Fishing Lines: Hooray! It's curtains for Irish salmon nets

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Thank you, Noel Dempsey. A brave decision by the Irish minister for communications, marine and natural resources means that I can go fishing in Ireland again.

Life is full of surprises. The Irish, you see, are due a general election in a few months' time. Traditionally, that is not a time for political risk-taking. So when an independent working group reported two weeks ago that they thought Ireland should stop commercial salmon-netting immediately, everyone thought: "That's going straight in the 'not until we've secured another five years' file."

But God and the Irish move in mysterious ways. Last week the government announced they were adopting all the report's key recommendations. The decision is doubly surprising, as buying off the commercial fishermen is going to cost a netful of euros.

Ireland is the only country that still allows wholesale drift-net fishing for Atlantic salmon, and the only one in Europe to allow hugely destructive mono-filament nets. Their own figures show that a rod-caught salmon is worth €423 (£283) to the economy, a netted one just €22 (£15). Around 500,000 salmon were caught in Irish drift-nets over the past three years - and that's the official figure. The unofficial one is way higher. This has meant that salmon-fishing on even the best Irish rivers has become as endangered as the fish themselves.

Anglers have whinged, ministers have been lobbied. The EU, not famed for swift decisions, declared salmon a "threatened species" and gave the fish protection under the binding and powerful Habitats Directive. The Dail seemed to take little notice.

But behind the scenes, Ireland was rapidly becoming a pariah. The Celtic tiger must have been twitching at the thought of all that European money suddenly becoming harder to source. It found no support for its "they're only fish" stance, because Irish nets intercept adult salmon bound for Wales, England, Germany, France and Spain, as well as Ireland.

Then again, it could have been me. Last year, I wrote that my love affair with Ireland was over until the country did something about its attempts to wipe out salmon. I vowed I would never return until the issue was settled.

Funny thing is, I don't fish much for salmon. Most of my Irish angling has been for pike, roach and bream. An annual trip to Lough Corrib for the trout at mayfly time, a fair bit of sea-fishing, but very little salmon.

I've got a picture on my wall of a memorable day when four of us shared 10 salmon (modesty forbids me to tell how many I had), but that was a rare exception. Still, I had to set an example. I told other members of the Angling Writers' Association that I hoped they would boycott the country too. Many of them did.

My protest made the Irish media (and, pleasingly, drew vast support from the Irish themselves, though they were a bit peeved at having to agree with an Englishman). Still, I thought it would make as little difference as the email I fired off to the previous minister. But who knows?

The only trouble is, will they let me back in?

Comments