne. Regarding the fish run, everyone has a different take on the season, for some it was a disaster and others it wasn’t so bad. I can only speak for myself as I saw it.

Spring The spring run (April – May) this year saw an improvement on previous seasons with good quality fish averaging 8–12lb and enough fish around in the early season to offer a realistic chance of a fish.

Summer (June–August) brought a welcome return of summer salmon averaging 9–12lb and in reasonable numbers. The grilse run was certainly below what we were expecting considering previous years, but not the disaster some would like us to believe. The story on the Derg is of a slightly improving picture if the catch reports on the upper river are true.

Autumn (Sept–Oct) is more difficult to gauge. There was no evidence of a big back-end run hitting the weir at Sion Mills but as is often the case they could arrive after closing day. With the amount of water pouring down the system it is nigh on impossible to even guess. The most accurate picture might be the catch returns from the Owenkillew around Gortin and here the jury’s out with nothing spectacular to report.

Mark Gough, NM Tackle, Sion Mills

Web: www.nmtackle.com

Email:info@nmtackle.com

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Tel: 0044 (0)28 8165 9501

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