Commercial fishing on Lough Neagh slapped with three month ban

A three-month ban on commercial scale fishing in Lough Neagh will come into effect next month
Connla Young

Commercial fishing on Lough Neagh is to be banned for three months in a bid to beef up regulation.

The dramatic decision has been taken by the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Operative Society, which owns the lough’s fishing rights.

In a shake-up of the industry, officials have also revealed plans to introduce a permit system.

While the co-operative has held the scale fishing rights since 1992 it has never played a major role in regulation and management.

The three-month suspension will come into force during the lough’s pollan and trout season and will run from March 1 to May 31.

The ban will not impact on the lough’s lucrative eel fishing season which begins on May 1.

Co-operative officials say the decision coincides with the close season for species including perch, roach, pike and bream "in order to minimise the impact on legitimate fishing activity”.

The move comes just weeks after the Irish News revealed that two fisheries protection vessels used to patrol Lough Neagh and other waterways were out of action.

The £320,000 Chú Mhara was stuck in a boat house in Co Armagh for several weeks due to rising flood levels while the £150,000 Dun na Salar was stranded in a canal on the Lower River Bann.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure last night said both boats are now operational again.

As Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Neagh is home to a large commercial eel and course fishery and is worth millions to the local economy.

However, scale fishing out of season is understood to be a persistent problem and there have been complaints about the use of illegal nets.

Although the fishing rights are owned by the co-operative, the equipment used by fishermen is licensed by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Almost 90 scale fishing licenses have been issued by the department so far this year.

It is understood that in recent years government officials have lobbied the co-operative to introduce a permit system.

Co-operative chairman Pat Close last night said the ban “had not been an easy decision" for the management team but they “felt it was the right move at this time”.

“The suspension of authority to fish is regarded as an essential element of the co-operative's longer term strategy for more effective management of the natural resource and conservation of stocks in order to secure a more sustainable future for the industry and the fishing community,” he said.

The Lough Neagh Eel is currently recognised under EU law and Mr Close revealed that an application has been made to award the pollan similar status.

Pollan first colonised the lough 12,000 years ago and are found in small numbers in just a handful of Irish lakes.

A DCAL spokesman said: “While DCAL is responsible for the conservation and protection of fish stocks and for enforcing fisheries legislation on Lough Neagh, the fishing rights on the Lough are owned by the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-Operative Society and it is a matter for that organisation, as fishery owner, to manage the commercial taking of fish from the Lough.”

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