‘Take action’ to conserve salmon

FAILURE to impose a moratorium on drift and bag netting off the Antrim coast could leave the Northern Ireland Executive open to EU fines, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs Jnr has claimed.

DCAL minister Caral Ni Chullin has deferred a decision on licensing commercial salmon fishing pending talks between the operators and Department officials and a proposal by the fishermen to voluntarily quit fishing this year.

However, during a Stormont debate on fish stocks, Mr Beggs urged the Sinn Fein minister to take “decisive action” to conserve native wild salmon after figures showed less than five per cent are returning to local rivers to spawn.

He told the Assembly that the Glens Angling Club introduced a catch-and-release scheme a number of years ago, as well as improving spawning grounds and maintaining an accurate fish count.

“It is unsurprising that the only sizeable run of fish occurred during rough weather, when it was not possible for the nets to operate,” said Mr Beggs. “The tourism and economic potential of fishing tourism greatly exceeds the benefits for the few who currently fish with nets and endanger the species. The licensed nets ... scoop up virtually all the fish in some of our bays adversely affect rivers in my constituency, such as the Dun and the Glenarm,” he claimed.

DCAL has called for a voluntary catch-and-release regime for salmon fishing on rivers and urged offshore net owners to forego applying for 2012 licences, to give time to consider options for the future of salmon fishing.

Speaking after the debate Mr Beggs said: “I am still disappointed that the minister - faced with all the evidence which she says she accepts - has yet to announce a moratorium on issuing licences to operate these nets.”

He added: “The fact is that both the bag and drift nets operating along the north-east coast have been proved to be mixed-stock fisheries and are taking fish from rivers not attaining adequate abundance. Therefore their continued use is in breach of the EU Habitats Directive and opens up the Northern Ireland Executive to the threat of European fines. Action is long overdue.”