Irish Alternatives

Johnny Woodlock poses the question of what alternatives there are for the inshore commercial fishermen and their communities as the fish stocks they depend on are depleted; or fisheries, such as the drift netting of Mixed stock populations of Atlantic Salmon, are restricted or brought to an end and fleets are downgraded.

All those half deckers and small inshore fishermen will not just go away, nor should they – some will be glad to seek employment on land but first and foremost these people are mariners and this means alternative uses for the experience these men and women have gained must be found

There are many examples of small enterprises thriving in the inshore fishing industry. These days everyone is talking about traceability in the food sector – the Consumer, who after all, is the market, demands that they know where the product comes from. Increasingly this is being applied to more foodstuffs, including seafood and the trend is opening new markets to inshore fishermen.

The successful hand-line fisheries of the Southwest of England, and the Southeast of Ireland are just two examples. The Marine Stewardship Council has certified the English Southwest hand-line Mackerel fishery as a sustainable fishery. Not only is this type of fishery accessible to “redundant” driftnetters but also they can be assured that it is a sustainable fishery, as the market now demands quality over quantity.

Sure, the pelagic trawlers can take 1,700 tonnes of Mackerel in a single haul, but what quantity of that is quality, and the rest is dead, so must go for fishmeal or be dumped. These big trawlers can take an entire shoal of fish including both large and small fish. The handline fishermen of Dunmore East and the South West of England are making a living without killing future stocks, they should be supported in this.

The increasing and spreading industry of so-called “Eco-tourism” is providing additional income for inshore fishermen all around the coast of Ireland. As Ireland is one of the best places in the world to see Whales and dolphins, it seems you cannot visit the coast without being offered trips to see them, or even trips to see that traditional enemy of fishermen the Seal.

Another inshore market is recreational angling, which many boatmen are already aware of, as Ireland already has an international reputation as a sea angling destination and it is time that we recognised the importance to our inshore communities of recreational angling as an alternative use of the recourses. It brings income to entire communities, B&Bs, Pubs and tackle shops.

I feel it is very important to protect those species which cannot sustain a commercial fishery and I think it is of the utmost importance to designate certain species as recreational species.

For example the Blue Shark (Prionace glauca). In Ireland there has been a recreational fishery for sharks for many years with over one hundred angling charter boats operating. The sharks have been considered the ultimate quarry for many years by sea anglers, and each summer they arrived as soon as the water was warm enough.

In living memory Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) were caught on rod and line from the shore in the west of Ireland, however, It has reached the stage where they, along with Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) are now also considered a rarity. Blue shark numbers have similarly declined and as a worldwide pelagic species we have a responsibility to ensure they survive our waters.

The angling fraternity have for years recognised the importance of sustainability, and the vast majority have in the past, and still do practice a catch and release policy on their boats.

We have an obligation under the Bonn Convention to protect migratory species of Wild animals. We know from tagging Blue Sharks that they travel widely and fish tagged off the coast of Ireland have been recovered as far away as Venezuela, it is also known that the majority of Blue shark caught around our waters are young females. Various Biodiversity treaties also apply such as the commitment made in 2004 by EU heads of State and Government to halt loss of Biodiversity by 2010 (Heritage Council, 2006)

Since the year 2000,when the first one was caught on rod and line, the Charter boat operators in County Donegal have tried to establish a recreational fishery for Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus).

However,  it would seem the opportunity had gone before it even has a chance to achieve its potential.

According to the WWF, Bluefin stocks in the Eastern Atlantic have been seriously depleted by illegal commercial fishing and it is estimated that stocks of Atlantic Bluefin are now just 10% of what they were in 1980.

This brings us to another species; the Monkfish (Squatina squatina), which was recently upgraded from vulnerable to critically endangered by the IUCN. It is thought that benthic trawls and longlines contributed significantly to its decline, again a candidate for designation as a recreational species.

Consideration should be given to designating all species which may be at risk, or are known to be difficult to manage, such as all elasmobranchs, as recreational species.

Ireland is to be commended for already taking this step having declared Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) a recreational species and that status appears to be secure at the moment.

Johnny Woodlock is a founder member of the Irish Seal Sanctuary and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and has had articles and photographs published in over twenty publications ranging from Surfing Magazines to newspapers. I wrote for Irish Anglers Digest for approximately five years and sit on the NWWRAC as an Environmental NGO with the Sea fishery Advisory Group of the Irish Seal Sanctuary and have presented several papers to it.  I hunt and fish as often as I can. Best fish, a sailfish off Australia estimated at over one hundred pounds.

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