Northern Ireland news

Lough Neagh fishermen voice concern over netting ban

The ban on fishing on Lough Neagh comes in the middle of the trout and pollan season. Picture by Mal McCann
Connla Young

Lough Neagh fishermen have voiced concerns about a three-month ban on commercial fishing on Ireland's largest lake.

The unprecedented move, which will suspend fishing from March 1 to May 31, comes in the middle of the trout and pollan season.

The decision was taken by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society, which owns the rights to scale fish on the lake, in a bid to beef up regulation.

Equipment used by the boats is licensed separately by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

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

Co-operative officials said the decision is part of a shake-up of the industry including plans to introduce a new permit system.

While the lucrative eel fishing season is not affected, people who rely on scale fishing for their livelihood were given just over a week’s notice of the ban.

Seamus Wylie, who has been licensed by Dcal to fish on the lough for 10 years, said he will be forced to sign on the dole next week.

“I have been fishing since I was 15. I have a girlfriend and child - what am I going to do now, it’s all I know,” he said.

“What qualifications have I and I don’t have a trade.

“I am 30 years of age, I can’t be taking on an apprenticeship now.”

Mr Wylie, who is based in Ardboe in Co Tyrone, said local fishermen are annoyed at the way the matter has been handled.

“There are things on the lough that need to be sorted out, we are not disagreeing with that," he said.

"But we were given a week’s notice and it has been very badly done in my eyes.”

It is understood fishermen met with representatives of the co-operative earlier this week and were told some may be eligible for a new permit if they fit criteria which has yet to be revealed.

Mr Wylie said some fishermen have spent up to £1,500 in equipment.

“If we knew this was going to happen you would not have bothered,” he said.

Speaking earlier this week, co-operative chairman Pat Close said: “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.”

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