Signatories urgently wanted!

The recently-commissioned hydroelectric scheme installed by Omagh District Council has given cause for grave concern as outlined in the attached letter (prepared by Omagh Anglers’ Club) and which all anglers are asked to download, date, sign and send to Mr Alex Attwood MLA, Minister for the Environment. This hydro represents all the issues associated with this form of water abstraction for all the wrong reasons and clearly shows how it can come into great conflict with our sport and illustrates the need for all hydro projects to be properly managed. It is therefore essential that as many anglers as possible send this letter to the Minister to register their concern.

Download letter to Mr Attwood here

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

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

Protest

Omagh District Council are proposing to build a Hydro-electric turbine on the river Camowen in Omagh. The Camowen is just about the most important river in terms of salmon-spawning in the whole Foyle system and any messing about with it could wreck it forever.

I’d appreciate it if you’d take 2 minutes to add your voice to those raising concerns about his project. I have already done so, but we need thousands of protestors to swing this around.Just a few words would suffice . e.g. I wish to protest against the proposed hydro-electric scheme on the river Camowen. I think an environmental impact assessment should be carried out before it goes ahead.

Here’s the link to the Council. If it doesn’t work, please copy and paste or type it into your address-bar.

http://www.omagh.gov.uk/contact_us/

Spelling It Out: A definitive paper on FASTA’s position on the Foyle salmon crisis

Here is a definitive statement on FASTA’s stance on the handling of the continuing crisis on the Foyle system due to plunging wild salmon numbers. Frank Curran, the Chairman for the Foyle Association of Salmon and Trout Anglers (FASTA), has prepared the following policy document for submission to the June meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization being held in Canada where FASTA’s views will be fully represented.

Another Crisis 

This is not the first time that the Foyle system has been in crisis. It has happened before and it will happen again and again and again, because the same or similar components are still in play. Quite simply, the political mismanagement of fisheries has triumphed again. There has been no natural disaster, no massive environmental calamity, no fish flu, no chemical spillage. In short, the Foyle system has been decimated by those charged with its protection, beginning with the Chief Executive and those with theoretical oversight of his actions: the two ministers, one in Dublin and the other in Belfast, and the Board of the Loughs Agency. The Board is appointed by both Ministers and they are representatives from most of the political parties. The stakeholders, from netsmen, to shell fish men to anglers are not represented on the Board: they must make do with a forum, a glorified talking shop. The system is totally controlled by politicians. It is probably similar to other areas in Ireland and Europe with the possible exception of Scotland.

Throughout the island of Ireland, you will neither hear a dissenting voice from a “fishery expert” nor from a Chief Executive as they are employees of the respective governments. Simply put, if you play ball, the further you go onward and upward. Some might say that it is not a very satisfactory position. Others might say that it bodes badly for a fishery, especially if it is in trouble.

The Evidence

Ireland is an island. It has parliamentary representatives from coastal areas. These reps are members of the main political parties and the vote must be delivered. So in reality they become pimps for the coastal vote which involves fishermen and their families. Their failure to lead was quite evident in the run-up to the compulsory buy-out of the drift nets of our shores. It was not the drift netsmen who decimated the salmon stocks around Ireland and beyond. It was the political managers who were quite prepared to allow the decimation to continue until the EU threatened Ireland with massive fines if they did not stop the slaughter. Yes, anglers played their part as did Mr Orri Vigfusson, who led by example in setting up the set-aside schemes of Greenland. It is of course an indictment of those countries, including Ireland, that have not made a contribution to his funds but have enjoyed the benefits of his selfless work in this area.

The Foyle

On this once great system we had the incredible situation whereby as the drift nets were being bought out, the Chief Executive issued invitations for the take-up of 37 new licences! There has, as yet, been no rational explanation for this extraordinary action which flew in the face of the reality of the decline in fish numbers. Moreover, who had oversight of this mindless action? In the event, only 18 hapless people took up the invitation. They now face being forced off the river given the grave situation facing the Finn and its tributaries and the decline in other sections of the system. Warning after warning was raised about the conservation limits being too low in the event of any untoward event arising elsewhere on the salmon passage, but these warnings were ignored by the Agency. Now the drift netsmen on the river will not be allowed to fish for at least 5 years without compensation. The original package was in place for too short a period to allow ordinary men, who were working a subsistence fishery, to make a considered response. So now we have a bitter and resentful netting constituency, an angling community that will have restrictions placed on their hobby, and clubs and private fisheries that will lose valuable income from the local and visiting anglers for what could be a considerable period. Of greater significance is the loss of a wonderful resource which has survived pollution, land drainage and intensive farming as well as afforestation only to be mismanaged to the point of destruction by the incompetence of those whose duty it was to manage and protect it.

The Sea Trout

As well as the demise of the salmon, we have now to recognise the collapse of the sea trout on the system. Some might be interested to know that the stocks collapsed in circa 1994. To date nothing, yes nothing! has been done to address this situation. Yes, a committee has been formed but, true to form, there are no stakeholders involved. This is 2010. In sixteen years nothing has been done. Of course, stocking has been ruled out, even though DNA of sea trout in the system is known.

Foyle Anglers’ Response

Various angling organisations on the Foyle and nationally offered to pay compensation to the netsmen to give up netting. The only request made was that both governments would put up the money and the anglers would repay the amount with an annual levy on the licence fee. So here was a situation where the anglers were prepared to pay a reasonable amount to ensure that the netsmen would, on a voluntary basis, give up their right to fish on a permanent basis in return for a fair monetary sum. On one side there were willing buyers and on the other willing sellers. This offer was rejected by the Chief Executive of the Agency on the basis that the management strategy in place was adequate. Now that the netsmen are going to be forced off the system how would they feel about this strategy now? FASTA would have expected some leadership from Minister Lenihan on this matter but to date this expectation has not been realised. The Chief Executive has made it clear recently that should the salmon return he fully intends to restore netting on the system. It would appear that he and those who have oversight of his actions are happy to have in place in the future a mixed stock fishery when many millions of taxpayers’ money had been expended to partially secure the ending of such a fishery. It is of cold comfort to the stakeholders that given the present management structure and management strategy that the chances of such a recovery are sadly a long way down the road.

FASTA Recommendations

  • There has to be a new radical approach to fishery management
  • The political element in fishery management must be reviewed and drastically reduced
  • The stakeholders must be represented in the decision making process
  • All models of international fishery management should be studied and best practice adopted
  • The philosophy of abundance should be the cornerstone or fishery management going forward.

 

Signed:

F. J. Curran

FASTA

(The Foyle Association of Salmon & Trout Anglers)

Major Environmental Threat to Salmon Stocks from Hydro sponsored by Omagh District Council on Foyle Tributary

The following article has been submitted by Mr Terry Smithson, Secretary, Omagh Anglers’ Association

In January 2007 we were informed that the Planning Office had granted planning application for a Kaplan hydro scheme on the River Camowen. After initial investigation, it was found that the Loughs Agency were aware of plans but at the time they believed it was for an educational project; they also had permission to have the scheme temporarily closed down during the smolt run. We, Omagh Anglers’ Association, were not at all happy with this and called a public meeting in the Silverbirch Hotel in February 2007 attended by representatives from the Loughs Agency, EHS, FASTA, ourselves and two local councillors, Mr Mc Elduff and Mr Buchanan. I delivered a presentation at the meeting and expressed our dismay at the mere thought of a hydro scheme on a river that had 25% of the brood stock of the Foyle system.

The meeting did not go too well but it did highlight the level of support we had. Peter Close of the EHS said that he would grant an abstraction and impoundment licence if the Council met all criteria. The two councillors were of little help. On the night of the meeting they both said that they were unaware of the scheme but on reading previous council meeting minutes, it became apparent that this was indeed not the first time they may have heard of this scheme. Following this meeting, we and FASTA had several meetings with Omagh District Council’s Chief Executive Danny McSorley who appeared to be ready to ride roughshod over the top of us. However, we held strong and succeeded in encouraging him to attend meetings where I gave a talk and presentation to the councillors in the council chambers. The lack of knowledge within the council chamber about salmon and their habitat was quite evident.

Eventually the council came up with the idea to alter the plans and develop an Archimedes screw-type turbine which is supposed to be fish-friendlier. We, however, could get no assurances on this despite having sought them since the September meeting. Two members of Omagh Anglers’ Association and Mark Gough from FASTA accompanied local councillors to the River Dart in England to see one of these turbines in operation.

After many emails seeking information and being told that a meeting would be forthcoming in March 2010 we found to our disbelief that the Council had once again applied for planning permission without letting all interested parties know of the final submission. The site has already been cleared of trees; the Planning Office wrote to me on 12 May 2010 saying that they could see no problem with the site being cleared. It has also come to light that they must also produce an Environmental Impact Assessment which we are now awaiting.

To date (20 April 2010), Omagh District Council, under the leadership of Chief Executive Danny McSorley and his assistant Alison McCullagh, have still not contacted any stakeholders regarding their future plans for the Camowen. The Loughs Agency are also quiet on this front and, as a body charged with conservation and protection in the area, their silence on this matter is deafening. In my opinion, the Executive of the Loughs Agency should be forcing the Council’s hand in this to find out exactly what is happening to a river that holds 25% of salmon brood stock of the Foyle system at a time when salmon stocks are already at a dangerously low level.

Please note: Presentation to be uploaded soon.

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