Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo






Hillmount Properties Ltd
Ulster Coarse Fishing Federation
Agivey Anglers Association
The River Faughan Anglers Ltd
North Antrim Anglers Association
Braid Angling Club
Fermanagh Angler's Association
Moyola & District Angling Club
Bann System Ltd
Ulster Angling Federation
Messrs H Avery, F Quigley, T Conlon, D Brown
Ulster Farmers' Union
Garrison & Lough Melvin Anglers
Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-op Society



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson


Mr A D Frazer (Hillmount Properties (NI) Ltd)


The Chairperson: I would like to welcome Mr Frazer to the Committee. We have almost an hour if we need it. I understand you have a presentation for us. Members will then have the opportunity to ask questions, and from there we will broaden out the debate. When you are ready, please begin.


Mr Frazer: Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I will try to assist your inquiry to the best of my ability, and I hope that the evidence I am about to give will be useful. I will talk about the River Maine, particularly about the use of water-power and the interaction that it may have with fishing. I am here today for two reasons. First, to refute the allegations that have been made in the press and in certain magazines that water turbines -

"will destroy all wild salmon" -

and the Orwellian chant

"that all turbines kill fish, but some kill more fish than others".

While some may believe in the principle that if you say it often enough it will become true, I will demonstrate that neither of these statements is correct. I hope I will reassure anglers that hydro schemes today have better protection for fish than at any time in the past. Secondly, I wish to explain to you that Northern Ireland's wealth in the past to a large degree depended on water-power and that today, in the new climate of environmental awareness, water-power is a renewable, natural resource of energy which we all need. I do not intend to talk specifically about hydro electric schemes on other rivers, but it may well be that what I have to say about the River Maine and our installation is also applicable to them.


I was brought up at Hillmount just outside Cullybackey and spent much of my childhood fishing on the river. My father used to take us to fish for trout in the Glens, particularly the Carey and the Glenmachearan. I have caught just two salmon in my life, one on the Bann at Kilrea and one at Hillmount. Some 15 years ago, the last time I went up to Glendun to fish for sea trout, the conditions were perfect, plenty of water in the river and a warm evening sun after a wet day. For an hour I fished away and saw nothing, not even a rise from a wee snurt of a trout, let alone a sea trout, absolutely nothing. Then all was revealed in the form of a heap of Fairy Liquid bottles. Every living fish in the river had been, literally, cleaned out by poachers.


I am a member of the Council of the British Hydro Power Association which represents the interests of all water-power users to Government Departments, including the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is involved directly with the Environment Agency in formulating a best practice guide for the operation of hydro schemes in England and Wales.


I am a director of Hillmount Properties (NI) Limited, which is a small family-owned company situated on the River Maine. The principal activities of bleaching, dyeing and finishing cloth at Hillmount started about 1710. It was one of the first bleach works to take up large scale processing of cloth. Over 500 people were employed in the early part of the last century.


Until the development of steam power, the energy requirements were provided entirely from water supplied by two weirs on the River Maine. The ordnance survey of 1833 describes five waterwheels - three at Hillmount, and two at Harperstown, slightly further downstream. However, between 1881 and 1927, four of these were replaced by water turbines. These were directly coupled to line-shafting that drove wash mills, rub boards, and beetling engines, but, by 1927, all four were fitted with generators and ran in parallel with a steam engine producing DC electricity. In 1994, the plant at Harperstown was updated to produce AC electricity. These now operate under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation that the Government has placed on Northern Ireland Electricity plc.


At Hillmount, the plant has been recently overhauled and supplies some of the electricity requirements of the factory. I operate all the plant in person, day and night when necessary. Consequently, I see a lot of the river. Indeed, it rules my life during the smolt season in April and May, or in the leaf harvest in November. I see a lot of what goes on when fish are running or the first smolts arrive, or when the river turns an oily red brown with slurry discharges. I watch anglers; I talk to them and hear who has got what. We have a friendly and constructive relationship with the Maine Angling Club, and we have been involved with it in habitat restoration and enhancement work necessary as a result of the Maine drainage scheme. Under the Salmonid Enhance- ment Scheme, improvements have been made to the fishing by creating new pools below the Hillmount weir. The passage of fish has also been improved, along with access for anglers.


In recognition of my efforts on behalf of anglers, I was honoured, in 1993, to be asked to be vice-chairman of the club. Indeed, further work is to start this summer on rectifying some of the defects in the replacement fish paths built by drainage division at Harperstown.


Water-power is not new to Northern Ireland. I have already mentioned that Hillmount was established at the beginning of the eighteenth century. By the 1880s, hundreds of water turbines had been installed to replace waterwheels. Robert Craig and Sons of Belfast alone had installed 35 turbines by 1920.


On the River Maine alone, there were 20 turbines in operation between Dunminning and Lough Neagh until the decline of the textile industry in the 1960s - one at Dunminning, two at Dromona, where the creamery is, four at Hillmount, two at Cullybackey, two at Fenaghy, where the Galgorm Manor Hotel now is, two at Gallaghers at Lisnafillon, one at Hollybank, five at Randalstown, and one at Shanes Castle. This does not include the small turbines at Wade's or Gaston's mills on the Clough, further up the Maine, or any of the waterwheels between Craigsland, Cloughmills and Loughguile that continued to scutch flax and beetle cloth. All of these made use of the water in the river to power machinery and they provided thousands of jobs. It was the same on the Six Mile Water, the Blackwater, the Callan, the Clady, the Upper Bann, the Mourne and other rivers in Northern Ireland. Until a national grid was established after the Second World War, water-power was the only source of energy apart from steam. As such, it was, and still is, of substantial value to the welfare of Northern Ireland's economy.


Records of fish catches by angling clubs on the River Maine have never been kept, nor has there ever been a count as to the number of salmon or dollaghan entering the river each year. However, everyone remembers that the fishing 70 years ago was much better than today. This memory is supported by the records kept by the Honourable The Irish Society of net catches at the Cutts at Coleraine. One explanation for this may be that, even 40 years ago, there were very few anglers fishing on what was a largely unfished river, whereas the exact opposite is true today. With ever more efficient techniques and equipment, anglers appear to think that, so long as they pay for their licences, they have the right to expect to catch something.


What people tend to forget is that this so-called "golden period" 70 years ago coincided with a period of industrial expansion, particularly in the textile industry. Then, fishkills were caused every year by the release of flax water from lint dams, and there were many more water turbines operating than there are today - all using water to provide power for their mills or bleach greens. So what is it that has caused a number of people to jump up and down and pillory, not only the owners of water turbines, but also the Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture and the Planning Service of the Department of the Environment?


The aim of the Rio summit of 1992 was to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by the year 2010. Energy from renewable resources was to be encouraged and to achieve the target, 10% of our electricity should come from renewable resources in line with the rest of Europe. The Department of Economic Development announced that, under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation, contracts have been awarded to eight hydro schemes. Six of these are on sites that have been established for over 100 years. To date, the record of the development of energy from renewable resources in Northern Ireland has hardly been impressive. So far, 32 mw of capacity has been contracted. In reality, only 18 mw of this has been built, or is going to be built. It is going to be a long time before we achieve the target of 10%.


Apart from water, wind and some bio-mass, Northern Ireland is not well-endowed with natural energy resources. The glacial origins of our rivers and our topography dictate that hydro schemes are necessarily low-head, run-of-the-river schemes. They are not earth-shattering projects like the Grand Cooley Dam or the Hoover Dam in North America; nor are they in any way comparable to the schemes in the Highlands of Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a large number of small schemes based on existing industrial sites which could be rejuvenated and which would contribute, not only to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but equally by reducing the emissions from fossil-fuel power stations.


Every 100 kw hydro scheme will prevent emissions from fossil-fuelled power stations of around 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide, five tonnes of sulphur dioxide and one and a half tonnes of nitrogen oxide every year. While this is important, the whole life cycle analysis for water power installation, when compared with other forms of electricity conduction, shows that water power has by far the biggest yield factor. The yield factor is defined as the ratio of the quantity of energy produced by an installation during its lifetime to the energy required for its manufacture, operation and disposal. Nowhere is this more evident than at Hillmount and Harperstown where three of the turbines have already served for 115 years. It is the Government's concern about climate change and global warming that has led to a number of small hydro schemes being encouraged to produce renewable energy. This has led to complaints in the press about "extermination of all wild salmon stocks" or "salmon face extinction" or "smolts being chopped up by turbine blades".


What is the evidence of damage by water turbines? There are three critical areas and the first is salmon smolts. From the mid 18th century the five waterwheels and, subsequently, the four water turns at Hillmount operated without any protection for smolts. There were, however, upstream racks to stop sticks and leaves and spent fish from passing through the turbines. In the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 provision was made for the installation of screens to stop smolts passing through the turbine. This was universally disregarded by water power operators because of the problem of keeping the smolt screens clean and was not enforced by the fisheries authorities. In spite of this, there was no evidence at all that smolts were damaged or killed by water turbines. Since 1995 smolt screens have been employed, and this statement is equally true today. Also since 1995 the NFFO obligation and the deregulation of electricity supplying has allowed the rejuvenation of some 12 water power sites in Northern Ireland - just a small fraction of what there used to be. They are all equipped with smolt screens.


Secondly, returning salmon and dollaghan. Following advice from Fisheries Division, access now to most tailraces for returning fish is denied by an electric fish barrier rather than a rack. In our experience this has proved to be extremely effective and has shown that when salmon are running they freely use either of the fish passes. In October 1997 members of the Maine Angling Club counted 230 salmon or dollaghan in one day going up the fish pass. Also, despite constant application, anglers never catch fish in the tail water close to the electric fish barrier, which indicates that salmon keep to the far bank away from the installation. If any fish had been killed or damaged by the turbines, complaints from anglers certainly would have been made, but there have been none. The only complaint has been that, now that the fish pass can operate correctly, the fish travel through too quickly before anglers can catch them.


Thirdly, water abstraction. I am aware of the legislation applied by the Environment Agency in England and Wales and of the Water (NI) Order 1999 which replaced the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972. The use of water is vital to the operation of water turbines. Northern Ireland is fortunate - if you can call it that - in having plenty of rain, and a requirement for an abstraction licence has not been necessary. However, there is a considerable difference in the end result between water that passes down a headrace through a turbine and then returns to the river undiminished in quality and quantity and the permanent removal of water from the source's supply caused by extraction for domestic supplies and spray irrigation on a golf course, for instance.


Any attempt by the Government to implement abstraction licences and a scheme of charges, will be resisted - not just by water power users but also by those industries who use water for process. Water rights are well established in law and are a value - just like any other asset. If changes to the Water (NI) Order 1999 were to be made, the cost of compensating those who will have suffered loss as a result of any alteration or diminution of their water rights may be considerable.


Notwithstanding the above, this gives no one the right to stop the natural migration of fish by taking so much water that this cannot happen, or that the welfare of fish populations is affected. This is where common sense and goodwill in the past has prevailed. The present fisheries legislation relating to the operation of water turbines does protect fish, but where and when such protection is unnecessary or inappropriate it should not be used to interfere with the rights of other water users. This is where a proper perspective of the requirements for fish migration relative to the existing use of water power is needed.


You should be aware of the report carried out by Ballinderry Fish Hatchery to examine the effect of NFFO hydro schemes on angling. We were one of the schemes scrutinised. During the study, underwater video cameras were used to see exactly what was going on under the water, and flow velocity metres were used to measure the velocity approaching screens and racks. Nowhere in this document do I find the conclusion that all salmon stocks are being exterminated or that salmon face extinction by the continued operation of water turbines. On the contrary Mr Keys concludes that after certain remedial steps had been taken to some fish passes, all sites have

"the capacity to be operated so the delay or risks to fish can be minimal".


If fish are to thrive in our rivers, what changes that have taken place in the last 70 years now appear to be preventing this? In 1904, in the River Maine catchment area, the rainfall was 40 inches - much the same as it was last year. Between scutch mills, beetling engines, bleach greens, dye works, weaving sheds and spinning mills, there were some 98 individual concerns on the headwaters of the River Maine. All were using water for power and process and all of them, allegedly, abstracting and polluting, particularly the release of flax water from lint dams.


It would be reasonable to expect that the disappearance of 92 out of 98 industries over the intervening years would have led to a great improvement in our water resources, with increased chances of fish survival. The opposite appears to be true. Over the last 20 years the Government have executed a number of drainage schemes on this and other rivers, specifically lowering the water-table. Millions of pounds were spent on the River Maine, Dunminning. Prof Wilcock, of the University of Ulster, has described how the channel has deepened by three metres and shortened by 1·2 kilometres. The channel slope was increased by 30% and the hydraulic radius by 69%, while the channel roughness decreased by 50%, all of which has led to an increase in flow velocities at all flow durations.


This has not only altered the flow pattern in our river, by making the flow more flashy, but it has also destroyed spawning beds. Of equal importance is the fact that the areas where juveniles spend their first year have been destroyed in terms of water and food supply. Greater water velocities have led to bank erosion and to the spread of fine, salty gravel that creeps continually and fills up areas that used to provide cover and shelter for fish. In addition, the increase in domestic water supplies of water has led to the building of reservoirs at Dundonald and Killylane and to the sinking of bore holes at what used to be the Glarryford bog and at Buckna. This abstraction has led to a reduction in the overall quantity of water in the river. Less quantity, particularly in summer months, inevitably leads to a lesser quality, as discharges of effluent may become more concentrated.


The above situation has been exacerbated, first, by the developments promoted by the Government in agriculture, with the consequence that slurry and silage effluents disposed of on the land which, as a result of the now improved drainage, end up directly in the watercourses; and, secondly, and quite insidiously, by the ever increasing extent of rural housing, each with its washing machine and dishwater, hose pipe for washing the car and septic tank discharging directly into streams or underground drains, which with the low-flows that we now have in summer cannot help but cause damage to water quality. While pollution incidents are policed by the Fisheries Conservancy Board, the cumulative effect of the urbanisation of the countryside has been easy to overlook.


The river has become a dumping ground for everything, particularly dead animals. In 1996 I kept a record of all the man-related objects that arrived down the river at Harperstown: 409 fertiliser bags, 36 dead sheep, 20 dead calves, one dead cow, 17 dead birds (mostly pigeons), six bags of dead hens, one pig, six puppies, three dogs, one television and a bass drum belonging to the Glarryford Accordion Band. Nobody will accept responsibility for the control of the dumping of carcasses in the river. Nevertheless, all of these contribute to the deterioration in the quality of the water in which fish have to live.


A third problem has been poaching. There is no doubt that snigging used to occur at Hillmount, but that was carried out by people who lived there as a means to eat and not as a means to make money. Today there is no poaching. This is largely because of the vigilance of the members of the Maine Angling club and also because of our involvement in and constant supervision of the river.


The Chairperson: Mr Fraser, we are running out of introductory time now. Could you bring your remarks quickly to a close?


Mr Fraser: The situation is very different at Randalstown, where poaching is rife, to the extent that many hundreds of salmon and dollaghan are being taken each year. In spite of being supplied with video evidence by Mr Keys, the Fisheries Conservancy Board has done nothing. A new fish pass is being installed on the weir which will certainly help the fish. However, it will not solve the problem of poaching without the support of the Randalstown Angling Club and the Fisheries Conservancy Board. Your Committee should ensure that steps are taken to see that this poaching ceases.


Much has been written in the press about the introduction of a tagging system, to prevent poached fish being sold and to control the number of fish being killed by anglers. I am prompted by a letter in the magazine "Angling Ireland", the May 1997 edition, in which the writer asks if the anglers' house is in order, when anglers are boasting of catches of 10 or more salmon in a day. Certainly, there are anglers, not far from here, who think that they have had a bad year if they do not catch over 100 fish. Even at Hillmount we have anglers who have caught six salmon in one day, and last year, which was a poor season, one man caught three in a day at Harperstown. All were caught on the shrimp and, sadly, they were all killed. In the blunt paraphrase used earlier, "most anglers kill some fish, while some kill a great deal more than others." Perhaps a small change in the attitude of anglers would do a lot to conserve the fish in our rivers for others to enjoy.


The Chairperson: I am anxious that Committee members have an opportunity to ask questions. Perhaps if you could conclude now, you might have an opportunity to raise further points when you are making your replies.


Mr Frazer: I will just conclude and give a quick summary.


The Chairperson: I have already given you more than your allotted time.


Mr Frazer: You only gave me six days in which to prepare for this.


The Chairperson: I understand that, but you will get an opportunity, when members ask questions, to expand on what you have to say. At the end of the session, if we have time, I will give you an opportunity to make a summary if you wish.


I thank Mr Frazer for his presentation. It was very thorough and covered an enormous range of issues, in particular his own responsibilities and the situation on the River Maine. I am sure that some of the questions that you had in mind have already been answered. The question of the NFFO is an interesting one. How, briefly, do you plan to deal with it in the future?


Mr Frazer: Do you mean how do we as individuals intend to deal with that question or are you enquiring about its future in Northern Ireland?


The Chairperson: As individuals.


Mr Frazer: We have no other resource to develop. We have two weirs and they have both been developed, as you have already heard.


The Chairperson: I gathered from your presentation that you expect it to become an issue in other areas in Northern Ireland.


Mr Frazer: I do not think so, being realistic. The best sites have already been used; those are the first six I told you of. In the last round of non-fossil fuel obligation two more were selected. There will be other small ones. A small scheme was recently commissioned at Upperlands. This is a community-financed scheme: the community operates the turbine and sells the electricity; the profits are used for the benefit of the village. I imagine that this is how a lot of the small industrial sites would be rejuvenated and used in the future.


Mr Agnew: How does a typical hydroelectric station work? How might it endanger fish in the area?


Mr Frazer: Unfortunately, although I wanted to bring some photographs in today to show you what exactly a turbine or hydro station looks like, that has not been possible. The river flows into a weir where the water is abstracted. The water goes through a turbine with a head difference (most of them are about 12 feet, and very few in Northern Ireland are much bigger than this). A volume of water falls 12 feet and turns a rotor - our particular turbines run at about 104 or 111rpm. It is speeded up to synchronous speed of 1000 or 1500rpm and it drives a generator or an alternator.


Mr Agnew: How does that endanger the fish in the area?


Mr Frazer: I outlined three areas. First, the smolts. These are juvenile salmon or dollaghan, returning either to Lough Neagh or to the sea. They come down the river. This year they started on 22 April, which is just about normal. The problem is that they could pass through the turbine. My evidence is that they did that for the last 100 years, yet there are still salmon in the river. Today people think that that is not acceptable, and we have accepted that. Smolt screens have been installed so that the smolts cannot enter through the turbine. Instead, they bypass the turbine through a little channel that returns them directly into the river.


The second important point is that returning salmon coming upstream cannot and must not have access to the turbine's runner rotor. This is achieved through the use of electric fish barriers which, in our case, work extremely effectively. The third important point is the question of water abstraction. The river must not be dried up so that fish cannot go up the alternative route which bypasses the turbine.


Mr Agnew: So in your opinion, the fish in your stretch of the river are not endangered in any way?


Mr Frazer: No.


Mr J Wilson: I am not going to waste more time complaining about the amount of time that is available to ask questions. I have a number of questions which the angling community want to hear answers to, but I do not think I am going to be afforded the opportunity to put them.


Mr Frazer, thank you for co-operating with the inquiry. I read your submission with interest. Would you accept that, in some ways, it will be seen by the angling community as more than a little bit insulting to their intelligence.


I am a member of six clubs and chairman of one. You paint a picture of hydro operations as being squeaky clean and you appear to want to apportion blame to poachers, polluters, drainage division, farmers and anglers themselves as being the guilty men with regard to the poor runs of migratory fish. The angling fraternity will be offended by that because hydro operations are not squeaky clean. Would you like to comment on that?


Mr Frazer: That is not true.


Mr J Wilson: You are squeaky clean?


Mr Frazer: Where is the evidence that we kill fish?


Mr J Wilson: You are saying you are squeaky clean?


Mr Frazer: Yes.


Mr J Wilson: Do you believe that your turbines, by extracting too much water, never prevent fish from moving upstream or from spawning, and that they never kill juvenile or spent fish returning to sea?


Mr Frazer: Yes.


Mr J Wilson: Do you wish to move on, Mr Chairman?


The Chairperson: Carry on. You may pursue that line of questioning for a few minutes.


Mr J Wilson: Will you explain what an exemption is? Have you ever sought such an exemption, and if so, why?


Mr Frazer: "Exemption" is not the right word. I am sure you are aware of this document (indicating Fisheries Act 1966). Mr Frazer indicated the Fisheries Act 1966.


Mr J Wilson: I am referring to sections 56 and 59 of the Act.


Mr Frazer: The word should be "variation". We have a variation to the Fisheries Act for the installation of smolt screens. In the Act, subsection 59, paragraph 1c, it states that during the months of March, April and May smolt screens shall be installed. We asked for a variation to that because there are no smolts in March. In June, there are smolts trying to get down the river. There is quite a good flood coming down as we speak. Therefore Fisheries Division granted us what you call an exemption - what I call a variation - to this document.


Mr J Wilson: I have no further questions at this stage.


The Chairperson: Have we any further questions?


Mr Davis: In your submission, Mr Frazer, you mentioned two individuals responsible for leading a vendetta. Would you like to name those individuals?


Mr Frazer: This is privileged information. I expect you know who they are?


Mr Davis: I do not actually.


Mr Frazer: I think that their names are Mr Avery and Mr Brown.


Mr Davis: It is important that when we are talking about people leading vendettas they are named, or at least, the organisations they represent are.


Mr Shannon: If the water levels fall in the rivers, which can sometimes happen, although with the wet weather we are having it is highly unlikely at the moment, might that result in an increase in the killing of smolt? Would that happen if the water level were to fall with your abstraction of water?


Mr Frazer: Do you mean water level or water flow?


Mr Shannon: Probably the water level. The flow would probably fall away as well then.


Mr Frazer: I think that you mean water flow, with respect . The operation of our turbine is done with a sensor which monitors the level of the river. As that level changes, the turbine closes down or reduces in output. Smolts, as I am sure you are aware, come down in a big flush, and when the river is dry, as it was at the beginning of May, there are no smolts moving; they are just waiting for a flood to flush them down to Lough Neagh and then further down the Bann and out to sea. If the water flow is very small, there is no more risk for smolts than at any other period.


Mrs Nelis: Good morning, Mr Frazer. I do not know anything about fishing, and I know even less about water turbines, so as I am approaching this inquiry with a very open mind. I am on a learning trip here. I have read your submission and am particularly interested in your statement that no records have ever been kept of fish catches in the River Maine. You go on to state that there is anecdotal evidence of great fishing in days gone by, and then you say, on fish survivals, that the intervening years led to great improvement in our water sources which increased the chances of fish surviving. However, the opposite appears to be true. You have acknowledged that there is a problem with fish survival in the River Maine, and you have attributed this to various reasons such as pollution, urban housing and whatever. Are you saying to us now that water turbines have no effect whatsoever on the fact that fish are not surviving on the River Maine. Is that what you are saying?


Mr Frazer: It would be unrealistic for me to say that. Everything that we do - building a new house, going on holiday to Spain, driving a motor car to come here - has an effect on the environment, and certainly what my forebearers did 200 years ago had an effect too. There is no doubt about that. But what you have to weigh up are the benefits on the one hand and the negative side. I am not aware of a negative side. I feel that the benefits of water power far outweigh any minus side.


Mrs Nelis: I want to go back to my original question. Does the answer add up to saying that water turbines have no affect whatsoever on the depletion of fish stocks in the River Maine?


Mr Frazer: As far as I am aware that is correct.


Dr Adamson: Can you expand on your point in your section on water abstraction about situations in which fisheries legislation is unnecessary or inappropriate. Could you give me some examples of when and where such legislation has been or might be unnecessary?


Mr Frazer: That is a very good point, and it is important that it is dealt with in degree in this report (indicating report called Small Hydro-Electric Schemes - Impact on River Fisheries in Northern Ireland) here at Randalstown. One requirement of the Act is that there should be weekend closures.


Inland Fisheries Division realise that there is absolutely no point in having weekend closures in the middle of winter when there are no fish running, whereas there may be times in the summer on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, for instance, when it would be beneficial to have a closure to facilitate fish going up the river. Mr Keys has, therefore, been trying to make sure that the facilities for the passage of fish are made as good as they can possibly be. If there is no water on a Sunday or Saturday, and there are no fish trying to move, what is the point of being closed? This is where the legislation is inappropriate. The legislation should have said that if fish were approaching the weir and trying to go on up the river, there should be a requirement for closure.


The Chairperson: The report from which you are quoting lists a number of recommendations that concern your own operation. Can you explain to the Committee what plans there are to execute those recommendations? What timescale are we talking about? Where will the funding come from? You are responsible to Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure which is ultimately responsible for these issues, but the Committee would be interested to know what the Department is saying to you on the matter and whether they are advising you on a timescale.


Mr Frazer: The fish pass at Harperstown and the weir is tricky, because we did not build it. It was originally built in 1770, but it was completely rebuilt by drainage division in 1984. The following year was a wet one, and there was a disaster. None of the fish went up the fish pass; they went everywhere, had to be netted by hand and carried over the weir. Since then Drainage Division, now the Rivers Agency, have made changes to it. We have written to them saying that it is still not satisfactory. The last letter was written four years ago, but in that period, money has been made available under the Salmonid Enhancement Project; there was a tranche, three or four years ago, I think, and another last year. It is under that second tranche that this work is going to be carried out in co-operation with the Maine Angling Club, and that work is due to start just as soon as it stops raining.


The Chairperson: This might be the opportunity for you to finish your presentation. Is there any further information you would like the Committee to take on board in relation to the inquiry?


Mr Frazer: The only thing I would ask you to do, and you will hear it in my last paragraph if you allow me to finish, is to understand that we all share this planet. These are all natural resources. We are not saying "me, mine, the rest of you go away". We are saying that we have to share them, and as long as hydro schemes are protected in the way that this document and the Fisheries Act say, there is no reason why we should not live together in peace and harmony.


Mr J Wilson: Are you aware of ever having been reported to the Fisheries Conservancy Board or any other authority for a breach of regulations?


Mr Frazer: Yes. In 1995 we were prosecuted by the Fisheries Conservancy Board for not having racks in accordance with this document. We were taken to the Magistrates Court in Ballymena. Halfway through the proceedings the magistrate asked if the Fisheries Conservancy Board had nothing better to do than bring a case like this to court and, in his summing up, he said that they had been wasting the court's time. Does that answer your question?


Mr J Wilson: Yes.


The Chairperson: Mr Frazer, We could give you a couple of minutes if you want.


Mr Frazer: What conclusions can you draw from what I have said? Water turbines have been part of Northern Ireland for over one hundred years. There is no evidence, past or present, that these have had a detrimental effect on angling or on fish stocks. The independent study of the NFFO sites shows that fish are protected so that the risk of delay or damage is minimal.


I am going to summarise. Until now, I have concentrated on what goes on in the River Maine. But there is a much bigger picture out at sea, off Iceland and Greenland, that involves trawlers from all over the world. I am sure that others will express their views on this. We must not forget that there are two inevitabilities on the horizon. First, global warming, which is happening now. Secondly, fossil fuels are going to run out. I have shown in this paper that waterpower has been part of Northern Ireland for 200 years. It still has a role to play in the future, reducing noxious emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. However, we understand that we share this natural, renewable resource with all sorts of other people, from those who, like us, depend on it for their livelihoods in industry and farming, to those who enjoy it for leisure activities such as canoeing and angling.


Over the last 40 years, we have worked with the Maine Angling Club to preserve a pleasant environment for future generations. Such co-operation is needed now to help rejuvenate our industrial heritage and see how all river users can, by joining in research and sharing in knowledge, work together with courtesy, common-sense and goodwill for the benefit of all.


The Chairperson: Thank you on behalf of the Committee for an interesting hour's work.

adDendum to the minutes of evidence from
hillmount properties (ni) ltd

18 June 2000


(1) Water turbines have been part of Northern Ireland for over 100 hundred years.

(2) There is no evidence either from the past or at present that these have had detrimental effects on fish stocks or on angling.

(3) Mr Keyes study shows that fish are better protected at hydro sites than ever before.

(4) There is evidence that water quality and quantity has been reduced in our rivers.

(5) There is evidence that habitat suitable for salmon to spawn and for juveniles to grow has been destroyed.

(6) Poaching and angler's catches do have effect on fish stocks and this requires to be addressed.




Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr R Buick )
Mr V Refausse ) Ulster Coarse Fishing Federation


The Chairperson: I was a little remiss on the last occasion in not formally introducing the Committee members. I shall begin with myself, Eamonn ONeill. On my right is Jim Shannon. Perhaps the rest could introduce themselves. Ian Adamson , Ivan Davis, Jim Wilson. On my left is our Vice-Chair, Mary Nelis, then Kieran McCarthy and our Clerk, Cathy White, with whom I am sure you have been in correspondence.


We are naturally prepared to allow you some time to make a presentation to us. That can be as long as you want up to 20 minutes - I think that was the limit we set. You do not have to use all that time, but I should like to point out that we wish to give members an opportunity to ask a few questions directly relating to your submission . If you are ready to kick off, Mr Buick, I should be pleased to get started.


Mr Buick: On behalf of the UCFF, I should like to start by thanking this Committee, not only for having the foresight to establish this inquiry into inland fisheries management but for giving us the opportunity to contribute both written and oral evidence. My name is Robert Buick, the chairman of the organisation and to my left is Victor Refausse, who is secretary. Our bona fides are covered in a written submission. We have both been actively involved in the sport throughout Ireland for some 25 years.


For the uninitiated, coarse angling is that branch of the sport where one angles or fishes for non-salmonoid species, i.e. we do not fish for salmon and trout, but for roach, bream, perch, pike and other species unfortunately tagged with the name "coarse" because of the texture of flesh rather than anything we get up to. I do not think we are too coarse. Despite the title, coarse angling is a relatively delicate sport. We use small hooks and light rods and lines., fishing outside trout and salmon areas in the lower, slower quieter reaches of rivers and lakes. It is the majority branch of the sport in England and the Continent, though not yet in Ireland. Apart from the obvious difference that we do not fish for salmon or trout, we have a unique difference in that we return our catch alive to the water. We are perceived as an environmentally friendly branch of the sport. Coarse fishing is infinitely renewable. The fish are caught, carefully retained for a while and returned. This is why tourist angling can survive in a country like Ireland. The fish are always there for the tourists.


I do not want to spend too much time during this brief introduction repeating information we have given to you already in our written evidence. I should, however, like to take a few moments to answer the question of why we are here at all. There may be some in this place and, indeed, members of the public who question the need to have an inquiry at all into inland fisheries. After all, fishing is a mere hobby. What is the problem there? Despite being depicted as a gentle, quiet sport, angling is extremely important to a significant proportion of the electorate both here and abroad. There are upwards of 17,000 anglers in Northern Ireland, over 40,000 in Ireland, four million in Britain and over 50 million in the EU. This is a significant constituency in anyone's terms.


At home, angling is perceived as a relatively trouble-free activity in which young people from all over the country can become involved. It might not seem to have the same excitement as a Sony Playstation or the current game on the computer, but it is an ideal way to take children off our streets, introduce them to a green countryside and encourage them to care for the environment. For us older members, it can also provide a relaxing counter to the stresses of modern-day living - and we all have those. In economic terms, angling can and does contribute significantly to the regional economy. In Northern Ireland, angling ranks alongside golf in the major sports targeted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, these two offering the most potential to attract activity-based tourists and thereby contribute money to the economy.


The last survey of Irish-based angling, taken over 10 years ago, estimated that angling contributes between £50 million and £80 million to the Irish economy in the course of a year. Approximately 125,000 tourist anglers visit the Republic every year, solely for the purpose of angling. This does not take into account those who come for a holiday and do a bit of fishing as well. Domestic angling will contribute about £20 million to £25 million to the economy. These figures, when put together, form the basis of the commercial fishery. Simply, commercial fishery is equal to the leisure fishery when taken throughout Ireland as a whole. Can Northern Ireland tap into this increasing and now non-destructive resource? We would contend that the potential is there. However, Northern Ireland is a light year behind its neighbours in the Republic, both in the infrastructure and the facilities available to attract the increasingly selective tourist anglers who are coming to our shores, or, indeed, in encouraging more local anglers to take up the sport.


I have no doubt you will be asking us for more specific answers later in this session. If, as a community, we are to co-operate in fishing development with our neighbours, and to see our fishing develop, then we must undertake a major root-and-branch overhaul of the management structures, the facilities and possibly of the perception of angling to the public. Thank you, Mr Chairman.


The Chairperson: Mr Refausee, would you like to add anything?


Mr Refausse: No, Mr Chairman, not at this stage.


The Chairperson: We will move to the question session and there are a number of points that we want to ask about. You make reference to the structure of the Regional Fisheries Board in the Republic as an example of operational good practice. Why would that be a suitable model for Northern Ireland to follow?


Mr Buick: Unfortunately fish cannot read, and they cannot present passports at borders. Many of our waters, such as the Erne and the Blackwater systems, flow throughout Cavan, Monaghan, Tyrone and Antrim. When looking at such developments and pollution measures we have to take the global picture. It is estimated that somewhere between 40% and 60% of the phosphate budget of Lough Erne travels down from Lough Gowna, through Killykeen and Belturbet and into the Erne by that pathway. We cannot take the Erne as Lough Erne in the North, and the rest of the Erne in the South. It must be operated together.


The structure in the Republic of Ireland of seven regional fisheries boards, based loosely on the river catchment areas, operating through a central planning board seems to work well. River systems are taken as an entity rather than having artificial borders and boundaries halfway up a river. A similar situation could operate here where we are merged into the overall structure, loosely based on our catchment areas in Northern Ireland as an entity.


Mr J Wilson: In your summary you talk about the enhancement of inland fisheries. What enhancement measures do you have in mind?


Mr Buick: We have been unfortunate in our geographical isolation and also in a lack of direction over many years. Northern Ireland has probably as many lakes as the Republic. Members from County Down will know that it is often quoted as having a lake for every day of the year. However, they do tend to be drumlin- isolated lakes. They are isolated waters, not linked to the overall Erne or Blackwater systems.


By simple accident of geography they have not been stocked naturally with fish. A lot of lakes in Down, Armagh and Tyrone are virtually devoid of fish, unless they have been looked after by an angling club or by the Department in the past. Over the past 30-40 years the Fisheries Boards in the Republic have actively moved fish from one lake to another and stocked them from fish farms and the larger lakes. They have provided stands, car parks, and pathways around these isolated waters, so that tourist and local anglers can explore and make use of these otherwise unused waterways.


We have not had this luxury in Northern Ireland to date. We have semi-developed fisheries in Lough Erne, we have a small developed fishery in lower Bann, and that is it. The public angling estate is small and underdeveloped in relation to the amount of water, and the local angler or tourist angler coming to Northern Ireland is quite limited in where he may set up base and fish. Once you go outside Fermanagh or the Bann corridor, the rest of the country is not getting the benefit of our increasing tourist income.


Mr J Wilson: Where do you lay the blame for that?


Mr Buick: Blame would be the wrong word. It is true that we have not had the financial input over the last 20-30 years, but it could be argued - and I would not like to disagree - that money has been tight in the Northern Ireland economy. There is no denying that we have had problems over the past 30 years. There has not been the same drive to develop tourism structures. We now need to rapidly develop those structures, but we are 20 years behind and it is going to take positive action to remedy that.


Mr Refausse: Robert and I sat here in 1979 and we give the same evidence to the Black Inquiry. What we have said today is what we said in 1979, 21 years later. That goes some way to answering your question.


Mr Davis: I note your recommendation that coarse fish caught for commercial markets in Northern Ireland be given the same protection as salmonid species. Are you suggesting that the commercial capture of pike, alone among other fish such as bream, perch, pollan and trout, be prohibited or controlled?


Mr Buick: Not entirely. I would be the first to acknowledge that the commercial market in Northern Ireland is extremely viable, but if we are to develop our tourist industry we may have to manage these markets in parallel. We made the point in our written submission that Lough Erne has developed into a major tourist angling area. The latest figures from Fermanagh District Council show that six to nine thousand anglers visit Fermanagh each year. That in turn brings £3-4 million directly into the economy, before any multipliers are applied.


Are we serious about developing a tourist-based economy in Fermanagh? What signal are we sending out if we allow commercial netting operations to take place in front of the tourist anglers we are bringing into the county? Dr Rosell from the Department of Agriculture - Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, as it is now - has been surveying Fermanagh fish stocks since 1982. His figures on pike show that commercial fishing, while not reducing the overall biomass of fish unmanageably, does skim off the larger fish in a water. It is these trophy fish that German, Swiss and Austrians, in particular come to Northern Ireland to fish for. Each of them will spend £1,000 per week in the country on boat hire or whatever. A 30-pound pike, at today's price of £1.38 per pound, will produce an income of £30 for a commercial fisherman. He might need that £30, but in the tourist economy he can earn a lot more money as a gillie, or by building a guesthouse for the Germans and Swiss.


Mr Shannon: Do you feel that there are any ecological or environmental concerns, or would you have any objections to an increase in the range and stock of the species? Furthermore, what evidence do you have which would support the idea that the introduction of non- indigenous species of fish will not have an adverse effect on the ecosystem of Northern Ireland?


Mr Refausse: I assume that one of the species that you are referring to is carp. The federation's point of view is that the introduction of a species like carp is done in a managed way. The difficulty has been that when we raised these issues with the previous Department of Agriculture, their answer was always "No". As a result of this, people took matters into their own hands, and certain species of fish were brought in from the Republic of Ireland and released into various lakes willy-nilly.


This has caused problems with disease, and there are other issues which can arise. It would be much better if we can get this controlled and managed properly.


There is a market for the introduction of carp but very much on a controlled basis. We are not talking about there being carp in every water but in specific lakes only where they can be controlled and monitored.


Mr Buick: It is arguable that every fish in Ireland is non-indigenous; there are no indigenous fish in Ireland. After the ice age a few stone loach and trout migrated, but every other fish in the country such as bream or pike is non-indigenous. They were introduced in early Christian times by the monasteries, later by the plantationists and later still by the fisheries boards. To some extent everything is foreign.


I take the member's point. We are totally against uncontrolled dumping of fish throughout our waterways; everything has to be done within a structure that looks after the environment. Currently 80% of all waterways are not utilised. We are living in a world that is encouraging more access to the countryside, while trying to protect it. We need to make use of our waters and with the Department or the scientists giving us advice on controlled access and stocking, we can add to our overall base of facilities in Northern Ireland.


Mr Shannon: What you are really saying is that you are not against the introduction of other species like carp as long as it is controlled. Who should control that?


Mr Buick: The Department as the legislative body must, in the first instance, issue the licences.


Mr Shannon: Would your organisation have an input?


Mr Buick: We would certainly offer advice. One licence has been granted by the Department for controlled scientific introduction of carp into Ballyrooney lake above Banbridge. The stock has been chosen and is currently being quarantined. That will be the first legal carp fishery in Northern Ireland. The mechanism is there. We made a submission to the Department for that introduction and it has been done in a legalised scientific way.


Mr Shannon: Did that take 21 years?


Mr Buick: It took a long time.


Mr Refausse: In Northern Ireland we are renowned for our quantities of roach fishing. The late Daniel F McCrea, who used to write in the Daily Mirror, always maintained that the roach were actually introduced by English anglers who came over here. They bought live roach to fish for pike in Lake Catherine in Baronscourt, Co Tyrone, and that is how roach spread throughout the Province. Over the years all of these have been introduced at some stage or another. It needs to be controlled.


Dr Adamson: Can you explain the significance of the distinction between coarse fisheries and game fisheries? How would the designation of waters as coarse fisheries be of benefit to the expansion and development of fisheries in Northern Ireland?


Mr Buick: It is one of the quirks of law. When the Parr Committee reported and the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was introduced, I am afraid that I was in short trousers, Victor was in shorter trousers, and coarse fishing, as such, did not exist. It did not exist in Northern Ireland, and it barely existed in the Republic. Therefore, it was assumed that all fishing would be game fishing; it was as simple as that.


Waters were much cleaner in those days. All lakes and waters were capable of supporting trout and possibly salmon. Today, it is a different picture, but law has not moved on. Every farm pond in Northern Ireland, whether a quarter of an acre or 40 acres, is designated as a game fishery. It is assumed to be a game fishery. It may be the muckiest, weediest, boggiest plot in the country, but it is still assumed to be a pristine class one salmon and trout water. It is patently not so. If there were the facility for lowland waters to be designated as coarse fisheries, then local farmers, on their own initiative, could apply to introduce even simple species like roach and bream. They could have guesthouse accommodation close by, and quickly accelerate the amount of water available to the tourist and local angler. As it is, it takes about a year to have a water's designation changed. Only 40 to 50 waters, out of the thousands of waters in Northern Ireland, are designated as coarse fisheries. That is a ridiculous situation.


Mr Refausse: Robert has mentioned that the process may take a year. I have known cases where it has taken around five years - because of the debate between the game angling fraternity and the coarse angling fraternity. It is said "We do not want you to take our trout." These things happen.


Mrs Nelis: Thank you both very much for your submission, which I enjoyed reading. It was very illuminating for someone who knows nothing about fishing. Your submission, at paragraph 4.6 on page 14, mentions the public right of access to the countryside - currently a very important and controversial scenario. You state that traditionally you have enjoyed a good relationship with farmers and landowners, and that you have negotiated rights. I think the point you are making is that this will be threatened by the new legislation proposed by the British Government, and are suggesting that right to roam and access to the countryside policies should be restricted in traditional sporting areas. Is it possible for both angling tourism and general tourism in the countryside and on lakes and rivers to be developed in the light of that? How would you suggest that traditional sporting leases be protected in future legislation, and how does the legislation that the British Government are going to introduce compare with the legislation in the South of Ireland?


Mr Buick: It is strange to find somebody from the Foyle without a fishing background. I thought everybody fished in the Foyle area. You asked three questions, one of which may have been superseded. I read in Hansard very recently that the British Government have amended their right to roam legislation to exclude specifically river corridors from the right to roam, so that may have been taken off the agenda. We are concerned, as the Deputy Chairperson said, that anglers have over the years negotiated their own rights of access with landowners, farmers and fisheries' owners. We have had to do this because there has been a lack of public development of waters. Anglers have simply taken matters into their own hands, negotiated leases and paid good money for them. On the overall right to roam, which everybody in the community must be in favour of, we are concerned that contracts, where they exist, be honoured. It is commerce.


I am sure Mr Refausse will explain to you that hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent in developing and protecting the waterways in the areas of Glenelly, Owenkillew and Plumbridge. The angling community would like to see access controlled, not destroyed. When the town meets the country, the country is not always the winner, and people need to be educated on how to respect the country; how to walk, not mountain bike, not to jet-ski, not to use scrambling bikes. They need to be educated in all these respects.


The second point was to do with traditional leases. Traditional leases are negotiated on an annual or a time basis, and where they exist, they should be respected. When traditional leases are being negotiated, it is becoming more and more common that appendices are attached to them to allow greater public access to fisheries. One of the conditions of the last grants scheme, the Salmonoid Enhancement Scheme, was that members of the public, that is, day anglers, were allowed access to leased fisheries, and I think we would all be in favour of this. More people should be allowed to use exclusive waters. No one owns the countryside. It has often been said that we are here for a short time; we are merely looking after the countryside for someone else. There should be access for people to use private waters on day ticket facilities.


The third question relates to the situation in the Republic of Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland there is very little private water. Records pertaining to the ownership of water were destroyed early in the last century, so the situation with regard to ownership is somewhat confused, but most of the main waters are open to all. There is no fee or any licence required to coarse fish in most of their waters. The development of the waters is undertaken by the Regional Fisheries Boards for the benefit of the community and of tourism in general. It is certainly a more attractive system than our convoluted one. As anglers, we should contribute to our sport. The concept of a licence is not a bad thing, as long as the money is used for the development of fisheries. Why should we be any different from anybody else? We should pay something for our sport. However, in Northern Ireland we have one licence for two thirds of the country; we have another for the Foyle and Carlingford areas; we have a permit for the lower Bann; we have a permit for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure waters; and we have a share certificate for Cavan - it is a horrendous, complicated system.


Mr McCarthy: What form of customer executive representation on future fisheries management structures might you be seeking?


Mr Buick: I suggest that it should be a slight shot across the bows to the previous Administration. The Fisheries Conservancy Board is currently the only body in Northern Ireland that represents the water users. The Government, councils, anglers and tourist bodies are all represented on the Fisheries Conservancy Board. The previous Administration suggested that representation on that board should be cut to a small executive committee with everyone else forming an advisory panel. As customers - and in current politically correct jargon we are customers of the Fisheries Conservancy Board - we buy our licence, we contribute to it, and I do not see why our input should not be taken on board by the conservancy board. We are suggesting that whatever the new structure is, if a new administration structure is suggested by the Committee it should be representative of both the Government, who provide legislation, and the customers, who will buy and use the facilities.


Mr J Wilson: Earlier, when speaking of the contribution to the economy by the angling fraternity you made a comparison between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is my experience - and you can read this in our magazine 'Angling Ireland' - that, in the game angling scene, more and more people are leaving Northern Ireland and travelling to the Republic of Ireland in search of wild brown trout and quality salmon fishing. Is that also the picture with the coarse angling fraternity?


Are people leaving Northern Ireland to look for quality fish?


Mr Buick: Only for those species that you cannot find in Northern Ireland, and this goes back to induction. Tench and carp are the two species that are not widely available in Northern Ireland and are available in the Republic. There is a fair amount of pike fishing across the border to catch larger fish. Recently, around Lough Neagh and Lough Beg, the situation has been reversed and the pike fishing has improved a lot.


There have been magazine articles and television programmes from England commenting on the quality of pike fishing in Toomebridge and Lough Beg. Unfortunately, last week someone took the law into his own hands and netted half a tonne of pike from Lough Beg, including an Irish record 45lb fish. That will take 20 years to recover. But, generally, the English casual tourist angler goes where the price is right - Enniskillen is equally desirable to him as the Cavan lakes. They are connected. It is only for the species that we do not have in Northern Ireland that we have this cross-border drain.


The Chairperson: Point 8 is about the catalogue of Northern Ireland fishing as sporting rights: what specific information would you like to see included in that?


Mr Buick: Current law dictates that if someone wishes to develop a water for any sport, he needs to negotiate access with the landowner in whose land the water is. For fishing, as an unfortunate legacy of the past, the sporting rights may not lie with the landowner. In many cases they lie with old estates, so two leases need to be established. The angling club or the department that wishes to develop a water should be able to negotiate access to it and the rights to angle on it with someone whose identity may not be known. It may be an absentee landlord, an old estate, or, as in many cases, the Church. It takes an exceptional length of time, certainly in excess of five years, to establish title in many cases on water.


Our friends in the Central Fisheries Board have, over the last three to five years, established a dedicated team of people, that have been EU funded, to do nothing but search records for title to water. This is necessary because when someone is going to spend £100,000 developing a car park and putting platforms and paths on a lake, he needs to be sure that he has the lease on it. He needs to know that someone is not going to come along and say "Thank you very much for developing my lake, but it is mine. Goodbye."


For that reason it is usually a requirement of EU funding that secured title has been achieved. We contend that to speed up the process of developing our waters, we need to know who owns them in order to negotiate, either as clubs or as a department, with those owners in order to be able to develop those waters quickly.


The Chairperson: Responding to Mr Shannon's question earlier, you mentioned the licensing difficulties in Northern Ireland and the difference between it and the Republic. Yet we do get tourist fishing in the coarse section. What attracts tourists particularly to Northern Ireland if it is such a complicated system and there is such a differential? What are the factors there?


Mr Buick: Cost is a selling point as is location. The angling scene in Northern Ireland also tends to be organised while in the South it is much more widespread and less focused. Anglers come to Fermanagh because they know that in May and June the council will lay on a whole entertainment scene for them and fishing competitions. It is sold as a package. They can simply book their accommodation and travel through a travel agent and come, and everything is looked after for them.


In the Republic, with its being a bigger, more diverse country with less centralised angling activity, the fishermen have to do more for themselves. There is a lot of cross-border fishing. Quite often anglers stay in Belturbet and fish in Enniskillen and vice versa. It works both ways. If anglers book into Enniskillen it does not mean they will stay there. They will not. They will follow the fish, and if the fish suddenly decide to feed in Belturbet then they will be fishing in Belturbet the next day.


Mr Refausse: Lough Erne and the Lower Bann are the two main coarse-angling areas in County Fermanagh. Other areas are very scattered. That is why activities are centralised in these areas.


The Chairperson: There is some good practice, you are saying.


Mr Refausse: Very good practice. There has been good practice in County Fermanagh for at least 25 years. The old Classic was the first competition to be staged there. This has been running ever since, and growing. We are now competing with other countries that have tremendous facilities. After this meeting I am going to Kerry to fish. Last year I went to America to fish. The world is a small place.


I would like to illustrate the difficulties with a story. If a group of anglers arrived in Belfast, having never been to Northern Ireland before, they could decide to go coarse fishing in Fermanagh. They have to get a licence and permit, so they go to the local tackle shop and buy an FCB coarse fish licence and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure coarse fish permit - no problem. The only thing they have to decide is whether they want it for a season, 7 days, or 14 days or alternatively they could get a joint one. One night in the pub someone says "There is very good trout fishing in Lough Erne. Why don't you have a go at that?". They decide to try this, therefore they need a different permit. Now they have to get an FCB game fish rod licence and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure game fish permit. They can have this for a season, daily or for 7 days. Someone else suggests they go to Newtownstewart in County Tyrone to catch salmon. The anglers will discover that they cannot use any of the permits or licences, and will have to buy a Foyle/Carlingford Irish Lights game rod licence. If they have your Department's permit, they could get an endorsement and they also need a permit from the local club. If after a few days they have caught nothing and decide to go to Portrush and the Giant's Causeway, and have a couple days in Lower Bann, then they would need the FCB coarse fish rod licence again as well as the Bann system permit. The whole situation is very confusing for us, never mind the tourists.


The Chairperson: Those are good points to bring out.


Mrs Nelis: Thank you for spelling that out for us. I can understand now why we have difficulties getting tourist fishermen/fisherwomen to the North. Does one permit cover everything in the South of Ireland?


Mr Buick: No. Coarse fishing is free. Some of the Regional Fisheries Boards have a voluntary scheme where the angler can contribute, through a share certificate, into the cost of running it. Generally though, coarse fishing is entirely free in the Republic. One licence covers the whole country for salmon and trout.


Mrs Nelis: What about Scotland and England?


Mr Buick: I would not necessarily draw on Scotland and England as good role models for fishing in Ireland.


The Chairperson: Thank you both very much. It has been a very interesting and useful time. You have done very well, and I appreciate your coming along and giving us the benefit of your time, knowledge and experience.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr C Thompson )
Mr B Atkins ) Agivey Anglers Association
Mr R Paul )


The Chairperson: Good morning, Gentlemen. You are very welcome. Normally we invite our guests to give a presentation, and we try to limit that to 15 minutes. After that there is an opportunity for members to ask questions. Gentlemen, the floor is yours.


Mr Thompson: Mr Chairman, I would like to thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to come along today and put forward our case. The club itself, the Agivey Anglers Association has been in existence for just over 26 years. We lease the Agivey river system from the Honourable Irish Society through Bann Systems Limited. Our club has been very active over those years in trying to improve the condition of the river as well as improving the returns of fish, particularly of salmon. It is a game, not a coarse, fishing river, so we are trying to increase the number of returning adult salmon to it.


None of us has any academic qualifications in fishery management. We have, however, gleaned a lot of experience and expertise over 25 years and we feel that we are fairly well qualified to talk about the management of a salmonid fishery. Eight years ago we won an award from the Institute of Fishery Management. This is a UK- wide body which makes an annual award to the best- managed system. We were very pleased to win it as it recognises the work that we have done in the last 25 years.


I must apologise for the spelling mistakes in our submission, as we had little time to prepare it. We have brought an amended version for you. We divided our submission into three sections: the governing bodies in Northern Ireland, and inland and marine issues. I will take a few moments to go through each one of them.


Our submission shows that one of the problems for fishing clubs is the number of governing bodies. The old Department of Agriculture is now split up into the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. We also have to deal with the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) and the new Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. Such fragmentation in a place as small as Northern Ireland is a waste of resources. Each body has its own administration, whereas one centrally administered body could put more foot soldiers on the ground to check rivers and act as bailiffs. We are not suggesting what should replace them; we just feel that the existing bodies are probably working in different directions without proper cohesion. We also feel that there is not enough angling representation on these bodies.


Over the years the River Agivey has suffered a lot of pollution. We talked to local landowners to educate them on best policy; to ensure that no pollution gets into the river, and if it does that they let us know so we can take action to stop it. One of the biggest polluters in the North is the Department of the Environment. Most of its sewerage plants are fairly antiquated and it seems to be immune from prosecution. The Department seems to be polluting willy-nilly and no one can do a thing about it.


The second point is about drainage. Some thirty years ago it was departmental policy to improve upland drainage to such an extent that if you go into any of the headwaters in the Sperrins and look at the high ground, which is mostly open moorland, every 20 metres you will find an open drain. These create a herringbone effect and meet in a main channel. If there is heavy rain, and it does not even have to be heavy rain, the water just runs off and down into those main channels. Those main channels have been eroded by the excess run-off that goes into the rivers and causes flash floods.


I am not looking at Mr Atkins in particular, but some of the older anglers on the river will tell you that thirty years ago on the Agivey system if there was heavy rain, it took two or three days for the river to rise until it was full and another week for it to run off. If there is heavy rain today there will be a flood tonight, and it will be gone in the morning. As a result of this, there is an awful lot of erosion, and the siltation of the river actually moves big stones. You should see the size of some of the boulders that move with the force of the water. It is a major problem.


We are lucky that we have only one turbine on the river, but it is a major problem. It is not on the main Agivey system, where there are two rivers, the Agivey River and the Aghadowey River. The Aghadowey River certainly does not get the same returns of fish that the main river does, but the turbine on the small river seems to have an exemption from the need to install fishguards. As a result they have a long lead from the weir down into the turbine, and if they decide to clean out that lead, lift the sluice and let the water away, any fish that are in there are just left to perish. If there was a fishguard at the head, which we thought was required by legislation, but it seems to have got an exemption, that would stop fish getting in there, and we would save a lot of fish.


In times of low flow, most of, if not all, the water goes down through the turbine. None goes through the main stream, so any small fry, salmon parr or salmon smolts that are moving backwards downstream have to go down through the turbine, which results in carnage.


We are fairly unfortunate with afforestation. In the Sperrins quite a lot of forests were planted twenty or thirty years ago. Initially when they were planted there were major drainage areas to leave the ground dry enough to plant trees. But instead of the local moorland acting as a sponge to soak up water, as it should have, the water, as I mentioned earlier, just runs off. Afforestation has caused acidification of the ground beneath the trees as well, and that water run-off tends to increase the acidity in the river itself, and that affects the aquatic life there.


I understand and appreciate that you are not looking at sea fishery and that is a matter for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). However, it is fairly important from our point of view, being primarily a salmonid fishery and with salmon spending such a large portion of their life at sea, that there is some co-ordination between inland and sea fisheries. If there were more co-operation between both of those bodies, we could deal with predation at sea, commercial netting at sea and some fish farming problems. On Tuesday night past Mr Atkins and I were at a meeting attended by a number of people from DARD and the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB). Some of the Department's scientists were giving figures on net catches at sea that they had been able to glean from their work on the River Bush. They were saying that in any year they can lose between 20% and 90% of their returns to the nets at sea. They estimate that on average they lose about 50%.


The number of salmon has got so low that we can no longer afford to lose 50% of a return. If it reaches a certain level it cannot be built up again by natural reproduction, and in a short time there will be no more salmon.


The Chairperson: Thank you, that was very useful. Your written presentation was very detailed, and I know that members have a number of questions. May I take up the point about afforestation and the acidic outcome of that? Your document drew attention to the type of planting that had taken place and referred to deciduous planting; is there a difference?


Mr Thompson: Thirty years ago all of the planting done was coniferous. Most trees were Sitka spruce, a quick growing tree that suited the conditions, but the pine needles created acid as they decomposed, and, as a consequence, water carried that acidity into the river. Forestry Services' current policy is to have a corridor of about 10 metres of deciduous trees between the coniferous plantation and the river - seemingly that acts as a filter. Although Robin and myself have scientific backgrounds, and so understand some of it, we cannot give a more detailed explanation, as we are not academically qualified to do so. The idea is that this area acts as a buffer and reduces the acidity, thereby increasing the ph of the water running into the river, which reduces these problems. However, most of the plantations in our area are only now reaching a stage of maturity and have not had the benefit of that reduction, so we have had this problem for at least 30 years.


The Chairperson: This is an interesting point that I wanted to ensure was on the record.


Mr Shannon: You mentioned the number of bodies looking after a single issue, for instance, the Department of Agriculture, the FCB and the Foyle Fisheries - perhaps there are too many. Do you think that one body would be the best way of dealing specifically with the issue of bailiffs and their responsibilities when it comes to pollution and poaching, and how would you envisage that? Do you think that bailiffs should be looked after on a paid or a voluntary basis, and what do you envisage as regards their patrolling of the inland waterways? Do you feel that the Department's spend of some £92,000 in 1997 was an adequate way of policing the rivers? Finally, in relation to training, do you feel that the training is adequate? What improvements would you like to see?


Mr Thompson: Our club is not by any means wealthy, but we employ our own bailiff/river manager for seven months of the year. This year we took him on for eight months, because we have adult salmon coming into the river over those eight months. We would like to be able to employ him for the remainder of the year, because there are things he could be doing, but eight months is all we can afford. We also have a system of club bailiffs on a voluntary and ongoing basis. If a club bailiff goes down the river and sees a problem, he can confront it himself.


At certain times of the year our main bailiff goes out on a recce at night along with some of the club bailiffs. He can also call on FCB bailiffs and Bann Systems bailiffs who are full time, although they are so thin on the ground that at certain times of the year it can be quite difficult to get them, with the result that you have to deal with the problem yourself. At present, FCB bailiffs look after the pollution cases. They come out and sample pollution cases. I now understand from recent publications that this has been taken away from them and that the FCB has been split into two categories - one to look after pollution and the other to look after bailiffs. That is another problem caused by splitting the whole thing. The best way of solving the problem would be to have one overall body with a couple of agencies working for it.


Mr Shannon: The Department spends £92,000 on bailiffs. Is there a better way of spending that money to make the system more accountable? In other words, can the bailiffs be used in a different way? As bailiffs are hard to get because they are thin on the ground, could the Department, by using voluntary staff, spread the £92,000 more effectively?


Mr Atkins: One of the reasons clubs have their own bailiffs is because of the inadequacies of the bailiffs that are under the FCB and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In a small place like Northern Ireland it is ludicrous to have three bodies looking after a few rivers in this small area. It must be more economical to have a properly funded central body. That way you will find there is extra money to employ extra bailiffs. If we do not bailiff our rivers and look after them and deal with pollution and poaching, we are not going to have any fish. You must ask yourself why 90% of tourists go to the South of Ireland. Probably 90% of Northern Ireland anglers now fish in the South. Over the past 30 years the people in charge of our rivers have made an absolute mess of it. These are the facts as I see them.


Mr Paul: The bailiffs who are employed by the Department are quite capable. The fact is that there are not enough of them on the ground to satisfy the need. We would like to be proactive where there are pollution problems, and either take more extensive monitoring action in those areas to ensure it does not happen, or take some prior preventative action. At the moment they are so short- staffed that they work in reactive mode all the time, responding to something that happens, but never trying to prevent it.


The Chairperson: In response to Mr Shannon's question about the standard of training, do you have any question about that? The problem is the number of people available.


Mr Paul: I do not think we could criticise that extensively. When they are there they seem capable of doing the job. It is simply the difficulty in getting them with all the other things that they have to do.


Mr Shannon: Obviously you have bailiffs in your organisation. Are they fishermen who do this in their spare time? They obviously have an acceptable level of capability.


MrThompson: Yes. Any angler on the river can act as a bailiff, but our people go to court and get sworn in as bailiffs. They have a legal standing as such. If they see a problem they will bring it to someone's attention. Not everyone wants to take on the responsibility of legal powers. There are a limited number of people in the club who do this.


I would like to return to the matter of £92,000. We have a temporary bailiff, who works full-time hours for eight months of the year. It costs about £1,000 per month to employ him, so that accounts for £8,000. The £92.000 does not go far in Northern Ireland when it costs £8,000 to employ someone on a temporary basis.


Mr Paul: I would make a point about bailiffs and our own club bailiffs. We do not have the power to take samples unless an official department bailiff is on the scene. Often, when incidents occur the cause disappears quite rapidly, so the opportunity to measure and take samples disappears before we can get anyone there. Changes in that area would certainly be very helpful and would allow many of these incidents to be picked up.


The Chairperson: Could you volunteer to take a sample? Would that be recognised by the court?


Mr Paul: No, you cannot do that at the moment.


Mr Thompson: You can take a sample, but it is not recognised. You need to take two samples actually. The offender gets one, and the other is taken away for analysis, but an FCB bailiff has to take the samples. We have asked for that power, and we have also asked for sample jars. However, we have been told that having the jars would be useless, because we have no enforcement powers.


Mr Davis: With respect to consultation, it seems you are suggesting that current policy regarding programmes is inadequate because of the lack of consultation. How would you like to see that aspect being improved, or structured, and what bodies could be included?


Mr Thompson: At present, the fishery agencies are trying to draw up a salmon management plan. They say they want to put counters in the rivers to count the numbers of returning fish over a five-to-ten year period and then decide what to do. As far as we are concerned, that is 10 years too long. We will see the demise of salmon during the 10 years when we should be taking action. If we can believe the results received from the River Bush, then it would seem that all the figures are there-if the appropriate bodies were prepared to use them.


As far as consultation is concerned, there is the salmon management plan, although we see that as a system that has been set up to try and develop a salmon management plan. However, it was foisted upon us and there was no prior consultation with clubs. Most of the clubs in the North are affiliated to the Ulster Angling Federation (UAF), and that is the body which should speak on their behalf. The salmon management plan was foisted on the UAF. As far as consultation is concerned, I know it would not be possible to talk to the fisherman on the riverbank. However, we still feel that the UAF should be consulted. If there is a problem with salmon management, coarse fisheries, or some other type of fishery, the UAF can advise of a fishery club that would know quite a lot about those things, and which could be brought into the discussion. At the moment, it seems as though a lot of people are sitting behind closed doors drawing up policy and thinking that are they the best people to do that. We think not.


Mr Davis: Would you like to be consulted on all changes, when there are amendments by the Rivers Agency, for example?


Mr Thompson: Yes. Perhaps not on an individual club basis, but we would certainly like the UAF to be consulted-and the clubs could be brought in on that basis.


Mr Davis: You made the point in your submission that without proper consultation certain programmes ended up being a complete shambles. Could you give us some examples of that?


Mr Thompson: First, there is the tagging of fish. Last year, a scheme was introduced-and it is probably not a bad scheme-whereby all fish caught had to be immediately tagged. This was done to find out and control the numbers of fish being caught on river systems.


The other purpose was that the scheme would control poaching in that a poacher would have to tag his fish. If the fish were not tagged - if you went to a hotel restaurant, looked in the freezer and they had an untagged fish, then you could prosecute. This policy was brought in with no prior consultation. It was foisted on the clubs, and it turned out that so little time was spent discussing the idea that it was just not feasible to get it implemented in the time available. The scheme was supposed to start on 1 January 2000. It has now been put on the long finger. I am not sure what the timescale is.


Mr Atkins: When they looked at it they found out that they could not afford it. Those are the sort of things that are happening. They start at the wrong end of the stick, and they started to do their sums after they had put us all through a lot of changes. I have a retail shop, and we received all the literature about how to operate these salmon-tagging schemes; then the whole thing collapsed, because they could not afford it. There is a lot of that sort of thing going on.


The Chairperson: In terms of consultation, anglers are represented on the FCB. How do you think that this has affected the schemes which have gone through the FCB? How adequate was this representation in terms of consultation?


Mr Thompson: From a club angle we are probably not experienced enough with the policies of the FCB to answer the question fully. From our perspective policies seem to be cut and dried before coming down to club level. By that stage the policy is already set. Agivey is one of the better - and I am not saying this to try to blow our own trumpet - salmonid angling clubs in Northern Ireland. We did not know anything about the policy until it was set and complete.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you, Gentlemen, for your co-operation. I have read your submission with interest. It sets out clearly your concerns about pollution and the resulting fish kills and damage to habitat. You mention, in particular, intensive farming methods, silage, slurry and illegal dumping of toxic waste, and you have drawn our attention in your submission - and again verbally - to the question of sewerage treatment works, and to the fact that the Department of the Environment is itself a polluter but will not be prosecuted. What is your view on the question of the pursuit and detection of offenders, the process of taking them to court, and the penalties which are imposed?


Mr Thompson: I was looking up information on that and I discovered that last year there were around 2,500 pollution instances, with action taken on only 1000 cases. Of those, less than 100 were taken to court; that is less than 5%. The fines imposed were all around £200. On our river, for instance, we have a hatchery up and running, and this year we put one quarter of a million swim-up fry into our river system. About five years ago we had a pollution incident on a small tributary of the river that we had stocked quite heavily. There was good feeding in the river, and we tried to test it to see how well the fish were surviving. They were doing quite well. Then further upstream something happened to a farmer's effluent tank, and the river got polluted. It was quite some time before the club found out about this incident. We blocked off the stream with straw bales to try and stop it as much as possible. In that small stream everything was wiped out. If we put in fry this year, it will be another two years before these become smolts and go back to sea, and at least another one or two years after that before they come back from the sea. That is four years lost, and that does not account for the damage done to the invertebrate life in the stream itself. It will take another four or five years for that to be brought back. The farmer responsible for this damage was fined only around £300 or £400.


That is scandalous, for the damage was done. It is difficult to put a figure on it, but it ran well into tens of thousands of pounds. To be fined £200-£300 for it is ridiculous - and that was one of the few cases taken to court.


Mr Paul: The policy of trying to restock those areas raises some questions where the fish used for restocking are not the strain of fish actually resident. I am not aware of any major scientific analysis or research work to look at the long-term effects of mixing these strains in rivers. Does it change the genetics of local fish populations? Are the fish being introduced more dominant? It could be that we are currently introducing problems without realising it. Looking again at where these stock fish come from should certainly be on our agenda so we do not cause problems when trying to fix them.


Mr Thompson: Last year we had a pollution incident, again in a small stream. We had a fair idea who the farmer that caused it was, but by the time the FCB came out, any traces of effluent had vanished, and we could not get a sample. The farmer came along and said it was probably he. He gave a £500 cheque, which went to the FCB, to provide fish to put back into our river. We have our own hatchery for introducing fish, yet they were going to give us fish from the Movanagher hatchery which were of a completely separate strain. We could not get the £500, since we do not have a licence to sell fish. We do the work, yet the FCB gets the money. We do not want a licence to sell fish, but we feel the £500 should have gone to us rather than to the FCB.


Mr Atkins: We could use our own stock then.


Mrs Nelis: Your submission flags up your very serious concern about the future of that beautiful fish, the salmon, and you expressed it extremely eloquently. I share your concerns. On the question of pollution, we are aware of the influence of turbines, hydroelectric schemes and commercial netting. I am indebted to you for pointing out the difficulties now arising from the afforestation programme, where coniferous planting is increasing the pollution of rivers and reducing water quality.


I have a whole list of questions, but I should prefer to ask you this: if you were to ask this inquiry today to deal with one particular thing you feel that would address the many concerns you raised, one aspect with which the Committee could help, what would that be?


Mr Thompson: If we had the power to do one thing to effect change immediately it would be to stop commercial netting. As the figures from the Bush indicate, anything between 20% and 90% - and on average 50% - of returning fish are being lost at sea. Quite apart from anything else, 50% of our brood stock is being lost at sea. If that were stopped, it would immediately give us the other 50%. Last year in the FCB area, 9,000-10,000 fish were reported caught in nets, so to stop it would allow another 9,000-10,000 fish to come into our rivers. That would be an immediate increase, and if we were to ask for one thing, it would be a cessation of commercial netting at sea.


Mr Paul: Over a period of 10 years, we have put in a great deal of effort and built a hatchery. We have spent a fairly large amount of money from the European Salmonid Enhancement Programme, yet in spite of all of these efforts, fish losses are totally out of our control. No matter what we do on the rivers, if we cannot get the fish to return, or if those fish are not allowed to return, all our efforts are in vain. It is very disappointing for us that all the work and effort that we put in and the money provided from the various funding bodies are being wasted because the fish are not being allowed to return to the rivers to build the stock back up.


Mr Atkins: On a wider point, if we are ever going to develop angling tourism, we need to look at areas like Strabane. Strabane could be another Ballina if we could get this right. There is great potential there to attract tourist anglers because they probably have some of the greatest fishing in Northern Ireland or, indeed, Ireland. Thousands of tourists go to Ballina, and they are spending millions of pounds. We need to look at that and develop it here. The nets need to be dealt with to allow us to get more fish in immediately.


Mr Paul: There is a simple financial argument for this as well; and many papers have been written on the subject - though the figures do vary drastically depending on which paper you read. The analysis shows that a fish with a value of £10 caught commercially by fisherman, would, if caught by a tourist, be worth between £400 and £500 to the economy. It makes very good economic sense to go down particular avenues. It may not be particularly good from the commercial fisherman's perspective, but policy should look at the wider picture and ask what is best for the country and the whole environment. The financial reasoning cannot be argued against.


Mr McMenamin: I am delighted to hear Strabane mentioned so often because I am from Strabane. Carrying on from the last question, are you suggesting a complete ban on salmon fishing netting?


Mr Atkins: There has been contact with many of the net men. The UAF has met them, as have others, such as Ori Vigfusson, that Icelandic friend of North Atlantic Salmon. At present, quite a number of them - although I do not know how many exactly - are prepared to go if they are compensated. We are not expecting them just to pack up their nets and go. There would have to be compensation for them. The salmon stocks are now so low that they no longer make any money.


Mr Thompson: Last year the FCB's figures showed that 9,000 or 10,000 fish were caught by 11 nets. If you take, as Mr. Paul said, an average of £10 per fish - which is a high average value given falling fish sizes and the impact of commercial fish farming - that means that 10,000 fish caught at £10 each equates to £100,000 split over 11 nets. When you consider that they have to pay a licence to fish and provide a boat to fish with and probably paying for help, it cannot be a viable proposition - assuming that their returns are accurate.


Mr McMenamin: Would it be correct to say that fish farms provide more salmon than the actual sea?


Mr Thompson: It would be correct.


Mr McMenamin: Are local councils responsible for monitoring the domestic use of rain water facilities? If not, should they be, or should it be the responsibility of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure?


Mr Thompson: I might be wrong, but I believe that in Northern Ireland there are no regulations. On the mainland you need permission even to have a barrel under a downpipe to collect rainwater, but I do not think that that is the case in Northern Ireland.


As I understand it, anybody can collect water from the river system; there are no regulations on this. This is a problem. Hydroelectric stations, or turbines, are actually water abstractors. They take water out of the main channel. If you were to go down to our turbine now, the water in the river would be low. When you take the water out to run the turbine, there is actually no water at all in that main channel - it is dry. It is quite a distance from the weir down to the turbine, and it is dry the whole way down that channel. All the invertebrate life need water to survive, so they are all wiped out, and you are left with a large portion of that river which is no use to anybody. That is only our experience. There are a lot of turbines throughout the North.


Mr Paul: Abstraction will most probably occur when a river system is low, because that is the time when water is required for other purposes as well. Given the fact that it is low, if you reduce it further, you are reducing the area of the water, the oxygenation levels in it and the area that you have for aquatic life on the base of the river. When it is low, it is much more susceptible to any form of pollution. With the low flow rates everything gets a much longer period of coverage by whatever the pollutant is, because it is not washed away quickly. So low flow and reducing it even further by abstraction creates an happens often. The flow rates due to drainage are significantlyextremely dangerous situation, one which, unfortunately, lower today than they were 30 years ago. The water drains off the land; the land is no longer acting as a big sponge and allowing it to release nice and steadily, and that is exacerbating our problems.


Mr McMenamin: You talked about pollution. Is agricultural waste monitored in any way and, if not, should it be?


Mr Thompson: What particular agricultural waste are you talking about?


Mr McMenamin: Cow or pig manure.


Mr Thompson: Years ago, before the likes of slatted houses came into effect, any animal waste, such as manure was always solid product. It was put on to the ground in a solid form, rotted down, and it did not cause any problems. Now it is being put out as slurry, and one of the difficulties with slurry - and farmers are finding this themselves - is that it seals up the surface of the ground, and you get a lot of rain run-off. The rain falls, runs off and carries the pollutant into the river. So instead of the nutrients from the manure going down through the soil, getting filtered out by the soil and clean rainwater going back into the river, you are actually getting surface run-off carrying neat slurry. If you put slurry out today and there was heavy rain tonight, that slurry would all be washed into the river system - years ago it would not have been. There are ways around this. In some countries on the continent you are not allowed to put slurry directly on to the surface of the ground - you must inject it into the ground. That is more time-consuming and more costly, but you do not get this surface run-off.


Mr McCarthy: Are fry guards installed at the entrance to the head race, and why are some turbine operators given exemptions?


Mr Thompson: This is something we do not understand. We feel they should be at the head race. In our river, the race down from the weir to the turbine is quite long, and any fish coming back into it are caught, especially smolts. Smolts, when they are migrating back to sea, go back with the flow of the river - they do not swim against it. To get to the sea they have to go with the flow of the river - they will not swim against it. If the main current is going down through the race, that is what they follow; they go down into the race. We feel that in all cases, the guards should be at the head of the race. I have read a submission drawn up by the Ballinderry River Enhancement Association, an organisation which, I think, did some work for you.


They said that having the guard at the turbine itself might be better, because it would be more readily serviced and maintained but in that case there would have to be adequate facilities to let any fish that go down the race get back into the river system. At the moment there does not seem to be any legislation to control that.


We have complained to everybody we can complain to. We have had senior FCB officials look at our problem. We actually had them out at the river when the chap that ran the turbine lifted the sluice and let the water out, and the fish were all foundering. That was two years ago, and still nothing has been done. We went to everybody we could think of, but there are so many bodies: the FCB, the Department of the Environment, the Fisheries Division. There are so many people, and I think that what happens is that each leaves it to the other to do something, and in the end nothing is done.


We feel there should be one overall controlling body, with possibly a couple of agencies working for it. I do not know what way they would want to split up the actual work. Then if we went to the controlling body and complained to them about something - or went to them for advice; we are not going to complain all the time, there are times when we will want advice - at least it would filter down to the right channels.


The Chairperson: Are you saying that sometimes there would be a smolt pass in the head race, but not in this case?


Mr Thompson: Not in this case.


The Chairperson: And there is no requirement for there to be one?


Mr Thompson: Not that we understand, no. At the moment he has a letter of exemption from putting the guard at the head of the race, and he is supposed to have the guard at the turbine. Now I think that half the time it is not even at the turbine, because our bailiff has gone down and seen the guard off the turbine. I have complained about that. There does not seem to be adequate facilities to get those fish back into the main stream.


Mr Atkins: We should be looking at alternatives to these turbines. Turbines are vulnerable to the man not doing his job properly, and they really will wipe out the stock on the river. Smolts coming down to the sea will reverse down the water channel, and if there is no water going over the weir, they will all go back into the turbine, and if that turbine has not been properly looked after, all the stock will be lost. We have had a lot of instances in Northern Ireland of turbines killing fish.


Mr McMenamin: Is there not an electrode that you can put across a river to stop the fish going into the turbine and put them down a smaller channel?


Mr Atkins: There are quite a number of things that you could do, but human beings do not seem to operate these things properly.


Mr Thompson: On our river that is not an option, because at times there is no water going down the main channel. If you do not let them go down the race, they have nowhere to go. The race takes all the water. I saw a feasibility study drawn up by the Irish Society into a possible turbine at the Cutts, at Coleraine. One of the points in that was that there must be at least 10 cumecs - they talk about water volume in cumecs (cubic metres per second) - going through what they call the Queen's Pass at all times, so that fish going up or down can pass at any time. Their tables showed that at times, the flow rate dropped below 10 cumecs, and they said that at those times the turbine should be turned off. In other words, let all the water go down the fishpass, and none through the turbine. In our experience, that is not done at all. There seems to be no legislation that insists that a certain amount of water must go down the main channel.


Mrs Nelis: I want to ask about the organisations you mentioned. I understand the confusion there must be as to whom you take your complaints to, or make your complaints to, or who should have responsibility, and who should discharge it.


It seems to be like the different licences that must be obtained, and it must contribute to the many problems that you are encountering at the moment. I do not know how the matter is organised in the South of Ireland. I believe that there is one Department, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, but I may be wrong. Is there a case to be made for one Department here?


Mr Thompson: That is what we are trying to say. We should have one Department. The benefit of that would be that there would be one licence instead of the present myriad of licences. It is terrible for a visiting angler who has maybe a week to fish and wants to get the best fishing. If he came to the Agivey River to fish today, he would have been better staying at home because there are very low water levels and, therefore, very poor salmon fishing. If he bought a licence to fish our river, and someone told him that he would be better going to the Foyle system, then he would have to buy a Foyle system licence. If he went to some of the Department's waters, he would need a permit to fish there. There should be one licence to cover all.


If there were one licence with an endorsement, instead of having to buy another full licence, it would probably attract visitors coming to fish in Southern Ireland. Certainly if I were coming to fish and were to buy a licence for fishing in the North or a licence for fishing the South, I would be reluctant to go across the border because it would mean having to buy yet another licence. There is something to be said for just one licence.


Mr Atkins: I have a retail shop, and I deal with the few tourists that we have in the area. A German family told me that they were fishing on the Department of Agriculture's stretch of the River Mourne at Sion Mills. There were four of them - father, mother and two sons. They had to buy a Department of Agriculture permit plus the Foyle licence for a week's fishing. They then decided to come to our area to fish the River Bush, so they had to go to buy a FCB licence for a week and a Department of Agriculture licence for the River Bush, as they are both separate areas. For tourism to develop properly, we need one angling body for Northern Ireland and one licence. If people from the South who have a licence want to come up to the North to fish, we could give them an endorsement and thus encourage tourism into the area. It should not be hard to do.


The Chairperson: I am conscious of the time. Some members still have questions to ask.


Mr McCarthy: What action, if any, could be taken to prevent cormorants from catching smolts?


Mr Atkins: Shoot them. [Laughter]


Mr Thompson: Many years ago, as some of the older anglers will remember, cormorants would not have been seen about the river. They are seabirds, and they did not come inland. There are two problems. With the amount of fishing at sea, not for salmon, but for other fish, and with the taking of sand eels around the coast, there is less feeding for them at sea and so they come inland. Years ago, before they were a protected species, sea nets' men would have culled the cormorants. Now they are not allowed to. It is the same with seals. Some officials from the Department were present at the meeting that we attended on Tuesday night. We mentioned the buying out of nets to them. They told us of a netting station on a river in Scotland where the net was bought out. For two or three years far more fish came back into the river. However, the seals then found out about it. Before that, any seals coming into the area were shot by the nets' men. That was allowed because the seals were fouling their nets. With seals in the area, no fish come back into the river. The seals are either getting them or scaring them off. Cormorants are a problem, but seals are as well.


Mr Atkins: The cormorants should be taken off the protected list. That particular cormorant should never have been on the protected list in the European legislation. There is no shortage of them - there are thousands of them. People should have the right to protect a fishery. We could put in a quarter of a million young salmon and go out the next morning and see a convoy of cormorants going up the river. I had a permit to shoot three cormorants, and I shot one last spring. I opened it up out of curiosity, and in its stomach were the 16 smolts that it had had for breakfast. If 1000 cormorants were coming up a river like the Bann 365 days a year, then a lot of fish would be going missing.


Mr Thompson: We are not suggesting that the last cormorant be wiped out. We would be the last to say that, but numbers must be controlled. Man is their only predator.


The Chairperson: You mentioned a meeting that you had attended recently. Where and when was the meeting held?


Mr Thompson: The Moyola Angling Association held a meeting in Port Neal Lodge in Kilrea and invited along a couple of members from the Agivey Anglers Association. There were also representatives from the FCB. Two new chaps - I am not sure of their names - have been taken on now to oversee some of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme. The programme has been going for four years and almost all the money has been spent, yet only now are they employing people to oversee it, which seems to be the wrong way of going about these things.


Dr Adamson: The last discussion reminds me of the old question: what do you call an angler with a gun? The answer is "Sir". My question concerns the development of planted areas along the rivers. The Sea and Inland Fisheries of Northern Ireland 1997 report stated that about £137,000 had been spent on the development of angling waters. Has any of this money been spent on the development of planted areas along the rivers, who would have ultimate responsibility and property rights regarding those areas, and who would provide the development and maintenance costs?


Mr Thompson: None of it has been spent on the Agivey system. Further afield I do not think any of us knows the answer. As far as rights go, during the 27 years of the club's existence, we have developed very good relationships with our riparian owners. We try where possible to get permission to do work on the rivers, and the farmers are quite happy for us to do the work as long as it does not impede them. Something we have not yet tried but which can be quite beneficial is tree planting and fencing along the river banks. If you do not fence off river banks, animals can graze right down to the river's edge. The trees, weeds and grasses that grow along the edge provide overhead cover which small fish can get in underneath. It keeps them out of the sun and away from predators. A lot of insect life feeds on the vegetation and falls into the river providing food for the small fish. When cattle come down to the river to drink they cause the river bank to erode over the years with the result that the river gets wider and as it does it gets slower and drops a lot of silt.


A consultant from England produced a paper on the subject and showed photographs of a river before and after - there was actually only three years difference between the pictures. Before, the banks were just completely bare, there was soil showing on the river bank and it was maybe four metres wide. Three years later, after fencing had been erected along both sides, the banks had grown in and had silted up, and the river channel itself had gone down to half that width, naturally. All man had to do was put fences on both sides, and the river rose by itself.


The first part of your question I cannot really answer. I am not sure where that money was spent. It certainly was not spent on the Agivey. Having said that, we as a club have an ongoing policy of spending and have planted trees along the river to provide shade. As far as salmon angling and probably most other river angling goes, if you shade the south bank of the river, where the sun is coming from for most of the day, that will provide shade for the rest of the river. You can fish from the north. Our general policy is to try, where possible, to put our shading on the south bank.


The Chairperson: Could I thank you very sincerely on behalf of the Committee. You have covered a lot of territory and helped us considerably. We will have to deliberate over this for quite a bit of time. I think the Committee is beginning to form some ideas about its recommendations.


Mr Atkins: We went through all this 20 years ago when the Black Report was completed and Roy Mason was Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the Labour Government lost the election before we got it implemented. You might find it beneficial to look through the Black Report, as there are some very good points in it.


The Chairperson: I hope we will still be here to implement it.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin

Mr D Kelly )
Mr P McLoughlin ) River Faughan Anglers Ltd
Mr L Thompson )


The Chairperson: Welcome, Gentlemen. We are looking forward to hearing your presentation. The members of the Committee found your written submission very interesting. You will have 10-15 minutes to speak before the Committee's members question you on the issues.


Mr McMenamin: Chairman, I should declare an interest: my brother-in-law will be giving evidence this afternoon.


Mr McLaughlin: First, I would like to give you a brief description of the River Faughan followed by a description of the role of the Faughan Anglers Ltd, including some of their concerns and proposals.


The Faughan rises in Sawel Mountain near Claudy and enters the river Foyle at Lower Campsie. This is approximately 30 miles or 50 kilometres of river - the map we will distribute later might be of more help. It is one of the few rivers in Northern Ireland to support substantial numbers of sea trout and salmon. The Faughan Anglers Ltd is a non-profit making organisation. It is a private company that evolved from a long line of angling clubs and associations that were based along the river for many years.


Directors and committee members volunteer their services and expertise so that both the local population and the visitors can continue to enjoy angling at a reasonable price. There are four directors and eight committee members. These are drawn from different sections of the catchment area to provide a local perspective on river management. One full-time bailiff is employed; during the fishing season several seasonal bailiffs are employed to assist him police the river. Many permit holders also act as volunteer bailiffs, and we have one part-time office employee.


Faughan Anglers Ltd control the fishing rights on the whole of the River Faughan and its tributaries by lease from the Bann System Ltd and the Foyle Fisheries Commission (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission). They also maintain a hatchery at Ballyartan on a tributary of the Faughan. Sea trout and salmon brood stock are taken each year from the Faughan and after they have been stripped they are returned to the river. All the fry produced are later planted out unfed into the river. We also assist in the neighbouring Dennet Angling Club by giving it access to this hatchery.


Each year we issue permits to approximately 1,000 anglers, which makes it one of the largest angling groups in Northern Ireland. We are a member of the Ulster Angling Federation, and the Salmon and Trout Association. The role of the Faughan Anglers Limited is to manage the angling on the river Faughan to ensure that the conditions necessary for trout and salmon to reach their spawning grounds each year are maintained or improved. We work closely with the Foyle Fisheries Commission (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) to protect fish stocks and to enhance habitats and access.


We help to ensure future stocks by restocking with indigenous fry; provide and maintain access to, and along, the banks of the river; ensure that angling is carried out as outlined in the rulebook; and try to prevent poaching and netting. We ensure that only permit holders fish in the river, and we liaise closely with the owners of the lands adjacent to the river so that problems can be quickly identified and resolved. We advertise the river in various magazines and we will shortly be going on-line on the Internet. We provide a section where disabled anglers can fish for a nominal fee, and negotiations are currently underway to open a second section. We encourage the return of previously indigenous wildlife to the area. We try to control the negative wildlife on the river, such as mink and cormorants. We work with the north-west centre for learning and development to provide work experience for young people. There is currently one New Deal person working with the bailiff, and he also helps out in the office.


Our concerns are: the indiscriminate netting of salmon and sea trout both at sea and in the river estuaries; salmon farms and cages sited in areas close to, or on the migration route of, salmon and seatrout; the need for more restrictions on commercial fish farms on rivers; recommendations to limit the number of farms allowed; not permitting the introduction of non-indigenous species; penalties for allowing escapes to rivers; and local angling clubs being involved when planning permission is applied for. We often do not know that things are happening until it is too late.


We have other concerns too. Commercial or other waste dumps should not be permitted along the immediate river corridor. Penalties for pollution, we think, are inadequate. Sand washing facilities, cement works, water treatment works and sewerage plants need to be better controlled - again, the penalties for pollution are inadequate. Main water drainage from farms and houses along the river is being used to dispose of the effluent from washing machines, dishwashers, slurry tanks, silage pits, seepage and milk parlour washing.


There should be more pollution control and stricter penalties for violations. Currently when pollution is suspected, samples can only be taken by a statutory body, which means that it has to be contacted and someone found who can travel to the river to take a sample. Bailiffs could be trained to take samples and deliver them to a laboratory for testing. A single rod licence for all of Ireland, or for Northern Ireland with an endorsement possibility for the whole of Ireland, would eliminate a lot of confusion and cost for locals as well as visitors.


I cannot see this happening, but should it be possible to get agreement with the farmers to fence off areas along the river bank, we could give anglers responsibility for its maintenance. That would result in the creation of pathways along the river, a seepage area to absorb pollutants preventing them from entering the river, less erosion along the banks, an increase in suitable trees and vegetation, an increase in natural spawning and consequent improvement in fish stocks and other river creatures, a dramatic increase in the flora and fauna in the area, and less chance of anglers being attacked by cattle, usually bulls. More control is needed to ensure that work is carried out on the river banks and river beds does not, inadvertently, negatively affect the wildlife. Currently there are no restrictions on what landowners can do.


Leases to fishing clubs should be long-term. In order to maintain future salmon and sea trout angling in our rivers long-term investment is required. This is not encouraged if annual lease renewal is required.


Leases should include the approval for angling clubs to carry out necessary works on the river in a timely manner, such as taking of brood stock, clearing fish passes, attending fish counters, deepening pools and maintaining gravel beds, weirs and groynes. Currently each of these operations needs to be applied for, and it can take a lot of time before agreement is reached with the Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) and the landowners.


When planning permission is applied for in the river corridor, local angling clubs should be consulted prior to approval being given and controls are needed if electric turbines are going to be installed.


Finally, the Right to Roam Bill needs to address access to the river bank and highlight the danger of walking near the river when people are fishing.


In 1997 a river Faughan tourism and recreation strategy was commissioned by the Rural Area Partnership in Derry (RAPID). This 85-page report was compiled by Countryside Consultancy, Pieda PLC and Ballinderry Fish Hatchery Ltd. It contains a lot of information about the river Faughan which you may find useful, and there is a copy for you.


Some pages are worth noting. Page 18, para 3·30 highlights problems such as the dumping of cars, sheep carcasses, domestic appliances, carpets, oil containers, et cetera. Control of drainage schemes, upland conifer planting and overgrazing are also highlighted.


Para 3·31 makes recommendations on the river corridor with regard to herbaceous vegetation, bank-side scrub, bank-side trees, earth cliffs, floodplains and wet grassland, bridges and mills.


Para 3·32 deals with woodland, 3·33 with farmland, 3·34 with urban matters and 3·35 with sewage treatment, and there are several other items that I am sure will be of interest to the members of the Committee.


The Chairperson: Thank you. We have noted the contents of your report and all that you have said. We are keeping a verbatim record of proceedings in order that everything that is said will be on the record. My first question deals generally with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's requirements regarding chapter 47, section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Does your committee have members that are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups, such as disability groups and Age Concern? I ask that in order to establish your credentials.


Mr McLaughlin: Anyone can apply for a permit to fish on the river Faughan. The only time when a permit to an individual is refused is if we are oversubscribed or if there is a valid reason, in our opinion, for not permitting a person to fish - for instance, if he was caught on the river violating the rules, his permit would be removed and probably not renewed next year.


Mr McCarthy: He or she?


Mr McLaughlin: Yes, quite a few females now fish.


The Chairperson: The next question was to have been asked by Mr Jim Wilson, but, since he had to leave, I will ask it for him.


You set out clearly your concerns about pollution and the resultant fish kills and damage to habitat and insect life. You mentioned, in particular, some farming practices such as silage, slurry, illegal dumping of toxic waste and the Department of the Environment's sewerage treatment works. The Department of the Environment is exempt from prosecution in certain circumstances, but what is your view on the pursuit and detection by the authorities of offenders, the processes of prosecution and the penalties that are imposed?


Mr McLaughlin: Some of these are quite large businesses and the penalties act as a deterrent. What is happening can be due to ignorance. We were very upset recently about a case we had of people working in a quarry on the banks of a river. Eventually, through a television programme, we got to meet these people and they gave us access to their environmental plan. Subsequently, we felt a lot better when we knew what was going on. We would have a better understanding and be able to help if we could get involved more with the businesses on the river corridor.


The Chairperson: It is a two-way process.


Mr McLaughlin: That is what I am saying. We only see something in black and white. If we can all get involved we can find a resolution that will make us all happy.


Mr Thompson: In my view there is not enough authority and power given to the clubs to manage their own rivers. When there is a problem, for example, pollution from a farm or factory, you have to go through the procedure of getting in touch with the authority responsible for that area - in our case Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission). By the time it gets a bailiff out to check it, it is too late for anything to be done. If we can get the Environmental Health people out quickly to take a sample, action can be taken. However it can be a long time before the matter comes to court, and the same thing can continue to happen during that time. When it does come to court the penalty is so minor that it is not a deterrent to the big people like the large farmer, or indeed the businesses along the river. We need to strengthen the authority and the power of the bailiffs belonging to the clubs on the rivers.


Mr McCarthy: I was delighted that you referred to a very important section of our community, that is disabled anglers. Of the 1,000 permits you issue, how many did the River Faughan Anglers issue to disabled anglers?


Mr Thompson: At the moment the number is about five. We have tried to encourage them over the years and we hope that the number will expand. We have a link with the 'Sportability' organisation run by Derry City Council which gives disabled people the opportunity to take part in games and sports. If it recognises an individual as disabled and contacts us, that person automatically gets a permit for the Faughan. We also have links with the Irish Disabled Fly Fishing Association and, again, if it recognises a person as disabled, we will issue him with a permit immediately. It is not very good at the moment, but we are trying to develop it. When we first opened we had 10 people, but the following year none of them came back, which was a disaster. This year we have got roughly five back and the number is increasing.


Mr McCarthy: Are there specific problems that can be addressed to encourage them?


Mr McLaughlin: We have one stretch where people can fish, but we are finding it difficult to get funding to make the other section available which would attract more people.


Mr Thompson: If you are an angler you will appreciate the fact that the section for the disabled is in the tidal part of the river, and therefore only fishable at low tide. For some years we have been attempting to get an additional section in this fresh water area. We have identified such a section at Claudy Country Park, which is leased by Derry City Council. We hope to encourage them - and we are in discussions with the local GAA club that owns the land, the council, through Terry Watt who is one of their support people, and the Rivers Agency. We are very hopeful that that section will be in operation within the next two years.


Dr Adamson: I note that the Department spent £93,000 on bailiffs in 1997, and you spoke about increasing their powers. Are there any alternative ways of protecting local river courses?


Mr McLaughlin: You are referring to the official bailiffs. The bailiffs we have been talking about so far are the club bailiffs.


Dr Adamson: What training do you give club bailiffs?


Mr Thompson: When we are appointing bailiffs we make use of the Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) inspectors. They know what the job involves, and they are present at the interview together with our directors. We will not appoint anyone who is not approved by those individuals. Additionally, Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) organises training sessions for all our new bailiffs, and our voluntary bailiffs who are willing to attend. The training is carried out regularly every year, and we have a very close relationship with Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission).


To answer your earlier point, we believe there should be more local bailiffs, and they should have more authority than at present. Our bailiffs, whilst they are warranted by Foyle Fisheries (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) through the courts, are not endowed with the same powers as Foyle Fisheries bailiffs. The most important power that our bailiffs lack is that concerning pollution. We need to have our own bailiffs on the river and able to take samples.


Mr McLaughlin: We mentioned the person we employ under New Deal. He is being trained in river management, and he could become a bailiff.


Dr Adamson: That is good. Thank you.


Mr Davis: I would like to turn to the question of enforcement. I understand that enforcement in respect of sea and shore is carried out by the Sea Fisheries Department of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Is there an argument for an enforcement body for inland waters?


Mr McLaughlin: Are you talking about the netting taking place in the estuaries and in the sea?


Mr Davis: Yes. Is there a department concerned with enforcement in inland waters?


Mr McLaughlin: There are the bailiffs that the clubs usually provide. The official bailiffs, are few in number.


Mr Thompson: Theoretically, the Foyle Fisheries Commission (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) which is now the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is responsible, and it is the enforcing authority for the area in which we are based. That is my understanding. All the cases brought forward by our bailiffs - if they find a net on the river or catch someone doing something illegal - are handed over immediately to Foyle Fisheries. They take action through their solicitors. We deal only with the enforcement of permits. Foyle Fisheries does everything else relating to the Fisheries Act. It is the enforcing agency for the area. We feel that there should be a stronger link between our bailiffs and Foyle Fisheries to enable us to carry cases through, on the evidence that we collect, to the courts under the auspices of the enforcing agency.


Mr Davis: Do you have any comments to make about how consultation with various agencies and with anglers could be improved, with regard to current amendments? Do you feel that anglers have been badly done by in the past?


Mr Thompson: In the Foyle Fisheries area, Faughan Anglers used to have two representatives on the Foyle Fisheries Advisory Council. Now, under new regulations there is no representative from the Foyle area, or from the Faughan area, as I understand it, actively involved in the decision making process. Obviously we feel that we are being left out and we wish to have greater representation. We need to have direct input into any changes in laws affecting inland fisheries. Even the previous Foyle Fisheries Commission made changes with which we did not agree. For example, they imposed a catch limit on the river Faughan and on other rivers in the Foyle area. We believe that to be wrong, not from the perspective of limiting the number of salmon being caught, but from the point of view of limiting the number of sea trout caught. I could explain that in detail to any angler who might be interested. Salmon are one thing and, sea trout are totally different. They should not be lumped together under the one catch return basis. They should be distinctly separate. The Faughan Anglers believe, and I emphasise, that the Faughan is one of the best sea trout rivers in the North of Ireland. Our hatchery is mostly involved with the reproduction of sea trout and not salmon - Foyle Fisheries do that part of it. We are sea trout fishermen mainly.


Mrs Nelis: Thank you very much for the presentation. You are welcome because you are from my home area and also because the River Faughan, as you rightly state, is very beautiful - all 30 miles of it. Songs have even been written about it.


I have a number of points to make. First, I agree that the new body should be accessible to you. I attended the first meeting, before the suspension of the Assembly, and I believe that there is a case to be made for an open meeting where people like yourselves can voice concerns and perhaps raise the question of proper representation.


Secondly, I commend your observations about the landfill quarry. I have raised this issue with Derry City Council and it is now on its agenda. I believe that councillors, if nothing else, should have a monitoring role here. I believe that the council was not fulfilling all of its duties, and I have asked for a report on that. You are right to be concerned about the question of landfill sites, and about the former tarry waste sites, and the effects that they have had on leaching into the river Faughan. That issue is very serious, and I hope it is one that will now come out into the open and be resolved. In that respect, I will certainly continue to do anything I can.


Your submission outlined a number of very serious concerns that you believe need to be addressed with regard to the future of the fishing and angling industry. One concern relates to the siting of salmon farms and cages close to the migration route of salmon and sea trout, and you have stated that this should cease altogether. I want to put a number of questions to you. Is the present policy regarding the siting of salmon farms inadequate? How do you suggest that these should be policed, and who is responsible for the policy and for the siting? Further, do you believe that the fish-farming industry in general has had a knock-on effect in terms of the quality of fishing in the river? There has also been a serious reduction in the budget for fish farming. Might this be the main factor impacting on their requirement to protect the environment?


We discussed the revenue aspect. It seems there is a huge number of fish farms in the North of Ireland now - what is called commercial aquaculture. Has the growth in the fish-farming industry over the years impacted on the angling tradition and on rivers? Should some legislation be introduced to prevent its further expansion?


Mr Thompson: Fish farming has certainly affected angling. A number of reports conducted around the entire island of Ireland as well as part of Scotland prove that the reduction in the sea trout influx into the river each year has been caused by sea lice from fish farms. I understand the evidence is now indisputable. Our being a sea trout river obviously affects us. We are fortunate in not having a fish-farm cage close to us, but sea trout by nature go up and down the coast and in and out of inlets during the off-season. If there is a cage in the next inlet, they will go in there and get caught up with it, so there has been a reduction in our sea trout over the last few years, which is quite clearly part of what is happening all over the British Isles at the moment.


We are also involved with a fish farm on our own river. A gentleman called Mairs has a fish farm at a place called Ballyartan, halfway up our river at Claudy. That fish farm produces rainbow trout, and there is absolutely no doubt at all that there is a large escape of rainbow trout from that fish farm into our river, which creates a problem for anglers, for it is not an indigenous fish. Since they will eat anything, they eat the eggs laid by our fish each year, of that we are quite sure. They take up the lies that the salmon and sea trout would otherwise use each year when they come back into the river, and there is always the likelihood that, when one goes to look at these fish farms, one will see a large number of fish with diseases of one sort or another. That disease nearly always gets in either through the water or through escapes into the river. We all have these problems, and they worry us constantly. We also know that many of the fish that die in the fish farm are buried close to the river bank. They are not buried properly, but dumped into pits and left uncovered in many cases. We have a problem with that as it affects us very much.


Mr McLaughlin: We recently became involved in a secondary issue. The same fish farm has been given a licence to start breeding brook trout and Arctic char on the banks of our river. Permission was initially refused, but we were informed during your recess that it had been approved. Much more control is needed over this type of thing. As Mr Thompson said, they may not kill the salmon, but they certainly can affect the ova and fry, and we are very concerned about that.


Mrs Nelis: Was the licence given by Foyle Fisheries?


Mr Thompson: The Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is the licensing authority.


Mr McLaughlin: Some things happen things happened during the recess. We were extremely shocked and surprised by this, since we thought we had dealt with it, only for it to happen suddenly. The original decision was appealed, and the chairman of the appeal board granted an extension to the licence to cover brook trout and Arctic char, neither of which are indigenous species in Northern Ireland. In our view they should under no circumstances be introduced. According to American magazines, brook trout grow to great size, and they are certainly going to compete if they escape, which they surely will. We have already seen escapes, and we know what will happen - it is only a matter of time.


Mr McLaughlin: There is one other item that affects our river indirectly. We are aware that right along this country's coast people fish in the sea and the estuaries all year round. This does not give our sea trout a chance, because they live in that area during their weak period, and they do not have a chance to develop and come back into the rivers. Therefore, control is needed. I do not think that people even carry a licence to do that.


Mr McMenamin: Would you be in favour of a ban on salmon netting at sea? Has the increased commercial price of salmon caused an increase in illegal netting? Do you have a method for controlling cormorants?


Mr McLaughlin: It is a gun.


Mr McMenamin: Apart from a gun? [Laughter]


Finally, with regard to bailiffs, local areas employ their own bailiffs, but is this the only means of patrolling inland waters?


Mr Thompson: We should say that we have assistance from the Foyle Fisheries Commission which covers part of the bailiffing of the river Faughan, but they have such a wide area to cover that they get to us only about once a month during the season. That is not sufficient and is why we need to have our own bailiffs. Our lease also requires us to have a full-time bailiff.


From time to time we also have help from the police. If they are called, they will come out, but never without a warrant holder with them because in those circumstances they are dealing with fisheries law - but they are helpful. Our bailiffs, as we all know, have been attacked on a number of occasions on the river Faughan. This was well-highlighted in the newspapers some years ago when somebody tried to kill some of them. They have also had shots fired over their heads occasionally. We feel, therefore, that we are justified in taking whatever steps necessary to protect ourselves along the river.


Mr McLaughlin: The banning of netting - although the anglers would love to see it - is probably not realistic.


Mr Thompson: Why not? It is banned in other countries. England and Scotland are the only parts of Europe where it is not banned. Why not ban it here?


Mr McLaughlin: Banning only stops the honest man who is netting legally. A lot else goes on, and that is where bailiffing might come in.


Mr Thompson: We are talking about salmon at sea. We are very concerned about this, and we would prefer to have a total ban on netting.


We get a licence each year to shoot 10 cormorants. We have at least that number sitting in every pool at the beginning of the season. It is ridiculous. The best method would be a return to how it used to be many years ago. Cormorants breed on islands just off the shores, and, unfortunately, the RSPB killed all the rats on the islands. If the rats were to be reintroduced on to the islands, there would be fewer cormorants. It would be a humane way of dealing with the issue.


Mr McLaughlin: It is interesting that the cormorants are coming further and further up the rivers. They are looking for food, and that is the problem.


Mr Kelly: One of the reasons for that is the over- netting of sand eels at sea to make fertiliser. They are losing their food source, so they are coming into the rivers.


Mrs Nelis: It is exactly what you say, an interference in the whole ecochain and ecosystem.


Mr McMenamin: With regards to the effect of the increased commercial price of salmon on illegal netting, do you find that there is an increase in illegal netting?


Mr Thompson: Nets men on the Foyle Fisheries Commission, for example, would clearly say that there is an increase in illegal netting. They are very concerned about the amount of illegal netting which occurs at sea, in the estuary, and in the river by people who do not pay for licences. The way to stop that is to go, not to the nets men or those entitled to fish, but to the real culprits - the hotels and the buyers of the fish. It is clearly possible to have some sort of control over the buyers of the fish; there must be some control over them directly from the enforcing agency.


The Chairperson: A tagging system?


Mr Thompson: A tagging system would have helped. The Faughan anglers are in favour of a tagging system, although it is going to create a lot of problems for people when they are issuing permits and licences.


The Chairperson: I noticed in your submission that you mentioned mink. Interestingly you are the first group to mention mink.


Mr McLaughlin: Some people tried to farm mink in the area years ago. Some escaped and they do pretty well in the river.


The Chairperson: How intrusive are they? I have heard different stories over the years. To begin with they were going to dominate the whole place and take everything over, then subsequently they seemed to become almost ingrained into the natural environment. Are they still a menace?


Mr McLaughlin: They still do a lot of damage to fish. They are killers.


Mr Kelly: We lost a lot of wildlife along the river - moorhens, dabchicks, we lost them all.


Mr Thompson: There is not a single moorhen left on the Faughan River. It was full of them at one stage, and it was a delightful sight.


Mr Kelly: Water voles are gone too.


Mr Thompson: Every year we get two or three requests from farmers about how to kill mink. They have got into the hen house and killed the hens. It is there on a regular basis.


The Chairperson: What is the best way of dealing with them? Can you trap them?


Mr Kelly: Put a bounty on their head.


Mr Thompson: A bounty would help, but they can be trapped. The Faughan Anglers trapped them for a number of years. It is a very difficult thing to do. It means traps being looked at every day and being in almost inaccessible places at times. It creates a problem for us if we want our bailiff to look after the policing of the river and trap the mink as well. It is difficult to do both as it is a long river.


Mr McMenamin: Going back to the fish farm, you mentioned that the owner received a licence in the past month. You say he is introducing new species of fish. Obviously at some stage they will escape into the natural terrain, and this will cause major problems.


Mr McLaughlin: This is a secondary concern because his fish farm is on the banks of the river. Now we have a situation concerning a weir at Ballyartan. Work had commenced on it and who was doing that work for us?


Mr Thompson: Foyle Fisheries were given money through the salmon enhancement scheme to provide a fish pass at the weir at Ballyartan. In discussion with them, we agreed the particular type of fish pass to be erected, fitting in with what the locals wanted. They wanted to be able to see the fish going over the fish pass and enjoy it, rather than have a pass that is underground. In order to do that they had to fill in the holes close to the base of the weir, to level it off. They have done that work, and the fish cannot get over because there is no depth of water. They cannot get over at this moment in time. This fish farmer has effectively stopped the building of the fish pass because he is "afraid of the water going over these walls, backing up to the weir and undermining it".


Mr McLaughlin: He is right at the edge of it. We are at loggerheads. We want to fix the weir, which is necessary. Relations are not great because we are fighting him on a permit.


Mr Kelly: A lot of salmon are at risk presently.


Mr McLaughlin: They cannot go over. They do not have the depth to leap across the weir.


Mr Thompson: Salmon need a depth of water of three to four feet to give them the force up. The depth is not there at the moment because of the way this has already been filled in. The whole weir might collapse if we have to dig it out again. We need to get these walls built within the next few weeks. The fish are already coming in, and they will not get over. They will pile up in the pools below Ballyartan weir, and unscrupulous poachers will then take them out.


Mr McLaughlin: One of the things in our presentation, which I do not know if you picked up on, was the feeling that angling clubs need to have a certain amount of leeway. We are powerless to do any work, however necessary, without getting permission from various people. Sometimes there is no time to go through all the debating, et cetera.


Mr Kelly: We cannot go out and remove these fish to save them without permission. I think that is awful.


Mrs Nelis: When fish farmers apply for licences, can there be conditions attached, as is the case with, say, planning permission? Does that work with fish licences?


Mr Thompson: Yes, there are conditions attached, and they seem on paper to be fairly extensive and correct, but in practice they do not work, because the enforcement is not there. For example, fish are not supposed to be able to escape from the hatchery or the fish farm. There must be barriers to prevent fish from going into the fish farm, but someone has got to physically go along and look at them. When the first flood comes along, the water rises above the tanks and floods into the river, and that is it. The fish start running up the streams out from the fish farm, because there is no barrier. Unless someone is there to put those barriers in and to ensure that they are in, then there is a problem. Unfortunately our bailiffs do not have the authority to go on to the fish farm and do that. Earlier we talked about the enforcement powers of the bailiff, and that is one of the things that we need them to be able to do.


Mr McMenamin: Is there no regulation as to the type of fish they can have in a fish farm?


Mr Thompson: Yes, there is. In the original licence, the type of fish is specified. On this particular farm it was brown trout and rainbow trout. That licence has now been extended to allow Arctic char and brook trout, which is a tragedy.


The Chairperson: We are coming to a close. Are there any more questions, or is there anything you would like to say in conclusion?


Mr McLaughlin: I have appreciated this opportunity to give you information about the river and express our problems. I would like to hand you these samples of the things that we brought with us.


The Chairperson: Thank you. It has been very helpful talking to you.


Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon

Mr Bill Macafee ) North Antrim Anglers
Mr William Reynolds ) Association


The Chairperson: You are very welcome here today. Perhaps you would like to make your presentation, Mr Macafee, after which members will ask you some questions.


Mr Macafee: Thank you for inviting us to tell you about our association and the problems on the River Bush. I have a map of the River Bush and it would be helpful to members to see this as we refer to different places with which members may not be familiar.


I will start by referring to the map and give you some background information. I will then proceed to talk about some of the problems on the River Bush and perhaps make some suggestions.


You can see that near the sea, at the top of the map, there is a private stretch which belongs to Sir Patrick McNaughten of McNaughten Estates. He owns the entire fishing rights on the Bush and keeps that part for himself. The rest of it was let to the former Department of Agriculture for experimental purposes. I will refer to that later. There is a section shaded in greater detail; that is known as the special stretch that is used for day tickets by the now Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The rest of the river above that is the one we refer to when talking about the middle and upper reaches. You can see that it is the greater part of the river, about 26-30 miles, while the Departments' stretch at the special stretch is approximately one mile and the part Sir Patrick has is between two and three miles.


The entire river, minus the private stretch, was leased to the fisheries division of the former Department of Agriculture for 30 years from 1972 so that it could carry out the River Bush project. This lease is to be renewed for a further 20 years from 2002. The original objectives of the Bush project - and I quote from the documentation - were to

"collect and collate data on the management of a salmon river and to test the economics of hatchery rearing of smolts for release to sea".

Throughout the years various other experimental activities have been undertaken, but the original objectives still appear to be the same.


To carry out these experiments the Department developed a hatchery and trapping facilities at Bushmills. The latter is used to monitor and control all salmon - and I stress the word "all" - entering and leaving the river. All salmon entering the river meet an electric barrier laid across it at the salmon station at Bushmills. This forces them into a fish trap. Once inside the trap, the fish are anaesthetised and handled before the wild fish are released to continue the run up the river. The hatchery-reared fish are not allowed to run the river. They are kept in the hatchery. During the early years of the project, wild salmon runs were intentionally reduced on the river in order to investigate, as they put it, safe minimum stock levels and provide brood stock for the ranching experiment. This practice was stopped after 1984 when stocks became disastrously low, and for a few years restocking took place. That was discontinued but has recently begun again.


That is a brief background to what was, from our point of view, the takeover of the river by the Department for experimental purposes. The North Antrim Anglers Association is not an angling club, since we have no specific fishing rights on the river. We are merely a group of concerned anglers who came together because we wanted to protest about the decline of angling on the upper River Bush, not in the special stretch or the MacNaughten stretch, but on the upper reaches.


I stress that the fish naturally run up to Bushmills, as any other salmon would. After Bushmills they do not run naturally, but I shall discuss that in a moment. While the association is not against salmon experimentation by any means, it regards the activity at the salmon station in Bushmills as having an adverse effect on salmon angling in the middle and upper regions of the Bush. We have had various meetings with the fishery people since 1991, and some progress has been made. In particular, they have agreed to enhance wild salmon stocks through restocking and habitat improvement in the last few years, and we welcome that.


We still feel that the root causes of the problem - the interruption of the natural run of the salmon up the river by an electrical barrier at Bushmills and the subsequent trapping, anaesthetising and handling of fish, in particular wild fish - remain unresolved. The interruption of the salmon's natural run in such an unnatural way delays the fish's progress upstream until much later in the season. Fish released from the trap take time to recover and are reluctant to move upstream, often missing the run of water. I take it you understand that fish run when the water is a certain height. Once the water goes down, they stop. If a fish is delayed for whatever reason and misses the run, it must lie downstream. The longer salmon lie in fresh water, the more they deteriorate, making them less likely to take a lure.


These delays mean it is usually the end of the season - September or October - before the fish reach Connagher, Bellisle and Stranocum. Connagher is near Dervock on the map. Some of the fish carry on up the Bush while others go up the Stracam or Black Water, a tributary of the Bush, and then into other tributaries. Bellisle is up the river, followed by Stranocum, and so on, up to Armoy. The fish take some time to reach there, since they are not running normally. As they have been in the water so long, many of them become coloured, appearing red, black or brown instead of the usual silver. They are reluctant to take a lure, and most salmon fishermen are reluctant to take them anyway, since coloured fish are quite frankly not worth catching. We must point out that the problem is unique to the river Bush; it does not happen on any other river in Northern Ireland, and it happens on only one in the Irish Republic.


I am sure you have heard about the other problems on the river from other organisations - problems that include coastal netting, pollution in the shape of silage, effluent and slurry and inadequate bailiffing. Mr Reynolds was a bailiff on the river for 20 years, but I have not seen a bailiff since he retired. There is a bailiff for the North Antrim area, but he is busy and cannot be present all the time. Cormorants are a major problem, and Mr Reynolds could tell you more about that. There is also a tremendous amount of weed, which appears to be getting out of control. We feel that the eradication of these problems is paramount, in view of the Department's current attempts at restocking and habitat improvement. Where possible, the association is co-operating with them in respect of these matters and will continue to do so. The really intractable problem still appears to be the continuing interruption of the runs of wild fish up the river. The Department continues to argue that trapping is an essential part of its work.


Finally, in our view quality angling should be developed on the whole river system and not condensed, as it is at present, on the first few miles of the lower river, as you can see on the map. This would benefit local anglers but it would also have the potential to attract a greater number of tourist anglers. If a tourist asked me whether he should fish on the upper reaches of the Bush at the moment, I would not recommend it. He would be wasting his time for most of the year.


We would welcome anything that would ease the passage of the running wild fish. Ideally we would like to see the removal of the electric barrier and trap, but there should be some modification to it at least to enable the wild fish to get through. It might also be useful to carry out some minor works on the Walk Mills Falls, otherwise known as the Leap Falls where there is a large waterfall. I do not know if you are familiar with the Bush. The Leap Falls, located above Bushmills, were used to generate electricity for the Causeway Tram many years ago. The Leap Falls are marked on the map as Walk Mills. Sometimes they are an impediment to the fish, and work could be done on that.


We are encouraged by the Department's recent attempts to enhance wild salmon stocks through restocking and habitat improvement and we urge this become the prime objective of the project as we enter the 21st Century. That has not been the Department's prime objective over the past 20 years. We would also argue that resolving the problems referred to, with coastal netting et cetera, which are vital to the success of salmon enhancement, be given high priority in the allocation of resources. That is all we have say. You do have a letter of submission from our secretary. These are the main points that we want to make about the River Bush.


The Chairperson: By way of clarification for everyone, you said that when the Bush trap was put in operation, it was for more than just wild salmon, that farm fish were taken out. Could you explain more about that?


Mr Macafee: I will try, and Mr Reynolds can support me. The wild fish run the river naturally and spawn in the normal spawning grounds. To carry out an experiment on salmon ranching, initially the Department took out some of the wild fish. These were kept in the hatchery to breed and reared to the stage which is known as a smolt, at which point the fish go to sea. This was done inside the hatchery tanks. They were never put naturally into the river. So when those fish return, they must be taken out because the Department argues they are now virtually a different strain from the wild fish and could damage the gene pool of the wild fish. Let us say 200 fish come into the Bush in a run and go into the trap. Some of these will be wild fish, and some hatchery fish. Do you now understand the difference between hatchery and wild fish? They must take those hatchery fish out and let the wild fish go on. That is why the Department has to trap and anaesthetise them. The Department argues that the fish need to be anaesthetised to be handled. Would you like to add to that, Mr Reynolds, as I am not an expert on some of the specifics?


Mr Reynolds: Anaesthetising settles the fish down. If they are not settled, they are inclined to jump out of the boxes which are used to move them upstream or take them to the tanks for holding. Anaesthetising is something I do not agree with. It appears to upset the wild salmon going upstream. They do not plunge after that. If you know what I mean, this is leaping. Downstream, before they reach the trap, they are leaping and sporting, but after being anaesthetised they do not.


The Chairperson: You are not objecting to the farm or to tank-reared fish being taken out?


Mr Reynolds: No.


The Chairperson: You agree with the argument about the gene pool and the possible damage that could occur, so something must be done by way of filtration between the wild and the farm fish. Are there any other possibilities that you are aware of that could be used, or any other way in which it could be done?


Mr Reynolds: They take the adipose fin off hand-reared fish. This is the fish that is hatched from an egg and released as a parr, usually after a year or two years. They take off the fin here, which is the adipose fin - locally we call it the dead fin. Also, it has a tag put into its snout. The only way of identifying it, coming up through the trap, is the adipose fin until you handle it and pass it over an electric machine, which bleeps if it is tagged. They anaesthetise the fish to insert the tag. I could not say how it could be done otherwise.


The Chairperson: I wanted to get that clear. That is an interesting process, which we have not come across in any of the inquiry submissions.


In my role as Chairman, I have to ask a question in relation to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on equality. Does the club have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community, including local groups such as disability or Age Concern groups? Are there specific problems facing disabled anglers who wish to fish with your club? Have you thought about this, or made any recommendations to improve access for disabled groups?


Mr Macafee: We are not a fishing club, and therefore we have no rights on the river. To be honest, we cannot do anything at all about that. I have to congratulate the Department on providing facilities for disabled anglers just above the Walk Mill, which is not in the private stretch - any fisherman can use it. There is a very good place there for disabled anglers. Apart from that there would not be any other spots up the river that would be easily accessible, except possibly at bridges. We would like to do these things, but we are not really in a position legally to do so. On numerous occasions Sir Patrick McNaughten has reminded us that we do not have any rights on the river. In a sense we are a kind of pressure group.


We try to work with the Department over stiles and things like that. The relationship between the Department and ourselves is a bit better than it was at the beginning. We appreciate there is a problem over the experimentation, and we are not against it by any means. Someone should try to get this problem of wild and farm fish sorted out.


Mr Shannon: This is a fairly topical question. Does the association feel that the building of small hatcheries by clubs, through the European salmonid enhancement funding, should be used to provide localised stock for restocking? I realise that this would entail a lot of reorganisation. Does the group have any figures available that might support this proposal, and has it been supported by any other research findings? Also, as fish farmers have to have a fish culture licence, does your association believe that the culture licence conditions are inadequate?


Mr Macafee: Do you mean hatcheries to produce wild salmon?


Mr Shannon: I am talking about using enhancement funding to put more salmon in. Is that one way of restocking?


Mr Macafee: Yes.


The Chairperson: The emphasis is on localised fish.


Mr Shannon: Rather than bringing in fish from outside.


Mr Macafee: Absolutely. When the enhancement scheme came about, unfortunately we could not apply, as we do not own the fishing rights. The Department did apply for money in order to carry out the enhancement. That has been done, and we very much support it. I agree that the fish should be the local fish, not fish reared and put here, there and everywhere from any river.


Mr Shannon: Would you, as an association, like to be involved in that?


Mr Macafee: We cannot, because we do not have any rights on the river, other than the rights that anyone has who has a permit from the Department. I am a member of Roe Anglers as well, and I have physically helped to move rocks and create new spawning areas for salmon. As a member of Roe Anglers I can do that, but I cannot on the Bush, because it is the Department that runs that. I am sorry to labour the point, but there is the distinction between a normal angling club and us.


The Chairperson: It is important to make that point.


Mr McCarthy: Your association has requested that the electric barriers be removed from the weir at Bushmills. Do you think that there are any benefits in continuing with this experiment? Commercial acquaculture is a valuable asset to the Northern Ireland economy, given the revenue in 1997, including receipts, of £266,000. Does the association believe that the number of fish farms in Northern Ireland is at its optimum?


Mr Macafee: The selfish answer is that we would like to see it removed. We are not against continuing to experiment particularly with regard to stocking salmon. However, experimentation on stock levels and habitat could be carried out without the barrier. The barrier is there because of salmon ranching, but how are you going to salmon ranch on other rivers without doing exactly the same? That would mean every river in Northern Ireland would suddenly have a barrier on it, and I doubt if fishermen would tolerate that.


There seems to be a difference between salmon ranching and farming. There is salmon farming at Glenarm where the fish are held in cages. The idea behind salmon ranching seems to be that you let them out on the range, the high sea, then they come back again and you cull them. I am not sure whether this is something that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is going to do on all rivers in Northern Ireland, yet unless it does, why carry on with it here?


I can understand salmon farming - that is a different ball game - but salmon ranching is not the same. In farming you keep them in fields, as it were, the fields being cages. In ranching the sea is the great plains.


The Chairperson: That is very interesting because it is new to us.


Dr Adamson: It is nice to see you fishing on the Bush; it is such a well-known river, perhaps one of the most famous in Ireland. From your maps I see several features, which I have looked at throughout my period of interest in history. I see the village of Billy, which had one of the rectories that Cromwell did not expel during his period in Ireland.


According to the Rivers Agency's business plan, in 1999-2000, it will seek to clarify the legislative amendments in respect of both charging proposals prior to proceeding to public consultation. Do you feel that this would be valuable to you?


Mr Macafee: Yes. Since we started having meetings with the Department, it has provided us with a lot more information and is much more open in its approach.


In the '70s and '80s, in the early stages of the experiment, the community felt there was a degree of secrecy. This has disappeared, and we now get a reasonable amount of information. Perhaps I do not know enough about legislation, but I am not entirely clear what the question is.


Dr Adamson: The question was with regard to the business plan of 1999-2000 and if the Rivers' Agency will clarify any legislative amendments in respect of charging proposals.


Mr Macafee: Yes, I accept that that would be useful to us in terms of how much they will charge.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think that fish farms have reached an optimum in Northern Ireland at present?


Mr Macafee: Are you referring to salmon farming or trout farming?


Mr McCarthy: I am talking about salmon farming in particular.


Mr Macafee: Like most fishermen, we are worried about salmon farming in relation to the effects of escapees. The recent, rather shocking news from America is that salmon will be produced much faster. However, should these salmon escape it would be a disaster for wild salmon. My personal view is, and I think many of the association would agree, that we would not be in favour of a great increase in the amount of salmon farming. The cultivation of wild salmon would have a greater economic potential.


Mr McCarthy: Are you content as to where we are at present?


Mr Macafee: I think so, although we would have to be honest and say that we do not know enough about salmon farming. I would not like there to be a knee-jerk reaction just because we are fishermen. We must have a balance between the fishermen and salmon farming.


Mr McMenamin: You are very welcome, Gentlemen, and thank you for your presentation. I am intrigued to hear you talk about anaesthetising salmon. Am I right in saying that when both wild salmon and farm salmon that are released and then return, it is the farm salmon which are kept and sold and the wild salmon then go on up the river? Are the wild salmon anaesthetised as well?


Mr Reynolds: Yes.


Mr McMenamin: Is that due to the change of colour?


Mr Reynolds: No. It is not. It is down to the condition of waters of the River Bush which are inclined to be boggy. The salmon turn a pretty deep copper colour later on in the year.


The Chairperson: Is that because they miss their own water run or, because of their lack of energy? Do they lose the sporting element and not get very far up the river before deterioration?


Mr Reynolds: I have noticed over the years that anaesthetised salmon lose their active playfulness and the urge to run upstream.


Mr Macafee: Maybe I could illustrate this. When the barrier breaks down, as it can do at times if something goes wrong, a run of fish will go over the weir and carry on naturally. I remember seeing fish jumping further up the river near the Stroan Bridge at Bellisle. These fish came up when the barrier was off, although this only happens occasionally, maybe three or four times in 10 years. These escapees run up and jump in a more natural way and because they move fast they have not lost that silvery colour. That is my point - it is staying in the water that discolours them.


Mr McMenamin: I have a couple of questions on pollution, but I am intrigued with the question of anaesthetisation. How is this carried out?


Mr Reynolds: A liquid is poured into a bath where the fish swim.


Mr McMenamin: Regarding pollution, do the group feel that increased penalties are appropriate or should the agency consider a more positive approach? Does your group believe that rewarding good environment policy and procedure could be a more effective means of reducing pollution? Other groups have suggested that rainwater facilities are being used for washing machine and dishwasher waste, which goes into the river untreated. Are you aware of this? Should local councils be responsible for monitoring this, or should it be the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure?


Mr Macafee: There are three or four questions there. To take the last one first, surely a combination of yourselves and the local councils would work here. To monitor that kind of thing, you really do need to have a local knowledge, but at the same time some finance from outside may be required, and also co-ordination is important.


Pollution is certainly a problem, and it is not unique to the Bush, as you appreciate. On the carrot and stick approach, I think that you probably have to use both. Some farmers seem to feel that the river is just a place where you put stuff, but in my view, the majority of farmers are not out to pollute rivers. Obviously there are some accidents, but there are a few people, not always farmers - sometimes you find oil coming down the river from somewhere. If someone is really doing something wrong, they should be punished, but we need to educate people and get them on our side, rather than simply hitting them with a big stick all the time.


Mr Reynolds: I would definitely agree with that. Some of the farmers in the area just do not have the money to do what they should be doing. When I was working, I felt sorry for that type of farmer. Most of them, once you give them a warning, are very helpful within a few days. There are a lot of problems with pollution. There is so much fertiliser being put in the fields, and the Bush is a big farming area, a very rich farming area. A lot of things happen which are unaccountable, insofar as we do not know what the cause really is.


Mr Macafee: By way of illustration, the weed problem that we have is largely due - not mainly due, but largely due - to fertiliser coming in. It feeds them and they grow even more and then it silts more, and they grow more and it really becomes a problem.


Mr Davis: Good morning, Gentlemen. I have some questions on policing of game rivers. I note that you mentioned that in your submission. The effects of over- fishing have meant that the stocks of salmon are not being given the chance to improve. Do you believe that all sales of wild salmon should be banned? That would make it more difficult for poachers to market their catches. Are you aware of any prosecutions, in your particular area, of poachers, farmers or even the Department of the Environment itself?


Mr Macafee: Willie, you would be more familiar with that subject than I would.


Mr Reynolds: When I was working, I had quite a number of prosecutions every year. It would have been up in the teens for poaching alone. As for pollution, I remember one time I had 20-something pollution cases in court in one day. Poaching is not a big problem on the river Bush at this time because we have not got the fish for the poachers to look for. It would not be profitable for them. That is the way the Bush stands at present. Poaching was rife in my time. You used to be out seven days a week and sometimes all night. On the coast there was another problem. There was illegal netting from the Bar Mouth to Glenarm. You had to look after all that and you had to seize substantial numbers of nets every season.


Mr Macafee: On the subject of the sale of fish, personally, I am against the sale of fish. I do not sell fish and I do not believe in selling fish. However, it is pretty rife, and people pay for their fishing by selling fish. This situation does encourage poaching. I believe that a tagging system will be introduced soon which may help with that problem to some extent. However, I do not know whether it will really help, to be honest. Was there a third question?


Mr Davis: Mr Reynolds made reference to the situation in the past. Since your time, do you think that the record has improved, or has the situation deteriorated?


Mr Reynolds: First, the record on pollution has improved. Secondly, there has been a huge reduction in the levels of poaching largely because there are no fish - that is the problem there. If there were more fish then poaching would still be rife. There are no fish so it is not worthwhile to look for them. I was a very keen angler, and I have a licence, but I have not taken out a Bush permit for several years because it is not worthwhile.


Mr McCarthy: Your association is concerned with pollution and its effects. Table 22 of the Department of Agriculture Report for 1996, shows that the Department spent £122,000 on pollution control, and in 1997 it was down to £111,000, which is a steep decrease. We do not know what the up-to-date figure is, but has this reduction had an effect on pollution control.


Mr Macafee: The reduction means that the money is not being spent on these controls. We have noticed that, since Mr Reynolds retired, there has not been a bailiff as such. There is a bailiff for north Antrim, as far as I know, but he has to cover - how many rivers?


Mr Reynolds: From the Bar Mouth to Kilrea, and from there to Glenarm, in a line across the country.


Mr Macafee: It is difficult for one man to be in all places at all times. This situation has resulted from the fact that they can only afford to pay a few bailiffs. If they are going to have more bailiffs they need to get the money from somewhere. This situation is closely linked to pollution problems. Bailiffs will notice and take action against pollution, but if there is nobody there to see waste being dumped it disappears. Quite often this occurs at night and has gone by the next day, or else it is so far downstream that nobody knows who the offender was.


Mr McCarthy: Presumably this needs to be tackled through Government funding?


Mr Macafee: Yes. Allocation of resources is necessary right across the board for pollution control.


Mr Reynolds: I objected to the sale of wild salmon while I was working. All sales of wild salmon should be banned because it left us in a very difficult situation. The nets were a different thing, but when rod anglers sold fish it was very hard to work out who had caught the fish and whether they were legally caught? All anyone had to do was go to whomever was buying, produce a rod licence and that person would be in the clear. If you held a rod licence you could sell as many poached salmon as you wished. I was always against that.


Mr McCarthy: We have talked about agricultural waste which could, and probably does, represent a large threat to the environment. Is this monitored in anyway, and whose responsibility do you think it should be?


Mr Macafee: I honestly do not know. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development should have figures because, under the salmonid enhancement scheme, water quality is being monitored.


Mr Reynolds: It would have figures. I used to I take samples every three weeks from all the rivers that I was responsible for and left them in with the Department. The office was in Belfast before it moved to Lisburn.


The Chairperson: I have a question on trapping and the circumstances surrounding the Bush trap. What happens to the fish that are reared and taken in at the trap? Are they used for further breeding, sold or both?


Mr Reynolds: Some fish out of the trap used to be sold on days when a run of fish was on, but it then became so low that they could not be sold. Only brood stock have been kept over the last few years. All the hand-reared fish are stored as brood stock to produce eggs later in the season.


The Chairperson: To rear more of the same?


Mr Reynolds: Yes. They are kept separate from the wild fish. Other fish bred in the hatchery are wild.


Mr Macafee: We have to emphasise that point. The hatchery uses wild fish to create the eggs used to produce the fish that are put upstream to enhance the normal spawning areas. The other fish are a separate entity. They are hatchery reared - as far as we know.


The Chairperson: Are some of the wild salmon eggs used to restock the Bush river?


Mr Macafee: The restocking of the Bush river upstream is done with wild salmon, not the hatchery- bred salmon. It is argued that they are now two different strains of salmon. Why, or how, I do not know, but it is said that there is a difference, and there probably is.


The Chairperson: You also described it as an experiment.


Mr Macafee: The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development would probably call it the River Bush project. It is experimental in the sense that it is trying to find out a whole range of things about salmon, and it has certainly collected a lot of very valuable data.


The Chairperson: Is it nearing an end?


Mr Macafee: It does not look like it.


The Chairperson: How long is it intended to continue for?


Mr Macafee: I do not think that I will ever fish the Bush again upstream in its natural state in my lifetime. The Department has another 20-year lease. The only objection we have to that is that we would like to find some way of getting the wild fish to run naturally. The Department argues that it is impossible now that it has created these two strains of fish. Well, it did not create the first strain; that was natural.


Mr McMenamin: I am very disappointed to hear that such a famous river as the Bush is not valued by fishermen as a viable place to fish. Would you be in favour of a ban on salmon fishing at sea to enable more salmon to come into our rivers? In relation to cormorants - and obviously you would not have many problems with them if there are not many fish about - is there a means of solving the problem without shooting them?


Mr Macafee: You would expect me to say "yes" to the first question, being a fisherman. However, one has to be realistic. Something should be done about netting at sea, but the Department's research shows that most of the netting, particularly of Bush salmon, is done around the coast and not out to sea.


I am not quite sure of the facts on that one. Buying out nets would still be an important part of any attempt to increase the numbers of wild salmon coming into our rivers. I do not know how netting at sea could be controlled. In an ideal world most salmon fishermen would wish that sea-fishing did not happen, but to be honest, that is pie in the sky.


Mr Reynolds: The cormorants have been a serious problem on the River Bush for at least thirty years. The main colony is on Sheep Island off the north coast at Ballintoy. It is the biggest breeding colony in Britain, and at one point there were 400 breeding pairs - I have been complaining about them for years. The stocks of sea fish around the coast were exhausted, the cormorants started to come inland and the River Bush were their first stop-off.


I eventually got Bushmills salmon fisheries station interested in the matter, and Dr Kennedy did a count on the River Bush for some years during the spring months from February, the period when the cormorants arrive on Sheep Island to start breeding. The study lasted three years, and on some mornings there were over 400 cormorants feeding on the River Bush. I have a leaflet from Dr Kennedy, which outlines what sort of birds were feeding.


At that time I was told to shoot so many birds and let them feed for as long as possible, because they would feed either upstream or downstream. The longest feeding time for any of the birds I shot was seven minutes, and the contents of the birds averaged out at six salmon parr per bird after seven minutes feeding. Dr Kennedy wrote a paper which suggested that the cormorant population took between 50,000 and 70,000 smolts from the Bush during the spring run. That is the situation on the River Bush; the cormorants move in from Sheep Island and the river's catchment area is a rainbow for them.


We once counted over 60 birds landing together in one flock at the lion park at Benvarden - we lost count at 64 birds. Those birds then flew past us to Connagher Bridge and went on. More should be done about the cormorant situation, because the trout population is completely fished out in the River Bush. There is a photograph in the new university at Coleraine of a cormorant with a rainbow trout weighing two and three quarter pounds, which it took out of my dam.


Mr Shannon: Is it correct that the only method of controlling the cormorant is to shoot them?


Mr Reynolds: Yes, because the Department of the Environment poisoned the rats on Sheep Island 35 to 40 years ago, and since then, the population of cormorants has increased. There were only 20 breeding pairs on the island at that time and since then, the population has increased every year. The cormorant has a life-span of about 18 years.


Mr Shannon: Another method of controlling cormorants, apart from shooting, would be to dispose of their eggs. Has the Department been approached about this?


Mr Reynolds: Sheep Island is a sanctuary and, therefore, I do not know if anything can be done about it. I have a permit for shooting up to 30 birds, which runs until the end of June. This comes through the salmon station at Bushmills to me.


Mr Macafee: Some of our members do have the same permit as Mr Reynolds for shooting birds. Mind you, you have to be out early in the morning to get them.


The Chairperson: You mentioned Dr Kennedy; where is he based and who exactly is he?


Mr Reynolds: He does research in the salmon fishery at Bushmills.


The Chairperson: So if we were to contact him about his research, we could do so.


Our two guests have been on the go now for the best part of an hour and have done exceptionally well. I would like to thank them particularly because they have illustrated many areas for us with which we are not familiar, and that is very useful. Thank you very much. We will see that your submission is circulated to the members.


Mr Macafee: May I thank all of you for taking the time to listen to us. It is very nice to be able to talk to local people about these things.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon

Mr Morgan ) Braid Angling Club
Mr Coulter )


The Chairperson: Good morning, Gentlemen, and welcome. Would you please go ahead.


Mr Morgan: On behalf of the Braid Angling Club I would like to welcome the investigation of inland fisheries by the Committee of Culture, Arts and Leisure and congratulate you on your progress. Thank you too for your invitation to the Braid Angling Club to put forward our views on inland fisheries and to make a submission.


I would like to start the ball rolling by giving you a slight breakdown of the Braid Angling Club - where we are, where we have come from and where we hope to go. We fish about 10 miles of water in Antrim, which drains down from the Antrim hills into the main system. Our club was formed in 1962 and current membership is around 300. Subscription rates for salmon and trout fishing are excessively low, I think you would agree. Associate membership is £20 per annum, and local membership is £15 per annum.


Junior membership costs £2 per annum to encourage young people to join. Day tickets cost £5 from 1 March to 31 July, and £10 from 1 August. The club has placed notice boards along its stretch of the river with information on the rules and regulations. Day tickets are available from three major outlets. We have plans to create a web site, and we are part of Broughshane's community group. We all want the same thing - to bring tourists into the area, and to encourage business - and we feel that a web site will help. Our fishery has not reached its potential, so we do not want to overfish it, and that is holding us back. We welcome this inquiry, for, as you will have read in our submission, a lot of issues need to be addressed.


The number of day tickets sold is a reflection of the river's quality over the years. In 1995 we sold 64 day tickets with a revenue of £390; in 1996 we sold 58; and in 1997 we sold 54. 1998 was an exceptionally good year for salmon fishing. A combination of high water throughout the summer and the halting of drift-netting earlier in the season meant that in 1998 our day tickets and income trebled. This shows the importance of getting it right. Unfortunately, 1999 was one of the poorest runs and our day tickets dropped to 58 with an income of £350.


Drainage schemes over the year have washed a lot of the spawning gravel out of the nursery streams. To rectify that the club launched a number of enhancement schemes on which it spent £11,000, of which £8,800 was grant-aided by the Salmonid Enhancement Programme. We erected gravel-retaining groynes to try to re-establish some of the spawning beds. Early indications are that they have been successful. This year we secured £7,800 from North Antrim Rural Action for access to the river. To make our river "fishable" we need to ensure that, for example, elderly anglers have good access and that all anglers can be covered by the necessary insurance. We spent £10,735 on putting stiles along our club's stretch of the river. Over the last three years we have spent £22,000 enhancing our river.


We have done this because we want to improve our fishery. We realise that in restocking we may be filling other people's nets, but it is better to have plenty of fish for everyone rather than none for anybody. Over the past six years we have stocked the river with dollaghan from the Ballinderry fishery and from the former Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Division. We have been electro-fishing our system, taking the brood stock to the hatchery at Bushmills and bringing the fry back. We have stocked more than 140,000 dollaghan and 120,000 salmon fry in the system.


We feel that, as a club, we are doing everything we can. We do not have the legislative powers that we need to police our rivers, and we find that we are not only having to police them, but bailiff, enhance and stock them as well. It is our belief that some of this responsibility should be shouldered by more authoritative powers, and hence the reason for our inquiry.


At this point my colleague Stephen Coulter, secretary of Braid Angling Club, will give a brief summary of our submission and highlight where areas of discussion may arise.


Mr Coulter: You may not all know where the Braid river is. It drains the western side of the Antrim hills via the River Maine, Lough Neagh and the lower River Bann to the sea at Portstewart. It is a pretty little river, set in beautiful countryside, especially above the village of Broughshane - but, as we both live in Broughshane, we are obviously biased. The river flows through Broughshane and the town of Ballymena before joining the River Maine, just below Galgorm. It holds a large number of small wild brown trout and also has a run of dollaghan, which are large Lough Neagh trout, as well as salmon later in the season.


It is an important spawning tributary of the River Maine and the Lough Neagh Lower Bann system. As Mr Morgan said, the club was formed in 1962, but we are also members of a group called the Maine Enhancement Partnership. This group comprises all seven angling clubs along the River Maine, and we meet regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. The club has always sought to look after the river by reporting pollution, trying to control poaching - presently we have eight private water bailiffs - and providing other facilities such as building stiles, stocking and weed cutting. This was also mentioned by Mr Morgan.


In the last few years, we have been very busy and involved with the Salmonid Enhancement Programme. We were surprised when we counted up the number of fry we have stocked in the last six years - 250,000 in total, including dollaghan and salmon. Approximately £2,800 of the club's own money was spent on that stocking programme.


No doubt you will have read our submission by now. Please feel free to ask any questions concerning it. We may have had a bit of a moan, as you can see, but we do care passionately about our rivers and their surrounding environment.


If we can sound a more positive note we believe that we have a superb natural asset that is ripe for improvement, and that there is a huge market out there for game and coarse angling holidays This is particularly true in England where they are not blessed with the rivers that we are. I meet many visitors to this country, and last Thursday I met a guy on the River Mourne at Sion Mills. He was an Englishman who had just landed his first ever salmon. He told me that he goes to Scotland on holiday every year, but added that he saw more salmon on the River Mourne in two days than he has seen in Scotland in years. He was absolutely delighted and no doubt will be back.


I have also met anglers on the Lower Bann, where I fish regularly, and they tell me the same story. Sometimes, when looking at our own problems, we can be too negative, but these guys who have seen what is happening on the mainland still believe that our rivers are superior to theirs. So we have something to look after and something to improve upon. It is not all doom and gloom - there is time to do something about our problems, but we must act positively. Man has interfered with the natural environment, and he has a responsibility to care for it and to try to prevent further damage and make restoration where possible.


Although there were others, we highlighted in our submission the eight main problems: high seas netting; Lough Neagh netting; pollution; hydroelectric generation; fish farms; nursery and habitat enhancements, or the lack of them; cormorants; and consultation, or the lack of it, with angling bodies. We believe that all of these issues can be addressed but that new legislation is required. New management structures, and more money, are required. I will not go any further. Most of your questions will bring out the points we want to talk about.


The Chairperson: We have copies of your written submission, and we have a series of questions in respect of different area interests. My question relates to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the issue of equality. Do your club members represent a cross-section of the local community and community organisations such as disability groups and Age Concern? Do disabled anglers, who want to fish with your club, face specific problems? Have you any ideas about improvements that would help in this matter?


Mr Morgan: Club membership is divided into two categories; local and associate. Our local membership is captured within a ten-mile radius of our club border and that would consist of local fishermen, and it would be cross-community. Each person's name would be placed in front of the committee and he would be admitted, provided he is not a rogue. Associate membership is made up by members from as far away as Newtownards who come to fish the river. We would be fully committed to the equality legislation.


Mr Coulter: With respect to disabled anglers, there is an Irish fly fishing disabled anglers club - I am not quite sure of the full title - and it has been given permission to fish the river without day tickets.


In the village of Broughshane, there is a short stretch of the river alongside which is a riverside walk, which the village improvement association has made. There are stands for disabled anglers along that stretch. The facilities are not used much. Only a couple of people would use them regularly.


Mr Morgan: The Disabled Anglers' Association has arranged annual fishing competitions on the River Braid. To assist them, we provide free access to the river, and we stock the river with takeable fish two to three days prior to the competition. That gives them something to fish for, as they are not able to cover large stretches of water. In the past, that has been a very successful competition and we have always been well congratulated for our assistance.


Mr McCarthy: My question relates to pollution. Our information is that Government financing to counteract pollution is reducing. The figures show a reduction from £122,000 to £111,000. Has that had an effect on pollution control? Does your association feel that increased penalties are appropriate, or should the agency consider a more positive approach? Would the group believe that rewards for good environmental policy and procedure could be a more effective means of reducing pollution?


Mr Morgan: What year do those figures relate to?


Mr McCarthy: 1996-97.


Mr Morgan: You do not have more up-to-date figures?


Mr McCarthy: No, but there has been a reduction in funding by £11,000 during that period.


Mr Morgan: You would like to know how that has impacted on our fisheries. From information that I have gleaned from newspaper articles, the number of cases of reported pollution has probably increased over the last few years. That could be as a result of people becoming more environmentally aware, and also, with helplines and other such things people are reporting more cases. If it were left solely to bailiffs to report cases of pollution one would see a drastic reduction in reported cases. That is not because there is a reduction in cases. We have only one Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) bailiff trying to cover a massive amount of ground, and he cannot do it.


Last month a small stream which runs in to the Braid was polluted. It was detected but the case was dismissed on a technicality because the name of the farmer was wrong. We must be more heavy-handed, and we need more policing. There is no doubt about that. One FCB bailiff covering the amount of ground that ours is required to is a nonsense. He is missing cases. As chairman of the Braid Angling Club, I am getting phone calls from members of the public telling me that part of the Braid is stinking with pollution. There has also been a very good response to our hotline. The calls are routed through England and reported back to us. However, that could be more centralised.


To sum up, we are depending on the public to police the rivers. That is not right. We need a proper authoritative body that can do the job right, put investment in and provide the manpower that is required to do the job.


Mr Coulter: With regard to your question about rewards, I do not think the FCB can police the rivers to catch offenders. Therefore, I do not see how it could manage such a system. As Mr Morgan said, the FCB bailiff who covers the Braid also covers the Glenarm, Inver, Braid, Clough, Maine, Sixmile, Crumlin and Glenavy. There is no way one man can cover that ground. The FCB is seriously underfunded and the legislation is inadequate to do a proper job. As to whether that reduction in funding has had an impact; I would say it has. It must have.


Mr McCarthy: So a system of rewards for good environmental policy could not be implemented because of the lack of resources?


Mr Coulter: With the lack of resources it would not work, but perhaps, in theory, it is a good idea.


Mr Davis: My question relates to the Rivers Agency's business plan and its intention to obtain contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Would your group feel that these charges should contain an obligatory pollution prevention component? Should these contributions be obligatory or voluntary?


Mr Coulter: I am not familiar with that. I know that Rivers Agency works can often be a bone of contention with fishermen. They rarely tell us if they are going to do anything. They place something in the newspaper and if you happen to read it well and good. If you do not, the first thing you know is when you get a phone call to tell you that there is a digger in the river. Usually if you find something out and ask questions, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Fisheries are happy enough to come and meet you. It would be nice for fishery owners to be consulted at an early stage as any works done on the river can have an impact on the fishery itself. Work carried out on the river for drainage, or whatever, should include a contribution towards restoring the river when they are finished their work, and, if possible, making improvements.


Mr Morgan: I can cite two examples in the last couple of years on our own river where we were not informed of ongoing or proposed work. One example was the Millennium project. They had to divert the river through the Millennium Park, and the only access for migratory fish was through two concrete pipes. The other example is more recent. They had to build a new weir, now known as Acheson's weir, as part of the mill project which is going ahead in Broughshane.


They have done an excellent job, but we heard about their activity second-hand, having to make it our business to contact the Fisheries Division of DCAL to arrange a meeting with them, along with the developer and architect. We had an on-site meeting, resolving some minor problems which had been overlooked. However, these could have been dealt with through an initial meeting. Those are two examples of consultation with angling bodies, and the issue is also mentioned in my submission. We feel we know our rivers' requirements fairly well. We should be involved in the initial development stages of projects before things are made public. As Mr Coulter said, some of the revenue should be set aside for environmental protection.


Mr McMenamin: I am particularly delighted to hear the story of the tourist catching the salmon on the River Mourne, since my back door looks onto it. In your submission, you state that the current protection bodies should be disbanded and an independent rivers authority set up with full powers of control and prosecution. Could you expand on that?


Mr Coulter: As we see things, there are currently a few problems. If I might give an example, there was a situation on the River Maine recently where a fish farmer allowed smolts and juvenile trout to get into his farm, resulting in their being killed. He was prosecuted, but subsequently caught committing the same offence on several other occasions and taken to court again. He asked for an adjournment to allow investigations into how he might solve the problem, which was perfectly reasonable. When the matter came back to court, it transpired that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Fisheries Division had given the man advice which was used against the FCB, resulting in the case's dismissal. On the one hand, the FCB attempted a prosecution, while on the other, the Department gave the man advice. I have no problem with its giving advice, but there is a difficulty if one agency is working against the other.


One of the worst polluters is the Water Service, which current bodies do not have powers to prosecute. If a sewage plant poisons a river, the Water Service should be prosecuted in the same way as a farmer. I do not see why it should be granted any immunity. Tourist anglers coming to Northern Ireland have to buy one licence to fish the Mourne and another to fish the Bann. In such a small country it seems crazy to have so many divisions, taking in the Foyle Fisheries Commission, (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission), the FCB, and so on. The FCB now has such a bad name among angling clubs that they have lost confidence in it. Perhaps now would be a good opportunity to have a single body with control of the rivers which could police and improve them.


Mr McMenamin: Certain groups have suggested that waste water from dishwashers and washing machines is entering rivers untreated. I am sure you are aware of this. Do you feel that local councils should be responsible for monitoring effluent, or should that job go to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure?


In your submission, you mentioned having eight bailiffs on the river. Who finances them?


Mr Morgan: It is voluntary, although one or two of them do receive small amounts for travelling expenses. It is voluntary. One or two do get expenses for mileage as they are travelling a distance but it is a small amount. It is dedication basically.


In answer to the query about the discharge into the rivers, I am not aware of it. Are they exempt, can they discharge into the rivers without treatment? Yes. Do councils currently monitor that?


Mr McMenamin: No, but should it be monitored by councils, or should it be monitored by this body?


Mr Morgan: It is not being monitored. I think it would be better to police the rivers for a single body, such as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, or a new body. It would be pointless having councils doing separate bits; one body should do the job.


Mr Coulter: If the system was properly designed to begin with, it would be going into the drainage system rather than into the storm water system. Discharge from dishwashers and washing machines should be going into the sewerage system.


The Chairperson: That is a building control requirement, not a council one. There is difficulty seeing where responsibility lies.


Mr Coulter: It has to be properly designed to start with.


Mr Shannon: My questions relate to fish farms. Perhaps I could gather some information from you that should help the Committee. There has been a reduction in grants for fish farms over the last number of years. One of the concerns that we have is the knock-on effect on the fish farming industry, specifically in environmental protection. Have you any information to show if this is the case? Do you feel that fish farms should have some of their profits ear-marked for environmental protection? Have you any thoughts on how fish farms could be policed and who should be responsible for that. Should there be bailiffs, should it be voluntary, should it be paid for by the Department?


Mr Morgan: First, the grant aiding of fish farms -


Mr Coulter: Is it trout or salmon farms that you are talking about?


Mr Shannon: Salmon farms.


Mr Morgan: You mean salmon farming at sea rather than fish farms on the rivers. I was going to answer it from the point of view of what affects us more directly, and that is fish farms on the rivers.


Mr Shannon: It would probably relate to both.


Mr Morgan: We do not have fish farms on our stretch of the Braid River but we do further down.


Mr Shannon: Is there then an effect on your membership from a few miles away?


Mr Morgan: Yes, fish farms do need tighter policing and legislation, but it all comes down to the operator. There is one fish farm system, which is well run. It follows most of the legislation. A different operator flaunts most of the legislation and is cited in the submission, although not named. Every operator is different. If each ran his fish farm to the letter of the law, there would be less of a problem. A tightening up of legislation would still be needed, but if farms were run to the letter of the law, they would not cause as much grief. Escapees, smolts being caught in fish farms, and grids left off, all could be stopped by following operational procedure. There needs to be tighter policing, and whatever body is given responsibility for that, whether the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure or a rivers authority, must be empowered by legislation to provide bailiffs to inspect fish farms to ensure they are correctly run.


Mr Shannon: It might be helpful to have some of the revenue set aside to pay for bailiffs and enforcers.


Mr Morgan: It takes money. You have to pay someone to do it. It is clear to us that there is underfunding, and checks are not being made. It is hard to know what profit fish farms make. There should certainly be a statutory minimum percentage of that revenue ploughed back into environmental protection or to pay for policing, bailiffs and things like that. I would be in full agreement with that.


Dr Adamson: We are very anxious that there should be full consultation with the community and the consumer. Can you give examples of any times when your club has not been consulted fully regarding changes in policy or practice over the past few years?


Mr Morgan: We have previously mentioned two, and the one that comes to mind is the Millennium Park. I am not aware of any other major infringements. I am thinking more of future legislative changes. We would like to be involved if Committees are deciding to change legislation through the Assembly. The flow of information between angling bodies and clubs should be up front, as we have ideas that would be useful to any legislative changes. We are after the same thing. We want angling to improve to the levels that it was 20 or 30 years ago with a view to providing better angling for you and me, but also to bringing tourists to this country.


I cited in my submission the fact that the North of Ireland receives £1·5 million revenue from tourist angling. It is somewhere between £30 and £40 million in the South of Ireland. They are not 20 times bigger than we are. We have equally good rivers. That, more or less, would answer your question.


Mr Davis: Have you had any feedback about any grievance tourists coming to Northern Ireland may have in relation to angling?


Mr Coulter: The licensing set-up is a problem. I forgot to say earlier that the Department also has private fisheries that require a separate licence. It is possible that you may need four licences on an angling holiday in Northern Ireland, which seems a bit crazy. That would be the main problem. Some people to whom I have spoken have small problems with individual situations but most have been very happy with the angling here.


Mr Morgan: This does not apply so much to the Braid, but I know one thing that frustrates visitors from the Continent is the amount of litter on our rivers and beaches. That is a serious problem.


Mr McCarthy: Who leaves litter behind, the angler or the tourist?


Mr Morgan: I mentioned the Braid because we are fairly particular about that. I cannot say what happens on other rivers, but in coastal areas, beaches and such like, it is washing in from God knows where. Northern Ireland generally has a very bad reputation for litter. I know that is not so much our problem, but I would like to see hefty fines for litter.


Mr McMenamin: One of your main concerns is the increase in the number of cormorants with the decline of the natural feeding stock and sand eels in coastal areas. You suggested the situation needs close monitoring and effective control. Could you give a brief outline of the legislation governing this practice, and what action can be taken to prevent cormorants from catching smolts and fry?


Mr Morgan: As I cited in the submission, the food source at sea is declining markedly and cormorants are now having to move inland. I was not aware, until a day or two ago, of the legislation on sand eel netting. I am not sure how much it is done round these waters. In some of the Danish countries, sand eel netting is substantial and provides a normal food source for cormorants. Perhaps, somebody on the Committee can say what the degree of sand eel netting there is around these waters. If it is substantial, that is something that needs to be dealt with. I think that it goes into animal feeds as a protein source, but it needs to be looked at. I do not know how extensive it is around our waters.


I know from the Maine Enhancement Partnership (MEP) Committee that at Shane's Castle, on any given night, if anybody in this room went down there, he could count up to 1,000 cormorants nesting in the lower mouth of the River Maine. A survey conducted a number of years ago on the Bush showed that cormorants were taking 70,000 smolts every year.


Mr Coulter: If you want a wee trip, we can organise one for you to see the mouth of the River Maine. Every night they are there. It is a major problem. You are probably hearing this from everybody. We all have the same problem. It is not pie in the sky, they are there in their thousands.


Mr Morgan: You asked what control measures there could be. My belief is that cormorants are a protected species, although you can get a license to shoot a certain number in a given area per year. Besides shooting them, the only other thing you could possibly do is go into the nests and destroy eggs, but, being a protected species, you would need to get the blessing of the RSPCA and other authoritative bodies. This an area which does need an immediate review.


Mr McMenamin: What about some form of culling?


Mr Morgan: The alternative is to give back their food source at sea, but we are not very hopeful about that.


The Chairperson: We have had some evidence, though we have not had an opportunity to quantify it, that there has been an increase in the netting of sand eels to such an extent that there has been a reduction in their natural food supply.


Mr Coulter: They seem to follow the Bann up stream to the lough. That is their route. If you are there early in the morning you can see flights of them coming overhead. They are like fighter-bombers coming over in droves. They come down again in the evening. It is widespread and is easy to see, if you want to see it.


The Chairperson: I would like to tidy up some bits and pieces.


One of the areas that you referred to in your submission concerned the commercial fishing for trout or dollaghan, pollen and coarse fish in Lough Neagh. Section 5.5.5 of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Angling in Northern Ireland says that while the Department and the FCB can obtain statistical information on salmon, trout and eel catches from fish dealers' registers, these powers do not extend to coarse fish. You seem to suggest in your submission that this situation had not changed since 1981. Is that so?


Mr Coulter: The whole thing is a mystery. Nobody really knows everything that goes on, even those who claim that they do. There appears to be a lot more fishing than is reported. There are more boats fishing than there are licences. It is very difficult to know how many fish are taken and what type they are. I know there is a reporting system, but quite frankly we do not believe it.


Mr Morgan: We are not confident about the figures which are reported on catches from Lough Neagh. We have one FCB boat to patrol Lough Neagh; there were two but, one is missing. There is no way in which one boat can patrol Lough Neagh. It is massive. Perhaps we are being sceptical but we do not know what is going on in Lough Neagh and we suspect that a lot more fish are caught than reported.


The Chairperson: We have tough laws regarding hydroelectric generation and I quote:

"Turbines are becoming an increasing danger on our rivers due to the so called environmentally friendly policies towards renewable energy."

Many other groups have made the point that turbines are running with exemptions from using fry guards. Is your group suggesting that there are illegal plants operating and, if so, how could these infringements be reported more effectively?


Mr Morgan: We know of one operator who is flaunting the planning consent conditions about generating during low flow conditions and this is why a review of the weak legislation governing the operation of this is needed. We need to tighten up on the legislation on the running and policing of these hydros. We have nothing against them if they are run properly. An impact study should be carried out before any diggers go into the river or any changes are made to facilitate a hydro scheme. This is a fairly substantial report - the DETI report on small hydro-electric schemes. It highlights some of the major problems that we still have. Steps are being taken to try to address these problems, but we need tighter policing of the operations of these hydros. The people who operate them are there to make money, and if they can get away with generating when someone's back is turned, they will do it.


Mr Coulter: New legislation is needed. The Fisheries Act was passed in 1966 before we had hydros and fish farms - there are more holes in it than in a Swiss cheese. The bone of contention on the River Maine is water abstraction. Under the current Act there is no limit to the amount of water that an abstractor can take. At the main hydro in Randalstown it is over one kilometre long from the intake to the outfall, and it leaves one kilometre of river lying in puddles. It seems crazy but it is as bad as that. The health of the river should be looked after first and then if there is surplus water, the hydro can take it and produce this green energy. The water abstraction laws are non existent, and that needs to be addressed. There should be reasonable compensation flows left so that the river is kept in a healthy state and the safe passage of fish is accommodated. At present it seems that the hydro operator is being accommodated more than the fish.


The Chairperson: That is an interesting point. Thank you for helping us with the legal implications.


Mr Coulter: On the River Maine, a compensation flow was set by planners after consultation with the then DOA's Fisheries Division of 2.78 cubic metres of water. The River Maine at that point is almost 100 yards wide and 2.78 cubic metres of water spread over 100 yards is a few inches. The River Maine is being left empty. If you drive over the road bridge into Randalstown you will wonder where the water has gone. The race runs along beside it, nice and full and fast-flowing. That 2.78 cumecs is only sufficient to keep the river alive, to ensure that the biotic state of river is maintained. There is no consideration for fish movement or angling.


Mr Morgan: They rely too much on the weekend closures, for fish who happen to migrate on Saturday and Sunday. We get a lot of rain, quite often at weekends, but better flow regimes could be set up. Minimum sensors could be installed in the turbines, making them inoperable if the water is below a designated level. That would mean that fish would have access to the weir every day.


Mr Coulter: They are going to have a big problem now, because they have given these operators ten-year contracts. If they alter the terms, they will probably have to pay compensation. They rushed into a lot of these NFFO schemes. This DETI report on small hydro- electric schemes highlights the problems they are now facing. They are going to have trouble addressing that.


The Chairperson: Throughout your submission, you kept coming back to supervision. You said you have eight bailiffs. I take it these are volunteers. If, for example, there were a pollution outbreak, they would not be able to act immediately. That would go through the official bailiff. They do not have that status. They are supervisory eyes and ears, if you like. Would you see any benefit to the use of resources in such a way as to enable local fishing clubs such as yourselves to provide personnel to be trained, and perhaps partly funded, as bailiffs? Some clubs pay for full-time bailiffs. Is there a way to use that resource for better cover, better training for bailiffs, better standards of reporting and more immediate reaction?


Mr Coulter: Our bailiffs are sworn in by the local court. They have the same powers as FCB bailiffs, but the FCB will not accept samples from them. If they observe a pollution incident, they cannot take a sample to the FCB for prosecution. That is a pity. When somebody is there, perhaps give them a bit of extra training, as you say, and the equipment to take samples. They are the guys who are on the river. Their job could be made a lot simpler and more effective.


Mr Morgan: Training is the key word here. As far as I am aware, there are no facilities for training. We have tried to get the FCB to come down and speak to our bailiffs and tell them what their powers are. There are legal matters here. If procedures are not followed when lifting tackle from an angler, you can get in trouble. We are soft-footed in that respect, when it comes to picking people up with no FCB licence or club card.


I would like to see a facility where bailiffs are trained by whatever authority is going to police the rivers. As you say, some type of funding available that would partly pay for private bailiffs. If we are not going to get an extension of authoritative bailiffs on the river, we need to rely more on our own private bailiffs.


Mr McCarthy: How are these bailiffs identified? Do they wear ordinary clothes?


Mr Morgan: They have identification cards.


Dr Adamson: We hope to have a submission from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I myself am a life member of the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Have you any formal contacts with these organisations?


Mr Coulter: The relationship between the Ulster Angling Federation , which is an umbrella group for the majority of the angling clubs in the country, and the RSPB, is good. There is liaison between the two. The cormorant issue is quite thorny because we do not want to be accused of killing birds. However, the societies themselves recognise that there is a problem. They have not denied that. They have argued that if the problem was fixed at sea the birds would stay at sea. The situation is difficult.


Dr Adamson: What about the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA)? Is there any contact with it?


Mr Morgan: No, I do not think there is any direct link.


The Chairperson: May I thank our two guests who have been very helpful today. I think that it has been a very interesting morning and has given us a greater and deeper insight into the difficulties and problems that are being faced out there - from all perspectives. Members, thank you for your questions as well. This open meeting is concluded. This formally ends the open session.



Members Present:
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson) (in the Chair)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff
Mr Shannon
Mr McMenamin

Mr W Steele )
Mr D Morrison ) Fermanagh Angler's Association
Mr J Morrison )


The Chairperson: Good morning, Gentlemen. You are very welcome. If you would like to begin your submission, it should be about 10 to 15 minutes and no doubt there will be some questions.


Mr Steele: Good morning and thank you for having this delegation. My name is Wilfred Steele, and for my sins I have been the chairman of Fermanagh Anglers for 15 years and have been a member for 20 years. On my left I have David Morrison, a member of Fermanagh Anglers for some 20 odd years. On my right, Jim Morrison, a member of the committee and also a member of Fermanagh Anglers for something over 20 years.


It is a pleasure and privilege to be here, quite a humbling experience, nevertheless we do feel that it is necessary to put forward the case of angling in Fermanagh.


Angling we feel has got a tremendous future in Northern Ireland. As a bank manager or former bank manager I had to do an assessment of the Fermanagh scene by way of its economy and how it impacted on the economy. Right away we could see that Lough Erne contributed over £18 million to the area, by way of guest houses etc. This was again back in 1990 so the figure of £18 million is again a minor figure, in my estimation that figure would be more likely to be £25 million at this stage.


Lots of people in Fermanagh require the water quality of the lough to be in pristine condition to encourage tourists from all over the world to be there. It is Northern Ireland's only major game fishery for a boating scene for fishing.


Anglers from Northern Ireland, who when water quality and rivers are low, would come to Fermanagh to pursue their piscatorial interests.


The club, by the way, has a history starting in 1927. It has membership of 100, with a further 20 associates and other honorary members. They have been very interested in the ecology as well as the fishing on Lough Erne.


Over the years they have seen fortunes rise and wane and at this moment in time we will say we are on the waning principle on Lough Erne. We would love to see that actually redressed, and we have a number of suggestions.


Since the introduction of the hydro-electric scheme at Ballyshannon we have seen a downfall in the movement of salmon into the system and we are aware that people have spent lots and lots of taxpayers money trying to encourage those salmon to come back into the system. As we see it there are three major impasses to the movement of salmon into the system: first of all at sea - the nets in the Ballyshannon estuary; after that they have to go through the main dam at Ballyshannon which was hither known as the Catherine Falls; after that they have to go through Cliff, another hydro-electric scheme; so those are major obstacles for the movement of salmon.


Also salmon are expected, after they do their sea journey, to go down something like 30 feet before they meet the water racing up, which is in the natural system of things where salmon ordinarily run on the surface. Over the years we feel that the pass that was designed has not adequately met the needs of the salmon. So something needs to be done or looked at to bring salmon back into the system.


Since UDN, which was a type of decease in trout, that was back in the fifties, trout have started to reappear but that has been again with the aid of the trout hatchery and movement of trout from Movanagher, the sole supplier of trout to the Erne scene.


We feel that in Fermanagh they have been using a dollaghan strain fish. To explain dollaghan is more a bottom feeding fish not a surface feeding fish.


Those people who will be fishing the tributaries of Lough Neagh will be more familiar. The opportunity to take dollaghan is only available when they start to migrate at the end of the year. Ordinarily to try to get trout on Lough Neagh in the conventional fishing season would be a wasted effort.


We feel that the trout that come to Lough Erne with their predominantly genetic strain of dollaghan could not meet the needs of fishermen in the area.


We are delighted to see that up at Marble Arch Caves there has been a new hatchery built, again with lots of money coming in and we feel that is the way forward to assist nature in getting trout back into the Erne system. Again it is only an attempt to assist. We feel that the major effort would be to assist nature itself in that the environment must be protected and the tributaries of the Erne system should have water quality to allow fish to regenerate in their own genetic way on the rivers.


We also see a number of other things: we realise in Erne, that the Lower Erne really encroaches on three counties and that the Erne catchment area encroaches on some seven counties. They are: Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Donegal as well as of course in the North, Fermanagh and Tyrone. So we recognise that it is a system which has to be looked at by cross border interests as well as ourselves.


For many years we have been paying a licence, a rod licence just to be able to carry a rod. It is a relic of the past that we have to pay for a licence to carry a rod. Golfers do not have to pay to carry their clubs. Having said that I do feel that as regards a permit, permits have been looked at as to where you go and are permitted to fish. On the permit scene we see that the future for that is recognised within the catchment area of fishing, say for example on the Erne and the upper waters of the Erne that the same permit covers all its waters.


Across the border we are aware that trout fishing is free. In the north we have to pay for trout fishing. As such we have a game permit which permits us to fish for salmon and trout. Having said all this we feel that the money that is given to the system could be a bit like the road tax, not necessarily spent on the roads. We haven't seen financial reports for this past number of years as to what is actually happening with our money and we do not know at this stage of time whether the fishermen are getting good return and value for money.


We in Fermanagh feel that the expanse of water that is there would really require an on board testing station for the water quality of the loughs.


At this stage in time if there is a water pollution incident, all samples have got to be collected within a very short space of time and transferred up to Belfast where, if it is not properly taken and if say, it falls at the weekend, the sample can be destroyed and of no further use as evidence in the pollution incident. We feel that the water is so expansive and the catchment area so big, giving an idea of the size of it there is 4,340 square hectares of water. That covers the upper and lower catchment area.


Another idea, if you look at it, to go round Lough Erne from Enniskillen down to Belleek, right round the lough is 48 miles, the distance from Belfast down to Ballymoney or down into the Mournes. It is a lot of water and thankfully it has a nice road system round it.


The travelling tourist already knows what our water scene is. In the water scene they come over here and we find in a sense we are paddies in our own land. I use the expression in a sense that visitors are very welcome but when they abuse the rights, more often than not they are not penalised and we feel that a way out would be if they are coming in and using cruisers the same principles should apply as to a person who owns a ladder. If I owned a ladder and somebody falls off that ladder that has been loaned to somebody else, I as the owner of the ladder am responsible. If the cruising fraternity who make lots of money out of the system in a sense were to take responsibility for the people who use the cruisers, and have say for example seven or eight rods and have only paid for a coarse permit, I feel that is a total abuse of the system. The local anglers and quite often trawlers, have two rods and two permits. Two rod licences are quite a lot of money, you are talking in terms £150. The tourists come in, pay £4 and says, I am only fishing for coarse fish and he takes whatever he can get his hands on.


Going on from there, we feel that the people of Fermanagh are not, I don't mean through the MLAs, but fishing as such is not properly represented on committees. There are only 2 or 3 people who get the opportunity and we will find that other people with vested interests grossly outnumber their representation on committees than do the people with a fishing interest.


You have our paper and I feel that if you have read our paper, from this point onwards that mutual benefit will be gained from either questions that you would raise to us on that paper or any questions that you would have to raise with us. But at this time I would rest what I have got to say. Thank you.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much Mr Steele for that informative, very interesting presentation. We do have your paper and we have read it. You have raised very many serious questions that certainly this inquiry would like to address. We have a range of questions which we would like to put to you.


I am going to start the question process. We are all now found obliged under Section 75 of the equality legislation to remind everyone that there is a requirement on all of us to address the issue of equality. So can I ask you that question. Does your club have members who represent a cross-section of the local community and are there representative of groups such as the disabled and the elderly?


Mr Steele: I can reply immediately and say we do not recognise class or creed, age or lack of it in our club. It is right across the whole board. We also have something from the historical point of view and ongoing for something like 20-odd years, anglers in the Cavan fishing fraternity, a return match, one year we host, the following year they host. There is a great relationship and understanding over these past 30 odd years where there have been other difficulties in our country.


The Chairperson: Do you encounter specific problems which may face disabled anglers? We know that there are a lot of problems for those who wish to fish with their clubs. Are there recommendations that you would make to improve the situation for the disabled?


Mr Steele: It is right that you mention that. We have hosted disabled anglers international outings and Northern Ireland outings at Fermanagh Anglers. But we found that when we looked at the legislation, we could not get insurance. Say for example we put a stand on the ground at a quay and we wanted to put a swinging jib. If someone came along, not necessarily our own members, trips on that, they can take a claim against us. The actual equipment would have to be inspected as to its ability to be fully utilised. So really and truly we have used manpower as opposed to getting physical equipment, feeling that we are less likely to have any claims by moving people physically from the land and into a boat. So manpower has been the name of the game by way of our facilities.


Incidentally we are not the only club in Fermanagh who have done that. I have been involved with another club, Lough Eyes, where only two weeks ago we had an all Ireland disabled outing. In our estimation we would like to do more and we have an open agenda for anything that the disabled would do.


Mr McCarthy: I have three questions, I will ask them one at a time. On pollution, you said that anti- pollution initiatives need to be pursued vigorously through immediate revision of pollution risk assessment, education and prosecution. Would you explain what you mean by "pollution risk assessment" and also what anti-pollution initiatives did you have in mind?


Mr Steele: Enniskillen as you know is a very old town. The water courses running from that and their sewerage systems have been for many years running into Lough Erne. It is an antiquated system that has to be addressed and will cost the public purse a lot of money to address. But having said that, we have a Silverhill sewage dispersal point where there is a process foregoing Lough Erne.


The people in authority see fit at this stage in time to spend a lot of money, something like £30,000 from point of view of memory, to abstract 17 tonnes of water soluble phosphorus. Water soluble phosphorus interacts with the algae in the lough and in particular periods of sunshine and warmth that will explode over two days to make the lough absolutely a green sorry and sick mess. So if you can imagine all the cruisers that come in here from all over the place, they are trying to escape and come to Ireland where they feel it is still green and clean. They are presented with algae that both stinks and is unpleasant and deoxygenates the water for all fish.


I feel that we have to address the system, needing more money, and for Silverhill to run constantly over 12 months. At this stage of time it only runs from March to November and it requires the water running through the system. But if you have a dry winter and you don't have the water fall, quite often your summers are wetter than your springs or winter, you do not have water through fall to assist the removal of the water soluble phosphorus. That is not abstracted from the Silverhill works.


To go on further in that, on the farming scene Fermanagh lands are wetlands. We have been encouraged by the agricultural authorities to help their lands by use of fertilisers and the prudent use of slurry. But slurry being applied close to water courses is going to exacerbate the problem that the rivers are trying to cope with. You could go on to other cases where you are talking about your population and your numbers whereas only a few plants on the scene who have got extracting facilities, those have got to be addressed. The public purse is going to have to look at that again as to how we look at the population numbers. A lot of sewerage systems require updating, because Fermanagh is a desirable place to be, more and more people are moving into it.


Mr McCarthy: We have the same problems in all areas. You state that persistent offenders should be prosecuted without exception. Can you expand on this? In your experience are offenders not always prosecuted?


Mr Steele: From the constant looking at the papers, fishermen are quite often disappointed to see that very, very minor fines are applied to people who constantly reappear.


We feel that a person for a particular reason, say a crack in a tank has only manifested itself, fishermen knowing the full facts. I had a case where I had to write a letter where a person bought a farm, bought a tank and unfortunately he also bought a problem. He didn't know his problem until the tank was full, the tank cracked. When it went to the judge, the judge didn't know that, he was going to impose a stiff fine. The man had been a person who had assisted fishing, had put a lot of his own money into sponsorship. A good case was made where the fishermen understanding the farming scene and what actually happens. When they see blatant offenders constantly getting away with it, we feel at that stage in time the law is not working in the favour of the fisherman.


Mr McCarthy: Finally, the Rivers Agency have indicated in their business plan proposals for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Do you feel that these charges should contain an obligatory pollution prevention component and should these contributions be made voluntary or obligatory?


Mr Steele: I feel they should be obligatory. The system should be fool proof against many disasters. They should be designed for the water down fall. We can have in this land flash floods and everything should be looked at to cover all contingencies.


Mr McMenamin: I must say that it was an excellent presentation. It is amazing when you mentioned there £18 to £25 million revenue that is coming into Fermanagh. Without a doubt that has to be applauded, no doubt the work that you put into that adds to the tourism.


I would like to ask a couple of questions. Basically to start with commercial fishing in relation to netting salmon at sea. In your submission you are suggesting that the netting laws are inadequate, could you give more information in relation to that? Also you suggested that all netting and benefit from capture and sale of wild salmon should be stopped. Do you think that all sales of wild salmon should be banned?


Mr Steele: My answer to all of those questions is yes. Salmon is a wild species trying to run the gambit of the system and it can be easily identified. For example, anything that is running a system outside a cage is wild. Bearing in mind at sea the systems that trawlers have today, they can literally vacuum vast miles of sea on known salmon routes. That is the capability. So it is only the few escapees that run back.


If you think of nature and the fact that salmon are trying to run back to the rivers of their origin, they have tremendous obstacles placed in their way. But the pleasure to a rod caught salmon is far more to the economy bearing in mind that already you can produce salmon for the table through all the wonderful new harvest agricultural systems. If you look at it, the Germans in particular and again I know this from being a former bank manager, and from salmon produced locally, they prefer the salmon that are farmed to so many ounces, that they can get so many steaks or fillets off. If you are taking in wild salmon, they come in all shapes and sizes. Such cannot be guaranteed to meet the palate of the German who may say it is slightly infected or whatever. But in our culture, wild salmon produced locally is more desirable.


We see that already there is an overstocking and potential for the plate from that scene, so why then go and interrupt nature where it is giving more pleasure to others and encourage more people to come. In years gone by Erne was one of the major salmon fisheries in the world, it is now practically non existent. You get the odd salmon and the person feels guilty killing them.


Mr McMenamin: In your submission as well you outlined your concerns and requested appropriate measures to be taken, to prevent the introduction of non-native species like carp and other organisms which may damage the fisheries. What are the problems associated with the introduction of non-native species and what do you mean by other organisms? How would they damage fisheries?


Mr Steele: I think one that will be hitting the media later on today is, the knowledge that we have within our system zebra mussels. There is no legislation in place for the examination of the hulls of cruisers or vessels coming into this country. So as such we now have a major problem in Northern Ireland of the massive growth in the introduction of the zebra mussels. They by the way, to give you an example, are so exploded on the Erne scene that they are able within five days to displace the water volume of Lough Erne. That gives you some idea. The jury is still out as to whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.


That all came about by the fact that you did not have in at that time legislation for examination of second-hand boats, the examination of Ballast tanks and all the rest of if which could bring in all the other organisms. There is no known natural predator to the zebra mussel. That is something, so the filtration plants that are all abstracting water are going to be presented with major problems to remove the zebra mussels from the filter screens as they explode into the different water courses. That is one I have named, there are others.


Take for example roach. Roach were unknown on the Erne scene, now they represent 70% of the population of the Erne. Fair enough they are now in its waters and the coarse fishermen are delighted with it, as such we do have major objections. We have no axe to grind with the coarse angler fishing for these fish. We are happy to see them do so. We would like to see them removed totally because of the explosion factor of these fish.


I feel, to go back to the legislation with the zebra mussels having come onto the scene, other organisms can come in which maybe have a greater potential for damage to our environment. The movement of all vessels from an outside source and into the area should in some way pass some sort of examination.


Mr McMenamin: Just for information in relation to a zebra mussel, how do they compare to the ordinary mussel?


Mr Steele: I have got a leaflet here, an example. This leaflet will be available. There are some details about it. There will be plenty of that literature.


Mr McMenamin: Other angling groups have stated that there may be problems associated with introducing fish to a river that they were not bred in. Have you comment to make on that?.


Mr Steele: It goes back to the past, I mentioned it by virtue of the dollaghan strain fish going into the Erne scene and going to the bottom, very, very hard to catch. There is no natural running system for them. The fishing in the rivers would be minimal in comparison to the fishing on the lough. Having said that we are going on to other species, the introduction of other species are going to put a further demand on the minimal available aquatic life that they feed on. There is a limited resource factor, so if you introduce others, you are introducing competition into the food chain.


Mr McMenamin: You also suggested indigenous group fish should be identified and maintained to create a fresh source of fish for restocking native fish identified in a particular river or lake complex. Do you think that the building of many small hatcheries by clubs using the Salmonid Enhancement Programme could be used to provide localised stock for restocking?


Mr Steele: I do.


Mr Davis: Could I come in on the question Eugene raised, and I am asking this question on behalf of Mr Jim Wilson who could not be here today through illness. He is a very keen angler. It is in relation to commercial fishing. He had asked the question that as the River Erne drains via the Republic of Ireland any valid commercial netting of wild salmon requires the Dublin Government's approval. What he was actually saying was do you feel there is a strong lobby within the angling fraternity in the Republic to bring this about.


Mr Steele: I am not familiar at this stage of the actual structure of the Republic's fishing body, so to speak to and answer that question I wouldn't know. But I do feel that we could do with more fishermen to represent our interest. Having said that, you are talking about the commercial aspect of netting. I feel at all stages it should be balanced. If, for example, you are netting a species that is exploding, say for example the roach, no game angler would ever complain on that issue. You would never wish to happen again what happened in the past, namely the exploitation of pollock on Lough Erne, where they were openly being sold as herring, as a fresh water herring, and were also practically a unique species around by their small numbers.


That also came about, not only by netting, but also by pollution, apologies that I have digressed, but you can see the point that I am trying to get at. The balance of interests when it comes to talk about commercial interests, both from the game fishing angler who can see that there is an erosion of his interests.


Dr Adamson: Just as a follow up on that really, I am going to ask a couple of questions specifically about coarse fishing. There is no doubt a full appraisal of the economics and value of the commercial coarse fishery should be determined. You are suggesting that the anticipated extra income and employment generated through improved angling would more than offset the costs of buying out the commercial interests. Do you have any figures to support that?


Mr Steele: No. I have no figures to support that. All I can say at this stage in time, and this would be fact and I have two gentlemen who can bear me out, with the greater numbers of people wishing to take up the hobby of fishing with a limited resource it can only be sustained by the assistance of artificial means. In other words, we must assist nature, because fishing as a sport has increased. You don't want to go back to the stage where it was a wealthy man's sport. The ordinary man in the street can fish and he is doing so. But if you are fishing for a limited resource and it is not being assisted and it is being wiped out in the streams by pollution, you have got a problem.


Dr Adamson: Have you anything to add about the problems for anglers associated with commercial coarse fisheries?


Mr Steele: We would really see it on the netting basis, indiscriminate netting. That is where the difficulty will come in. I go back to the stage where I say that indiscriminate nets on the Ballyshannon system - at this stage I could speak again, sea trout which were to run the system that were maybe more able to run the system at the old falls cannot now get through the system, either they are blocked or prevented, but the nets are being blamed for the fact that we do not have sea trout running the Erne system. So you can see right away we want to have a lobby there who are looking at why are these fish not getting in, because they can enhance more and more fishing potential for people. In other words, that is income.


A net lobby just takes it, where does it go. We already know that there are fishing quotas all over the world, and yet these fish are being caught at sea to try to meet commercial needs. Yet if they were permitted to travel on to the leisure market there would be much more potential for the future, guest houses again, everything else, people coming in season; like everything else it has its season. The mayfly in particular on Lough Erne, people come from all over the world to fish the mayfly there.


Mr Shannon: I have a number of questions. I am well aware of the mecca that Fermanagh is for fishing; we would hope that Strangford Lough would also be. That is not to be in competition with you. Of course we would be in tandem with you. My question is firstly on bailiffing. You had suggested in your submission that the bailiffs should be increased in number. That is something that has come from all the deputations that have come to see us. Do you believe that the existing bailiffs are not carrying out their duties or jobs properly, or do you have suggestions regarding alternative arrangements that may be of some assistance to you. I suppose a question to follow that up is do you have voluntary bailiffs yourselves.


Mr Steele: I am involved with one club where we have now 12 out of 30 members as accredited bailiffs with one club alone. You come to the iniquitous position of justifying rights. There was a case last week where people were found at four o'clock in the morning, two adults and two juveniles. It has yet to go to court so I am not mentioning any names. But as such people fishing at four o'clock in the morning on a lake on which it is expressed right around the lough that it is private. That indicates you have got a difficulty.


On the likes of Lough Erne I think you have only got two people trying to bailiff it. I have already told you the size of it. You can see the difficulty. They can be away by the time somebody rings to get the bailiffs. You get incidents all over the place. But I feel that the answer comes in that the local clubs should be encouraged to appoint bailiffs within their system who are accredited to the point where they can come to make a citizen's arrest. The difficulty comes then in how do you approach a person who you know is doing something which is not quite lawful and he becomes obstreperous, and you know the difficulties with assault today. How do you hold the person's attention long enough when he is running away from the scene, saying I am a bailiff and I have to read your rights to comply with the law before you can actually reach the point that you have accosted him in the sense of a proper manner so you can then proceed through the courts.


The difficulty of a bailiff is to execute that particular duty where you apprehend a person who is carrying out the misdemeanour. So really you have got to have a greater number of bailiffs who are encouraged to do the job and who would be assisted by courts in their very difficult job of trying to deter people who are abusing the system.


Having said that, a rod man will only take a number of fish but an illegal net will do far far more damage in an offseason with running fish. So at the end of the year, our bailiffs, when you say the season is over, he may have caught a few rods during the year, but I feel that when migratory fish are running that is the time when you need more private bailiffs to watch the running fish so that they have a chance to run and spawn, rather than disappear to market or end up somewhere else.


Mr Shannon: What sort of training do you have for the volunteers. You mentioned that 12 out of 30 members of your club are volunteers.


Mr Steele: That is at Lough Eyes club, that is not Fermanagh Anglers. In Fermanagh Anglers we have a difficulty, we don't own our waters, but in Lough Eyes we own our waters and our own fishing rights. I am on a lough and I am only paying my licence, how could then I become a bailiff because I don't know there is any law enactment yet, so to appoint members of fishing clubs on industry-owned water or Department-owned water to act as a bailiff who would be accredited to carry out the duties that I have just mentioned.


Mr Shannon: The final question I want to ask refers to the byelaws of the facilities of Lough Erne. We know that they are in the process of drawing up the byelaws, and I assume that you will have an input into those byelaws in relation to the facilities. Who is responsible, and have you that direct input?


Mr Steele: I have attended, and I have been privileged to attend, meeting after meeting, and I despair when I start to see people in authority who have been elected into office who come along to a meeting and who have a vested interest, some farmer who wishes to have an opportunity to run, say, jet skis maybe in an area of the lough. To give you an example. At the confluence of the Woodford Canal it is just like Piccadilly junction between cruisers and boats and other vested interests, we haven't reached the point where we have got a speed control. That is something that is happening on Lough Erne, and it is happening all over certain parts of it.


I talked with former bailiffs, former wardens and they said all I can really do is chastise a person; they said I can't take up the courts time to do this.


One of the big problems on Lough Erne is the jet skis. I don't mean this from the point of view that we have a total conflict, I feel it is the use of water. We have not yet sorted out zoning areas for jet skis. A person can go in and invest maybe £5,000 or £7,000 of money, come along to a slipway and out they go into the water. Quite often they don't know the rules of etiquette of how the fishermen go about, how they drift or trawl. More often than not we have seen some crazy things like a 50 year old man with his grandchild on his knee bouncing along on the waves without any adequate safety clothing.


Another thing that we have got to look at as well is the rescue services of a massive amount of water. We don't have a proper facility of rescue. I myself have been personally involved in three life-threatening situations where there was no-one else to call on. Thankfully the people were saved, but without that they would have perished. I have had three experiences of that.


In this day of mobiles where we can call up assistance, I personally carry a mobile when I am on the lough to contact cruiser centres or whatever, so that I know if someone is in difficulty I would contact the nearest one. We are now told as fishermen we should not go to the assistance of a cruiser because insurance does not cover us or them. So that is something else that is happening.


So you can see between fishermen, insurance, and liability the whole aspect of how you use your water has got to be addressed. I think the code of etiquette, how you use it, has got to be determined. If that answers your question.


Mr Shannon: The code of etiquette is a voluntary thing, and that is really where the problems are. We want to have byelaws that have a bit of bite.


Mr Steele: We have our suggestions and we have put them forward. On the Erne we feel that designated areas, say for jet skis, and there are known areas for holidays centres. We feel that at this stage in time they have got it by default.


When it starts to get to the stage where you have jet skis running in around very shallow water disturbing the potential of fly fishermen and others who go into that water, it is fraught with danger. We know the danger ourselves because we are there, namely the depth between our keels and the rocks is quite dangerous. Having known the water you gain an experience over a lifetime. To find somebody coming through at 40 or 50 miles an hour, it is life-threatening, and yet we stand by and watch it.


If the area was zoned and defined for them, a stranger could come and say that is your area, you enjoy it, there is no life-threatening issues there for you. I feel that has got to be addressed. On the speed issue, we feel that a general speed limit, something like Windermere, should be addressed. Again there are two things: have your speed limit, that will save an awful lot of trouble right across fishing, ornithology, all the interests in bird life, all people on the lough; define your areas; it has got to be defined.


I know that we feel that ages have been spent on committee and not yet reached the final draft. I don't know where it is going. We would certainly like a bit more input in that from fishermen.


Mr Shannon: Obviously from your experience in Fermanagh, we are going to have to look at Strangford Lough as well. It is a zoning of areas for yachts or the issues that you talk about, for fishing or bird watching and so on. That is something that we are looking at.


One last question if I can, and it is in relation to the phosphorus. Again in your submission that you gave us you stated that phosphorus extraction plants should be installed in all but the smallest of the sewerage treatment plants. Just to ask you indeed what are the present procedures and provisions regarding phosphorus extraction, and can you perhaps briefly explain what phosphorous does to the fish when it falls into the water in the river again. Again it is something new to me.


Mr Steele: I am holding up a bottle of drinking water to show you that water soluble phosphorus is as clear as this. That is to start with. In other words, you can not actually see water soluble phosphorus. It is a chemical reaction that takes place with algae. Literally it goes out into the lough. In other words, a person can say that is lovely clear water, but with the interaction of light and heat with algae you have a bloom. Scientists know all about this and fishermen, of course, experience it. It deoxygenates the water, it doesn't help any life and it ends up with a tremendous pollution problem, shores that are stinking as it rots and goes to the shore, like seaweed in a lough.


To give you an example, Lough Neagh. I had the privilege of going along many years ago to Washing Bay when it had reached the point that Lough Neagh was being looked at as a source of water for Belfast, where formerly all the water for Belfast came from the Silent Valley. They had at that stage in time decided to spend a fantastic amount of money to have Washing Bay put in, and also to look at the water levels and water quality of Lough Neagh so that you could have water for Belfast.


It is a terrible thing that you look at something after the trouble has arisen. All of these things should be looked at in advance. You don't wish to have a problem and then have to spend thousands or millions of pounds to correct it. I feel that we should look at these things, really. Water soluble phosphorus, if you allow it to go and manifest itself, you have got a problem.


Mr Shannon: Do you believe the phosphorus extraction plants would be effective, I think you are saying that they are. But the big question, as it is in every issue, is who would pay for it.


Mr Steele: Like everything else, it is an environmental issue. Environmental issues affects everybody. It is not only the fisherman, everybody is affected. You talk about someone who is interested in birds; birds have to land in the water, and wading birds, everything, your whole environment goes down. When your rivers are polluted that is the source of regeneration of your fish life, everything that goes through a system in a river.


I think I mentioned to Eugene years ago, many years ago when Northern Ireland was a mill-based industry, linen mills and everything else, there were men employed just watching the water on the rivers. At that stage in time you had some of the best fishing all over our land because the quality of the water was great, and yet they had the potential for tremendous hazards - linen dams created tremendous hazards. Yet they were able to monitor and watch what they did with their linen water so as to do minimal damage to our land.


We are in this day of industrialisation where a small amount of chemicals can have a disastrous effect. It doesn't just do it in one day and it is regenerated tomorrow; the regeneration cycle takes a long time. A pollution incident can have a disastrous effect on a river for years ahead.


Mr Davis: I want to come back to the problem of what I call the two Ps, that is pollution and poaching. It seems to be coming through all the time that these are problems. I can understand the criticism and so forth, but if the present system is not working what would you suggest it could be replaced with.


Mr Steele: In this day of job demarcation, I feel that there are certain officials within the system who are employed on a Department fish farm and who may be called upon to go to a bailiffing incident or a poaching incident, if so authorised. To become a bailiff at this moment in time, you approach a solicitor, you go before a Crown Court for that person to have the accreditations to be able to do the job. I feel that with the system of the Department, if more of their men, for the few pence that it takes to get a photograph, then if there is an incident you can call on that official - listen all our officials are engaged today, send that fella along. In other words, without going to more expense you are talking just about job demarcation, get somebody off to the case to sort it out.


Again back to the private club or the clubs across our province, I think that you have got a resource there. Why not think of encouraging the individual to take an interest and assist them in bailiffing the waters which, as I say, are all our waters.


The Chairperson: Could I ask a question. I think it follows on from Jim Wilson's question which Ivan asked. It is on the whole issue of cross-border involvement. I am delighted to hear that you have such a good relationship with Cavan and you do interact. I expect that is beneficial to both your clubs. You did state that you are not au fait certainly with a lot of the legislation perhaps, and the bodies responsible for either enforcement or protecting the fishery industry in the Dublin administration.


Could I ask you since you have recognised the necessity to have greater cross-border involvement, how could we go about finding out things that you need to know, and how could better relationships be achieved.


Mr Steele: Could I give you an answer by way of example. Cavan is a known area for its impoverishment in the farming scene where a lot of interest is centred on the piggeries. Piggeries create one of the greatest problems over slurry disposal. Cavan as a county, most of the water courses drain into the Erne system. So much so that even the Sheelin itself is now a polluted lake to the point of disaster which formerly used to be a mecca for fishing, where the guest houses which were in great numbers now can no longer sustain their livelihood by tourism on the Sheelin as an interest. Some of our members are actually club members of the Sheelin system.


It has been through the knowledge that more and more piggeries are being created exacerbating the problem we learn that slurry is going to be transported cross- border to the Fermanagh scene. This is actually happening, so we have to use public representation to inform local Councillors that such a thing is happening. We feel that a movement of slurry on lands has got to be addressed. It shouldn't be left to private individuals with their own knowledge of something actually happening. As I say, it is an issue that affects us all, where do we dispose of our undesirables.


Another thing, we have the problems in Enniskillen where there are very old quarries close to the lough which can leach problems into the system, and again it is public bodies and interested parties who look at this, so it is fishing lobbies and interested people who address the matter that bring it to legislation for future address. Does that help. Of course, again fishermen would only be too happy that there is more representation North and South to recognise the interests of both.


The Chairperson: Perhaps this inquiry will go some way to addressing some of these issues here.


Mr McCarthy: The Salmonid Enhancement Programme, in your submission you congratulate the Department on the river enhancement through their Salmonid Enhancement Programme but you state that there should be further development. To what extent have you benefited from the salmonid enhancement scheme, and what further developments would you suggest to improve this programme.


Mr Steele: At this stage in time, again we are using a broad brush, as fishermen who fish both for trout and salmon over Northern Ireland, we see clubs like the Agivey Club where they have been assisted on the salmon programme on the Bann system. That has assisted the generation of the salmon in that system. Also you will always find that in so doing they are encouraging others to do the same thing. That is money, in my estimation, well spent.


Having said that if, for example, in the Fermanagh scene where we don't own our water, I mean it is so vast we don't own the water, the Department have a liability to assist that, because as I said it is a multimillion pound industry; in so doing, this is government money that has got to go into the programme.


At this stage in time we have got the starting point up at the Marble Arch hatchery where they have already identified the indigineous species of the area right across the whole spectrum. In other words, a coarse fish and also a salmonid species. They have identified species in those waters and they have sent them up to Belfast for examination and determination as to their percentage of indigineous species of the area.


In so doing, they are already doing the programme. That is only scratching the barrel. We need other systems like that to assist nature.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think the programme has been adequately funded?


Mr Steele: As a starter, but like so many things getting things started, once you have got it going - boys, take it over yourself. The problem is so great I feel that we have to spend more money.


Going back to the other issue I would like to say this: if you have water quality back and your rivers back, nature will look after itself. But unfortunately knowing, and past experience shows you, even with the best will in the world there will be more incidents. That is where it is essential that you have these areas identifying the indigineous species so as to allow the system to regenerate itself after the incident has taken place.


Mr McMenamin: I normally ask this question to every group that comes in, cormorants are a major problem. Do you have any solution with them or for them to eradicate them, apart from shooting. You did mention jet skis in the loughs, although we have a lough that is called Moor Lough and I have had dozens of complaints, not all from fishermen but from residents. But there, as you say, a speed limit would be needed. Apart from that, also, they are a serious cause of pollution as well with petrol leaking or whatever. So it is something that really needs to be addressed.


Getting back to the cormorants, do you have a solution?


Mr Morrison: Cormorants are a problem. They present very many difficulties. We now have a fishrearing station in Fermanagh and cormorants can be quite a problem with that alone, never mind taking fish out of the main lake itself.


They have been protected, as I am sure you are aware, for quite a number of years now. I think it has got to the stage where culling, if you like, needs to be undertaken. I am not advocating a complete slaughter of cormorants but it is like everything else in the environment that is dependent on fish or other sources for food, that their numbers increase beyond a time whenever it is not viable any more for them to be on a lake or whatever. When the food source that they live on in a particular lake begins to run low, then it is quite easy for them to move to somewhere else so then that becomes somebody else's problem.


I think culling at a reasonable time of the year and culling to a reasonable level would be acceptable by everybody, including the RSPB, if they were made fully aware of the detriment that they can carry out when their numbers become too prolific. I think they would accept a culling programme.


Dr Adamson: What about putting a bounty on their eggs?


Mr Morrison: I think that would have a wrong effect really. I don't think it would have the desired affect at the end of the day because they would all be wiped out, everybody would then be taking eggs. Again you are back to an education programme whereby everybody wouldn't be aware of what is a cormorant egg and what is not a cormorant egg. Other species could be destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. Culling is more secure and safe and would be undertaken by experienced people, and properly licensed people with guns and what have you, so no other species is going to be seriously affected as a result of that culling being carried out.


The Chairperson:I think they are protected to.


Mr Davis: I want to come back to the fish stocks, to preserve indigenous species of trout in a particular catchment, are you saying small hatcheries could achieve this where Movanagher can't? Do you feel the survival of indigenous Lough Erne trout has been jeopardised by Movanagher stocking?


Mr Morrison: Since the UDN came into Lough Erne that decimated what we knew as Lough Erne indigenous fish. Then the Department decided to undertake a stocking programme. They introduced trout into the lough which turned out to be trout from Lough Neagh. They then started to interbreed with what indigenous fish were left in the lake. As a result indigenous fish became less and less. The new hatchery that started up in Fermanagh is a joint North/South venture I should add. The south is very much involved in it as well from the point of view of the work that is undertaken. But the first part of its duties were to go out and use the rivers to capture trout. Those trout were then examined to be proven as to whether in fact they were Lough Neagh trout or indigenous trout of Lough Erne. The result of that is whenever they had done all that work, they can hold those fish, strip them, rear them to a certain level, reintroduce them back into the Erne system again. The one problem that we have with it is, the Department if you like, or the fish farm at Movanagher, are saying that they would not be prepared to pay money to the local hatchery in Fermanagh to stock the local waters with indigenous fish when the Movanagher have their own hatchery. Yet they do not stock the lake with indigenous fish.


There is a slight problem with that one and I don't know what the long-term answer to that will be. We feel because the hatchery is in our locality, because Lough Erne trout is unique that this question of restocking with the indigenous fish should be very, very strongly encouraged.


Not only from the point of view of the lake itself but from the tourist angle, the fisherman, everybody else, trout fishing and salmon fishing in the lake and I honestly believe that Lough Erne has the potential to be one of the finest lakes in Europe. I feel if it is properly looked after from a game fishery point of view and from salmon and trout, it has the potential to raise on average probably ten million pounds a year in fishing alone.


The Chairperson:Any other questions from members? We have almost come to the end of our time. I want to ask you one last question which all members are interested in. It does involve the Inland Fisheries Division, I think you are quite critical of the fact that they don't support local anglers the way you feel is needed and can you give some examples in your experience of how that has effected your club?


Mr Steele: When representation had been made in old Stormont, we got the impression that they had an agenda and the agendas were adhered to because of jobs. To side with the fisherman could put their job in jeopardy. As such we were getting a mixed message through the system. Now I feel it is such times that if people can address the situation without fear of their jobs, then we will get solutions.


The angler who has a vested interest in seeing his environment and fishing there, not just for his day but for the next generation, I think that person should be listened to. Without doing it, we are going to be in a disastrous situation and it has reached the stage that the waters are putrid and eutrophic and cannot sustain fish life. There are going to be problems right through the system for abstraction, which we haven't addressed today, which we feel is a big problem, water abstraction. But if the water quality is not going to be there in the first place you are going to have problems right across the board. We feel the fishermen should have greater representation in decision making and we welcome this opportunity today to come here and address the needs of Fermanagh to this body. Thank you.


The Chairperson: We want to thank you for your submission and for your answers, very informative and for your time here today. Certainly we take your submission and other things that have been raised here today, on board. Thank you very much.



Members Present:
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson) (in the Chair)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon

Mr K McCracken )
Mr M Holgate ) Moyola and District Angling Club
Mr T Maguire )
Mr M Dorrity )


The Chairperson: Good afternoon to Moyola and District Angling Club, you are welcome. You have 10 to 15 minutes to make your presentation and the members would like to ask you some questions or you may wish to appoint a chairperson to speak for you.


Mr McCracken: If I can start and introduce my team: Tom Maguire - Angling Development Officer for Lower Bann and Moyola catchment area and in charge of the bailiffs within Moyola Anglers. Maurice Dorrity - Trustee of the Club. Michael Holgate - Honorary Secretary of the Association. I am Ken McCracken, I am Trustee of the Club.


Very briefly, within the time given I want to run through a brief history of the club, what we have done and all the obstacles which the salmon face returning to our river.


The River Moyola flows from the Sperrin Mountains in County Londonderry for a distance of approximately 27 miles, until it enters the north west corner of Lough Neagh. The club leased the fishing rights on the complete river from Lord Moyola and Bann System. The club was formed in 1982 by a handful of anglers and has since grown to a membership of approximately 550.


Many improvements have been carried out to the river over that period resulting in the club being awarded the Benson and Hedges Conservation Award in 1990.


We undertook the construction of a hatchery in 1989 which to say the least was a Heath Robinson affair, but very quickly we realised that we had to build something better. Our hatchery now has the capability to produce around about half a million fry annually and we also have the capability to hold and smoltify a certain number of those fry. This has proven to be a very successful venture, because when we took brood stock from the river last winter for the hatchery, it was discovered, when the scales were analysed, 20% of these fish were actually originally from our hatchery.


We are a no barriers club and people from all communities, races, religions and cultures are invited to join. We issue day tickets to visiting anglers and we organise fishing competitions and functions for members.


The club have commissioned reports on water quality and more recently, a detailed survey was carried out on the whole river to identify all types of problems. This gave us a proper management plan to work to. That survey was undertaken by Aqua Care Services, it is a Dublin based firm employing qualified scientists and this survey is used as a bench mark by other clubs. It is referred to by some Government departments.


The plan has already been put into action as we have introduced silt trips to some feeder streams and a fish pass has been installed recently on another feeder stream and this opens up a great area, an excellent spawning area which prior to this fish pass being installed was out of bounds for the returning salmon.


Fifteen years ago it was rare for a salmon to be caught in our river because of pollution, poaching et cetera, but we believe that our efforts in the areas in which we have control have started to pay off as some anglers are reporting, the lucky ones are reporting double figure catches in a season.


There are things outside the control of the club with which we need assistance and if sweeping changes we feel, are not made immediately, the salmon will become an extinct species.


Some of these things take place at sea so let us look at the obstacles and hazards that the returning salmon have to cope with: starting with the Greenland feeding grounds with the extraction of krill on which the salmon has fed for thousands of years. This threatens his very existence. The obstacles of high sea drift nets. Scientists have shown that nets take anywhere from 30% to 80% of returning salmon, and these in our opinion should be totally banned as migrating fish have to return to their home rivers to spawn. If it must be, a properly controlled cull could be taken at the mouth of each river.


Next the salmon encounters coastal nets. We have knowledge of a coastal drift net scooping 747 in one drift, these fish were immediately boxed and landed, and the boat put out again and did a second drift which yielded 363 salmon. Surely this shows the lack of policy and policing.


Our salmon has to avoid the many bag nets, fixed nets and draft nets dotted around the coastline. Then the seals which nature has taught him to cope with. Once a flood comes down the river he is encouraged to run, and up to three years ago he had to avoid the traps or the boxes at the Cutts at Coleraine. But with a lot of pressure from not only our club but every club within the catchment area, Bann System thankfully removed these traps. This now leaves the fish at Carnroe Weir. This is impassable except in flood conditions and has been a bone of contention since we first complained about it in 1985 but nothing has changed.


Mr Anthony Woolonaugh who specialises in the design of fish passes was asked by the club to look at Carnroe and he thought the passes were inadequate and to quote his very words: "Before we deal with any other problems we need to start here".


The club also feel that the fish are artificially held back at this point so as to facilitate the anglers who pay outrageously high prices to fish here. These are some of our fish that we bred in our hatchery.


Once past Carnroe the next problem is poaching at Toome flood gates where the club has complained about this and a new fish pass was installed which seems to be working quite well.


The poaching is not just confined to Toome, it takes place anywhere where salmon are vulnerable. Tighter controls need to be in place, probably using some method of tagging to discourage the trade in illegally caught fish. However, we feel that this needs to be handled carefully as the angler can always be the easy target.


Fines for offences need to be greatly increased if a real deterrent is to be found. Now our fish are in Lough Neagh where he faces a considerable amount of legal nets such as trout nets, draft nets, fyke nets and bait nets, which unfortunately they are designed to catch a particular species of fish but they will also catch salmon or some of them will.


In a recent conversation a Lough Neagh fisherman revealed that over 50 trout were taken in a pollen net. There is no market for nine inch trout so they were immediately returned to the water dead.


Monofilament nets, many thousands of yards of those are taken by the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) each year on Lough Neagh but we were also informed by the Lough Neagh fishermen that because the chances of detection now are so slim, the poachers are becoming very cocky and they are putting floats on their nets, not even sinking their nets, they are putting floats on their nets.


Eventually our salmon reaches the mouth of the river to be greeted by a sand bar which impedes its passage. This build up at the mouth of rivers is mainly contributed to by bad policy of Drainage Division over many years, resulting in high speed flashes washing silt and sand towards the mouth, but once the flow rate slows down this suspended matter settles to form a barrier. When a flood comes down the river, the fish at last travel over this problem and he is in the river of his birth. At this point we finally get control of our fish. Unfortunately his problems are not over.


Although we have 25 court appointed bailiffs who took the same oath as FCB bailiffs, we have greatly restricted powers. We can only basically prosecute someone caught fishing without one of our permits. After that there is not a lot that we can do.


If pollution occurs we are not allowed to take samples or deal with the incident ourselves, instead we have to contact FCB to send a bailiff and more often than not we only get an answering machine to talk to. By the time FCB get the message the source of pollution has stopped.


We feel that the number of bailiffs employed by FCB is totally inadequate to cover all the water in Northern Ireland and therefore they rely on anglers and private water bailiffs to do a lot of work and be their ears and eyes. So our bailiffs should have the same power as FCB bailiffs.


Next the salmon have to cope with pollution which comes in many forms mainly from farms, factories and what we consider worst of all, DOE sewerage treatment plants. These plants run 24 hours a day for 365 days in the year. Our club met with a Mr John Eveson here in Stormont to discuss problems associated with the Castledawson and Magherafelt plants in particular, which had overflow pipes pumping raw untreated sewage into the river.


This meeting took place in 1985 and it made headlines in our local newspapers, the 'Mid Ulster Mail'. Today, headlines in the same paper dated 15 June 2000, shows the same pipe still pouring human waste into the Moyola. What did the DOE do in 15 years? Nothing.


Not only are adult fish killed in instances like this, but also small fry and the invertebrate life on which fish is so dependant for food.


Most farmers are responsible people doing a hard job in difficult circumstances, but occasionally accidents do happen. These people are brought to court and given a heavy fine and they compensate the fishery owners. The DOE are immune from prosecution. We feel this should not be the case.


To quote a recent fish kill caused by Maghera sewerage treatment works: "On a stretch of river we had stocked with fry the previous spring, our court sworn bailiffs had removed dead fish from the river and the Department of Fisheries said we could have brought those fish from anywhere". Hence they weren't counted for compensation purposes. We are talking about the same bailiffs who have taken the same oath in court as FCB.


A new problem that our fish might have to deal with on a river are the proposed hydro-electric schemes. Scientific evidence from abroad shows that hydro-electric schemes are not compatible with salmonid rivers. We hope this evidence is considered before any decisions are made. A recent report compiled by Mr Alan Keyes and commissioned by the former Department of Economic Development in association with Northern Ireland Electricity, states that with a few adjustments here and there hydros are okay. This is not the case and we feel this report was manipulated by those with financial interests.


We as a club do a lot within our powers to give our salmon the best chance of survival by opening up spawning grounds, by planting almost 1000 trees to make the river banks more stable and help reduce the siltation problem, by building a hatchery to stock with indigenous fry and by vigilant bailiffing for pollution and poaching. So we would appeal for help with the problems which are outside our control.


After avoiding all these hazards our salmon arrives at the spawning grounds. His most vulnerable time. Our bailiffs equipped with night sights, boats, radios and mobile phones patrol to give as much protection as possible to the mating fish. These fish spawn a few days either side of Christmas.


While the adult fish has done its bit and nature gets on with the business of producing fry until someone decides to put a digger in the river to do bank maintenance, namely Drainage Division. Even if the bed is not disturbed by the digger, silt can wash down the river and clog it, starving it of the oxygen which is necessary for the eggs survival.


Having come through all this the fish emerge in early March to spend two to four years in the river before starting its journey downstream. On this journey he faces the threat of being devoured by escapee rainbow trout which come from fish farms. He has to avoid the threat of being sucked into hydro-electric turbines, the threat of being poisoned by pollution, the threat of being accidentally caught in nets, and the threat of natural predators such as herons and cormorants.


Eventually he gets to sea and returns to the feeding grounds of Greenland and the whole cycle starts again. This, Madam Chairman, concludes our introduction.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr McCracken. Very informative and very interesting. Sometimes I wonder as I listen to the various clubs how there is any salmon at all, how they ever survived. It seems there is so much in opposition to them.


Mr McMenamin: Very good afternoon, you are very welcome. You did mention in your submission that you would like to see a reduction in the number of nets both inland and at marine. The FCB was responsible for making drift netting by-laws, you did say that you would like to see these by-laws changed? If so, in what respect?


Do you think that all sales of wild salmon should be banned?


Mr Holgate: I would think given the status of the wild salmon at present and the deteriorating numbers, it is imperative that wild salmon stocks are basically stopped from the point of view of sale. There is enough farm fish in the system now and enough people producing farm fish and the price is suitable for most households to purchase. It is no longer a viable operation to use wild stock. It is nice to get wild stock, but there is really no merit in taking it any longer, when it is going so far down the scale. It is up there in the World Wildlife Fund as being one of the most endangered species. It has to be brought back. It can only be brought back at the beginning of its cycle in the rivers and if we can take the high seas operation out of it and the various nets through the systems, until it gets up there, until we do get returns and then it can be managed. I think that is where the problem arises. It is management. It is not the fact that you want to stop anybody, we have to stop it now, it has got to a stage where it has to be stopped, if the management and quota systems had been brought in, in time, it wouldn't have got to this sorry state. But unfortunately it has got to it now, and we are only starting to redress the problems.


It is not just a stock problem, it is a habitat problem, it is right through the whole system. It has to be addressed at the very start.


Mr McCracken: If I can just add to that, salmon and sea trout are basically the only species of fish in the high seas that return to their home rivers to spawn. Therefore, as I said in the introduction, some people might laugh at this suggestion, you don't have to go to high seas to fish for these fish, these fish as nature dictates return to their home rivers to spawn. If we still want to harvest wild salmon, why can this not be done at the mouth of a particular river so that we know that it is under controlled conditions, that it can allow enough and sufficient stock so as to keep the species alive.


Mr McMenamin: What are the rules and regulations at present to control commercial fishing for salmon on Lough Neagh and are there different rules relating to netting. How is netting for trout on Lough Neagh presently monitored?


Mr Maguire: There are currently 30 legal salmon nets licensed on Lough Neagh which we totally oppose. Unfortunately the fish don't know the difference between the nets. There are over 100 trout nets. Take the 30 nets and take the 100 trout nets, whatever other pollen nets are available, all are killing salmon and taking salmon. Unfortunately we come across as bailiffs, nets of coarse fish and we will have to end commercial netting for salmon on Lough Neagh. That will have to be done by mesh sizes I don't know how that is going to be finalised.


Mr Dorrity: In 1997 the number of nets in Lough Neagh increased by 50%, which is detrimental to angling.


Mr McMenamin: With the sale of illegal salmon, you request a better check of hotels and restaurants buying in caught salmon and trout. Do you think a tagging salmon scheme would provide adequate control. Alternatively what method would you suggest to monitor hotels and restaurants?


Mr Maguire: I think the tagging is a very good system. We are talking here about the different powers that private water bailiffs and FCB bailiffs have. As a private water bailiff I would not have the authority to go in and check a hotel fridge but I would have the authority to open an angler's bag along the river or, if I suspected he had fish in the car, the authority to open that car or seize it. I would not have the authority to go into the fridge even under a warrant. So I think these are the things that we need to get into line with.


Mr Holgate: The merits in tagging, it is going to have to be something that is brought in. Really the only method that will suffice, where you are going to have a tag for a wild caught salmon and possibly a different coloured tag for farm reared salmon, so on inspection it is automatically obvious which it is. If it doesn't have a tag then the case is clear-cut.


Mr McCracken: But as I said in the introduction we do have to be careful because the angler can sometimes be the easy target. Bill Smith, the past Chairman of the FCB met with our club to discuss the merits of the Salmon Management Plan, and he talked about this tagging system. I just put the question quite potently to him, if I went out as an angler in the month of May and caught a salmon while fishing for trout - this has happened to me - while fishing for a trout I have caught a salmon, that was in the month of May in our river, it was in beautiful condition and I took it. If I was caught without a tag on that fish what would happen. He said: Oh, you would be fined, you would be taken to court, fined. I feel the angler can sometimes be the easy target. There has to be great care taken on how the tagging system is operated.


Mr Shannon: In your submission you made you mentioned about the FCB, and that is one of the things that I want to ask you about. In relation to the angling body, you said that you would hope to see one independent body in charge of fishery protection and conservation. That is something, perhaps, we have heard from a lot of submissions. We have a lot of submissions and that seems to be one of the themes coming through. How do you see that happening, and what structure do you think would be the best way of making that happen?


Mr Holgate: We have a really silly thing in this country where we have the FFC (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) and the FCB, where we have two separate permits or licences to cover the two definitive areas.


From a tourist point of view, which we would push very very strongly, it is a nightmare to even get a permit to cover you from one end of the country to the other. When we look at it, it is a very small country. One licence for one independent body to cover the whole area, we feel, would be a far better circumstance. The policing of that would have to be funded from government sources and from the licence permits as it is. They have the powers that they have at present and hopefully keep them and push on with that, and keep the co-operation that they have presently with the southern end of the thing; because you have Carlingford Lough and you have the Foyle systems who have encatchments in both areas. So that cross-border relationship has to be maintained and even strengthened.


The information that we get from the South, we admire the way they are looking after angling, everybody I think admires the way they are looking after angling, they see the potential in it, we do not unfortunately as yet. It would be one body to control the whole thing, with dialogue and co-operation to maintain it down that road. That would be the way forward, I feel.


Mr Maguire: Under the current legislation the FCB does a lot of policing in Northern Ireland. They have now been handed the responsibility for distributing the money for this so-called Salmon Management Plan. We as anglers feel that they are not fit to do the job that they are currently supposed to do (that is on the protection advice) without giving them a further £700,000 which they are trying to spend on fish counters and various things. These fish counters are not going to add one more salmon to the system. We would be better spending that money in the river, in the actual habitat.


Number two point, that their bailiffs, some of them have been with them for 25 years and have absolutely no interest whatsoever in their job, and this is quite clear. We have the 0800 number which Kenny highlighted that we telephone, that it is an answer machine. We will probably want to talk about bailiffing later on because you asked the question before. Maybe we will just leave it until later on.


Mr Shannon: Through the FCB, anglers have representation through the Ulster Angling Federation. I presume that the representation you have is not adequate or strong. Is that your position in relation to that?


Mr McCracken: Very much so. We feel that the FCB does not have enough angling representation. Netsmen have a lot more than we have. Game anglers contribute at least 60% of the FCB's total income; what representation do we have on their board - about 20%. We feel that is totally inadequate and can lead to a situation as in 1997, as someone has referred to here, where netsmen are allowed to increase the number of nets on Lough Neagh by 50%. Had there been proper angling representation there that scenario wouldn't have developed. So we feel that we are very much under-represented within the FCB. If we do get a new body, we would like to see a considerable amount of representation by anglers.


Mr Shannon: I think Mr Holgate mentioned about the licence fees. In a way there you touched upon it. You said that all anglers should perhaps just pay the one licence fee. Do you see that replacing the rod licence or the permits for game and coarse fishing? Again it is a theme we are getting.


Mr Holgate: Yes, I do. The majority of anglers, coarse or game, would revert to coarse fishing at the end of the game season and vice versa.


Again it is making itself up for where you are not coming in and being tied down as a visitor especially, even our own people. We have people coming through the club and we want to try to get them involved in the river. One permit or one licence for fishing on the Moyola, and there are club fees then on top of that, and then if they want to go outside that jurisdiction again they have club fees for some other place, or at least a day ticket. With one permit or one licence to cover the whole spectrum of angling it would be easier maintained. Certainly it is bound to cut down on the amount of paperwork and make it far simpler for anybody visiting, and ourselves.


Mr Shannon: One last question, it is hydro-electricity. In your submission you referred to hydro-electricity that would seem to be incompatible with angling. Of course, my question falls into one of those which echoes the schemes as such. You state that lattices and screens would have to be fitted into the intake and indeed the outfalls of some of the existing schemes. Is that because some of the existing schemes do not have these, or they have been broken, or indeed they have not been repaired, or maybe lastly that they have been granted an exemption?


Mr McCracken: These screens in order to be effective have to be made of a very fine mesh. They have to stop smolts, which are small four to five inch fish, from getting through those screens into the turbines. The very fact that the mesh has to be so small allows debris to build up very quickly in front of these screens. Then there is no water getting into the turbine, so what does the turbine owner do - he lifts the screens off. Free passage, everything is taken in, everything is sucked in.


I personally have went over the bridge in Randalstown and saw the weir there without any water going over it, all the water was being directed through the turbine. You could have walked over the river bed with your bedroom slippers it was so dry.


The smolt screens have to be in place to stop the small fish from getting through them. Some of the experts that I have talked to about hydros have stated a fish can pass through this without damage. I don't believe that. I have actually been in a turbine, I have been through it before the water went through it. I have studied it, I have looked at it, and I believe that a fish will get damaged, I believe a fish will get chopped up. It is like a giant mincemeater. I believe the fish would get damaged; at the very least the scales would be damaged on the fish. These silver scales are grown to protect the smolt from infection when it reaches sea water. If these scales are damaged and the fish goes out into sea water it is very susceptible to infection. So it is necessary that these screens are always in place.


We are not in opposition to hydro-electric schemes, we are for all forms of environmentally friendly energy. What we object to is where these things are positioned. There are 12 reservoirs in Northern Ireland where they could be positioned and they wouldn't interfere with migrating fish. Why must we have these things on salmonid rivers when there are other sites more suitable to have them, where we wouldn't have the same worry about smolt screens or lattices.


Mr Maguire: We look at the hydros, maybe the grids and things likes that, but it is a greater problem than that, because to get this power to get this water, to go through the turbine, you are raping the river of its water, which you have to divert. So it means that you have got in some places maybe two miles, maybe three miles up the river without water, maybe just a very minimal flow. Could you imagine going to a farmer and saying you want to take the grass off the top of his land. That is in actual fact what you are doing, you are taking away the whole life from the river until a flood comes. It is silting up and dried up and all your invertebrates and all your life on that river dies, so there is no feed for the fish again. It is greater than a few smolts just getting killed.


I went on a visit with a water bailiff one day to a turbine which had no grid in it. The gentleman was convincing the water bailiff what the size of these smolts were and it was no danger to them. The water bailiff says "Barney, would you stick your finger in it" and he said "I certainly wouldn't", so that was the end of the argument.


Mr Shannon: The example that you gave of Randalstown was one that was quoted in one of the deputations given, that you could always walk through the water because the water was not too deep, not because you were an exceptional man.


Mr McCarthy: Pollution: I detected by your presentation that you were quite angry by your experience. However, the question is that you stated that no Government body should be immune from prosecution. I have heard other clubs stating that as far as they know the DoE cannot be prosecuted. Is this what you are referring to, or are there other bodies which also would appear not to be prosecuted.


Mr Holgate: The DOE we consider to be the main offender, basically in sewage anyway. We had a typical example of a river we spent an awful lot of money on through SEP last year. We did a lot of work to it and we rehabilitated it. There was a marked increase and it was unbelievable. There was a sludge problem in it from sewerage works that wiped it out for two to three miles. We collected up the fish and everything else. We couldn't actually take the DoE to court on it, but we are part of the Anglers Alliance who do take Government Departments to court, providing they have the evidence.


The problem we had was quantifying the value of this fishery to us, because it is only a broodstock fishery the quantifiable value of it is very low. As anglers, if it had actually been a tributary that we actually fished, the value of the rod-caught fish is so much greater that they could have actually went for an awful lot of money from the DoE from a point of claim. As it is we have to settle with minimum stock; that is what they will basically do, the very minimum that they can get away with. That scenario has to stop. They have to be accountable for their actions, and the only way that can be done is if legislation is changed to make them accountable. The legislation is there to stop this happening, or is supposed to be there, but it is not there to prosecute if it does happen.


I hope that answers the question for you, I am not sure if it does.


Mr McCarthy: Are there any other bodies that would appear not to be prosecuted.


Mr Holgate: I think industry would have to have a cross to bear on this as well. Again, I think that historically the problem with Northern Ireland is that environmental problems have been very very far down on the list of what is really seen as essential and what is really of importance. Industry has been given basically the green light to do as it pleases because obviously it generates jobs, jobs are something that we need.


The onus on the actual industrialist is to get his consent. We have a hatchery built, we had to apply for consent of discharge. The consent of discharge meant that we could only put back into the river the amount of pollution we are allowed, and I use the word loosely here in pollution because we feed fish so we do have a certain amount of pollution. Without being too technical about it, the amount of pollution we put back into the system through our outflow must not be greater than what is coming down past it on our overflow. We stick to that, we adhere to that rigorously.


Industrialists are given a green light basically where they can bypass that, where they are not open to prosecution if they do exceed it. They haven't got the same requirements tied to them as we would have.


I believe that is changing. I believe there are stricter controls coming in now, but it hasn't happened in the past. There are still a lot of sandwashes, there are a lot of bleach suppliers or clothing manufacturers who are still putting stuff into the system which is detrimental to it.


The tributaries that they are going into, they are irredeemable because there is nothing there to sustain life if you did put it back. Again you are hit with the problem that, yes, you have a problem here but to address that problem you are going to have to create a whole new open system within your own bed and it is just not viable. You can't do it, that is the answer, they have a cop out.


Mr McCarthy: Just following on from that, do you have proof that sewerage disposal works are unable to cope with the amount of sewage produced, and what monitoring currently takes place.


Mr Holgate: The proof we have is as the Chairman outlined in the first part, 15 years and we have still got an overflow problem in Castledawson whenever the system backs up; in Maghera we have exactly the same problem. There was no provision set forward whenever the sewage works were put in place at the very onset that perhaps this place will expand. Of course, it does expand. All the urbanisation has expanded greatly over this last 10 to 20 years; sewage has been the one thing which has been left on the shelf, hasn't been increased to cope with it. So unfortunately we have suffered.


Mr Maguire: You know the pollution incident that Michael talked about last year on the back burn in Maghera, that pollution wasn't actually from our own sewage in Maghera, it was from other sewage that was brought in to be stored at that plant and somebody was filling a tank which overflowed into another tank which was open.


Mr McCarthy: What are the problems associated with the extraction of sludge from these sites?


Mr Holgate: Again that highlighted a problem there that a valve can be left open. Top dressing with sewage sludge seems to be carried out mostly on the highlands. There is very little of it done on the lowlands. We feel that a better way of getting rid of sewage sludge would be actually through some sort of anaerobic digester. I am certainly not the person to talk about it, there are other people here better to talk about it, but that was brought on board.


Mr McCracken: This anaerobic digester, it is not going to completely cure the problem but it certainly could alleviate the problem. Not only can it deal with sewage but it can also deal with slurry. There is a practical example of this which was built quite a number of years ago at Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone. It was designed by a Dr Les Gornell from Magherafelt. All the heating in the Abbey, all their hot water was provided by the gas drawn off the anaerobic digester. The monks were delighted, to use Dr Gornell's words, with the outcome.


It paid for itself within approximately a five year period. Doctor Gornell has presented this - I tried to have a chat with him no later than last night but unfortunately he is in England at the minute building one of these digesters at a sewerage treatment works in England. Apparently he had put the idea forward to certain Government bodies, whether it was DOE sewerage treatment or whatever, but he has certainly discussed the possibilities of having anaerobic digesters built at sewerage treatment works.


His wife told me last night, they are very slow in Northern Ireland on the uptake. Could this be another example of the Great British disease, we come up with a fantastic idea but someone else in the world makes use of it.


Mr McCarthy: Just to finish on that, I am on the Ards Council and we had a presentation by the Water Service last night, and they have discovered a Japanese invention, when it does come eventually to the village the water that will be pumped into Strangford Lough, you will be able to drink it. That was the forecast by the guy, so let's hope it comes about.


Mr McCracken: But the one thing about this particular anaerobic digester system that Les Gornell has developed, it can deal with quite a few environmental issues. Once the gas is taken off it can be used to power engines, to drive generators to generate electricity. So already we are looking at the problem that the NIE have, that is the problem of having to generate X percentage of energy by non-fossil fuel methods within a certain time scale. So here we have a completely natural thing that will do that without interfering with rivers.


The byproducts of such an anaerobic digester, one of them has been likened to ground coffee beans. This is an organic fertiliser, and could be used to replace artificial fertilisers, chemically formed fertilisers, and spread on the ground to grow crops.


The concentrated liquid which is also left after the process is likened to Baby Bio, which is a plant food which is sold commercially. Basically every component in the slurry is used, there is nothing left.


We also can deal with sewage in these digesters, as has been proven in England where Les Gornell has built these and they are working and working well. So there are quite a few issues, plus the fact that the aluminium sulphate which is dumped on the highlands which comes out of the sewerage treatment works, we wouldn't have this. So there are quite a few issues here that are taken into account by one project such as an anaerobic digester, I would feel.


There are bound to be problems. I am not the expert to talk about it, Les Gornell is the expert. There are bound to be some problems with it, there are problems with everything, but I think that it is worth looking into further, should even a pilot scheme or a trial scheme be introduced to see the effectiveness of these digesters.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. That was very interesting indeed.


Dr Adamson: Could I just follow up on that actually because it is one of the questions that one of our colleagues who is not able to be with us today, Jim Wilson, wanted to ask you. As you know he is a very keen angler. His questions were surrounding slurry disposal.


You have answered actually a couple of his questions, but in terms of this digester would it be self- financing. Would you know that?


Mr McCracken: Yes. Les Gornell is the expert on it but I know for a fact that the one at Bethlehem Abbey which, if you like, was a very early development, if you like a prototype (there have been lots of modifications made to it since then, it is more efficient). But that original one paid for itself within a five year period, and all they were doing was using the methane gas basically to heat the Abbey and selling the byproducts as fertilisers and Baby Bio.


Finance for this, if this is a good idea and works and works well, there are plenty of investors in the private sector who I think could be interested in such a project. Certainly it is an environmental issue. It is organic, it can produce organic fertilisers which produce organic crops. The monks actually grew organic wheat using the fertiliser. Everyone in shops now wants organic vegetables and they are prepared to pay a little bit more for them at the minute because they are more expensive to produce. But using this fertiliser, which is a byproduct of the slurry digester system, that reduces the cost and makes the organic vegetables a more viable proposition.


I would see no problem if the thing was marketed properly, I mean the byproducts marketed properly. It would certainly be an economically viable proposition worthy of a lot more investigation.


Dr Adamson: You see several of these then, not just one?


Mr McCracken: One thing that Doctor Gornell is working on this at the minute and that is to actually supply the power to the university. He is thinking or considering or trying to persuade people to allow him to build one of these to power the university. So you could have one of these at a hospital, it could supply the energy to a hospital. You could also have them being built at sewerage treatment works to deal not only with the excess sewage, but also if a farmer happens to be getting it tight and his tank is full and he can't get on to the land because the land is so wet, he could take it there for a small fee or whatever, but he would be glad to get rid of it.


So certainly there can be some of these which would be major installations, but I could see that there could also be lots of smaller ones especially at sewerage treatment works. We don't have to transport sewage to sewerage treatment works, the pipework already exists, it goes there. That is a perfect site for them.


Dr Adamson: You would envisage a small fee from a farmer, would you?


Mr McCracken: I would say that most farmers would be willing to pay a small fee to dispose of slurry that was excess to their requirements. Yes, I would see that.


Dr Adamson: Can we still see that at Bethlehem?


Mr McCracken: Yes, it is still fully operational at Bethlehem Abbey, but as I said unfortunately I couldn't get talking to Les last night otherwise I would have had a more up-to-date example to have quoted.


Mr Davis: I noticed from your submission that you use the word hoped, it is hoped that the sandbar in the river could be removed. My question would be who is responsible actually for that section of the river where the sandbar is located? What would be involved in having it removed? How much would it cost? Are you taking any action to have it removed?


Mr Maguire: That is a good question whose responsibility it is. I appreciate you asking that question. This sand bar, there are a number of problems related to it. There is a diatom in the sand bar which is only discovered on the west coast of America, therefore we had to involve the ASSI, it is there area, they have given us permission or given permission to Rivers Agency in Omagh to remove it. Our Rivers Agency in Omagh say they will gladly remove it if Moyola Anglers produce the finance to have this removed.


You will find that around the late 1800s there was an enactment through Parliament to control the levels of Lough Neagh. I think it was 1857 or 1858 the level of Lough Neagh was 62.5 feet above sea level at Coleraine. Today, that level is 50.5, a difference of 12 foot. If that difference were not in the level of Lough Neagh we wouldn't have this sand bar problem.


There were meetings with various bodies and the last meeting was in the fifties, where they lowered it a further three foot. At that meeting there was an agreement made with the fishermen around Lough Neagh that they would clean out their piers and sand bars from that to make access for fishermen but they had not thought about the problem they were creating in the rivers. On either side of this sand bar in Moyola river and Lough Neagh, you have 12 foot of water, so it seems to appear because the gravel is transported down the water as suspended solids, it meets the level of the lough and drops it there.


What the Water Executive today are taking, I don't know how many litres of water, you will have the figures from Lough Neagh are further adding to the problem. We think that the Rivers Agency and the Water Executive could come together and finance this.


One of the problems when we are, bailiffing we cannot get across the water. You can walk on it, it is getting worse every year.


Mr Davis: You have no idea what costs we are talking about?


Mr Maguire: The first cost would be about £150,000, you may have to clear it every 2 or 3 years after that, just a small track through it. It is not the clearing, it is the dumping of the materials. If this was cleared out, the ASSI was dumped out in the lough, but we have come with an idea ourselves that if possibly let us add it to the sand round the shore. If you clean it out and you add to the land you still would have your diatom present in the sand which is still on the water table of the lough. I would say £150,000 would do a good channel for us and help the salmon as well. The poachers can use it, instead of needing boats they can just walk across the sand bar with a net and deposit it there.


Mr McCarthy: In your submission you state that half the river is designated by the River Agency and the other half is not. Are you saying that the half of the river which is not designated is the part of the river which requires the maintenance work?


Mr Dorrity: That is correct. We have from Lisnamuck Bridge into the head with the mountains area where it is not designated that is our biggest problem, with the banks, with the increase in the farming and draining of the land there. You have more flash floods in the mountain and it is washing banks down and it settles in our spawning beds down the river. We need more bank protection. It is an area where we really can not get up with machinery in some of the cases. The DOE, the Rivers Department has been asked to come up and do this but they won't do it, they refuse to do it.


Mr McCarthy: Does the River Agency carry out river work during the spawning season and if they do what reason do they give for this?


Mr Holgate: They do carry out work unfortunately during the spawning season. We tend to try and work as best as possible with the Rivers Agency because we do have a siltation problem within the lower system. Most of their work is outlined for carrying out from March to October. Depending on the weather that we are actually having, it is hard sometimes to get on board and to get the work done during those periods. Last year we had major work done in one of the tributaries from Magherafelt to below Castledawson, the Coppies Byrne. They were not supposed to be in there during the period of November to March and the actual contractors were in through November and December. I complained to the fisheries manager and he said the problem is they could not get in before because of the weather. You need the proper weather to get it done.


In the year previous to that they were actually doing work, they took the beds out and dredged the bottom of the river in the lower section below Castledawson when fish would have been running. That was more serious and unfortunately we didn't know it had happened until the work had been completed.


They should not be in the river at that time of the year. We are putting our efforts in to try and get some balance brought back and we are being thwarted, sometimes naturally, but they are not helping some of the cases.


A little more thought is required if unfortunately it is going to have to stretch over a year.


Mr McCarthy: Finally, you say that there should be stricter controls of planning for housing developments, factory sites, sewerage works, farm buildings on river banks and along the shore. The Rivers Agency have indicated in their business plan proposals for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure. Do you feel these charges should contain an obligatory pollution prevention component? Should those contributions be made obligatory or voluntary?


Mr Holgate: I am not familiar with the legislation that they are proposing. Having heard that, I think it should be obligatory. Moyola is a densely populated area or it has been in the past with the growth now of people coming to the area and using it basically as a base for Derry or Belfast. We have an explosion, is the only word to use, of new developments going up.


Straw which is above Draperstown, on the head waters of the white water. We had a fish pass put on last year, there were so many fish attracted to this, this is where our hatchery is on this system. There was no development put on it three years ago, the actual fencing is sitting right on top of the bank of the river. The bank of the river would be okay if it was even flat, but it is on a gradient of say, ten foot. The amount of rubbish which is tipped over there is unbelievable, everything from household waste, slabs, you name it. We have the same problem in Magherafelt. We have an industrial estate built on one small stream and another development was built there last year on the same small stream. Again you have the same problem, the pollution and rubbish that is going in. That stream is actually dead. There is no invertebrate life in it, no fish life in it.


Mr McCracken: If I can add to that with reference to another estate in Magherafelt known as 'Derramore Estate'. It is a private development and it is really a perfect example of what should not be allowed. In this case we have about five hundred metres of burn piped. That just destroys the habitat for the fish. But in an even more worrying aspect, if a pollution incident occurs, how do you find the source? It is piped. What can you do?


Unless we get dogs to run up the pipes that are specially trained, I can't see how you can pinpoint the source of the pollution.


Mr Holgate: To answer your first question, I think it would be obligatory of the contractors to sign up to that but also I think that it is imperative that there is actually a margin left, five metres minimum between a river bank and any development and out falls as well. We have to get control of this, it has really got out of control.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think that five metres would prevent that dumping?


Mr Holgate: It is never going to prevent that and we unfortunately two weeks ago had a bit of clean up in the river, two points on the river. We wouldn't have travelled six hundred yards and we were able to fill a skip with household waste. That is what you are up against.


Mr Maguire: The fishing rights have access along the banks. So as Michael has said, keep the five metres back, keep the angler in mind, he has permission to walk there. We are great believers in wildlife corridors. We take in greater conservation as well. Part of the job enhancement is getting permission from the farmers to wire their sheep or cattle back from the river to create this corridor which we do at our own cost. If you can add that in somewhere along the line.


Mr Dorrity: Provision of skips. More provision of skips to take this rubbish, it seems to be a problem. If you go to them they are always full, they look for the easiest gap in the hedge.


The Chairperson: Gentlemen, we are running out of time rapidly. There is still a number of questions that members want to ask but unfortunately we don't have time. We do have your submission.


Could I just quickly raise the question of the freshets and I just want to find out who instigated the trials in Lough Neagh, whether they are a success or not, with statistical proof of that and you know who will consider the results of these trials and whether you think that it will be viable to continue?


Mr Maguire: This is something that came about by the influence of the Ulster Angling Federation. There is a long-term problem at Carnroe which is one of the private fisheries on the Lower Bann where anglers enjoy the fish being held up. I am sure other clubs will mention it as well.


The Chairperson: Can I just ask you, at Carnroe, who do anglers pay their fees there to?


Mr Maguire: Bann System. For one year these freshets were introduced and fish will move. Freshets is opening the gates from Lough Neagh, that will let a flow of water down. Now at the time that was tried it wasn't worked with a high tide, I don't know exactly what the results were. The results were never made available to us. But fish usually came in, in what is called "spring tides", certain times of the year has the highest, that will encourage them to move. If the day before that, if those gates were all lifted a foot, it would take very little to make this flush right down through the river. One of the disadvantages of that is that on that day these boys who are paying their big money at Carnroe, would not be able to fish, they are totally opposed to it being there. These are men with a lot of money and the ordinary anglers voice is not heard very much. It is something that is going to have to be considered seriously in the future if we are going to try and protect the fish. We don't want the salmon up in the rivers to fish for ourselves, there are two of us in this panel that don't fish for salmon at all. It is a case that we are interested in the fish and the survival of the Atlantic salmon. A lot of us don't fish for salmon. If we accidentally catch one and it is possible to release it, we will release it and let it swim away.


When we are talking about Carnroe, we got a bag limit introduced on Carnroe. It used to be 40, 50, maybe 70 fish could be slaughtered in a day by one man. Last year those bag limits were down to eight fish. This year it is down to four fish. Unfortunately after an angler gets his four fish he can continue to fish away on a catch and release basis which he can maybe catch another 20 fish a day let them go or unfortunately, If he gets a larger one, he will let one of the smaller ones away and keep that larger one. We would plan that catch and release is done away with when you catch your bag limit.


The Chairperson: That sounds sensible.


Mr Dorrity: I will add to that, when these freshets were introduced we had salmon up in the river in May. It was something that we never reported before, it usually is around June or July, end of July you could be waiting on salmon coming up the river. We found that these freshets enhanced the run of the salmon on the river.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. It just leaves me to thank you for coming in, for a very interesting presentation and for the various answers to all our questions which helps us to focus on many of the concerns that we have and certainly it will help the inquiry. Thank you again on behalf of all the members.


Mr McCracken: On behalf of the Moyola Association, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to come along and voice our opinions today.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr P Campbell )
Mr E Montgomery ) Bann System Ltd
Mr D Agnew )
Mr T Miller )


The Chairperson: Good morning and welcome to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee. We will begin with a short introduction from yourselves and then have a question-and-answer session.


Mrs Nelis: May I apologise in advance. I have to leave at 11.30 am to attend another meeting, but I have your submission here, and I have read it.


The Chairperson: Mrs Nelis is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee.


Mr Campbell: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to expand on our submission. I would also like to thank your staff for being so helpful and flexible over the timing of this event. With me are Edward Montgomery, the managing director of Bann System Ltd, David Agnew, our Game Angling Director and Tony Miller, who has been involved with rivers across the water for many years, and who has had the sense to settle in Coleraine.


Bann System Ltd - I stress the System - is the commercial arm of The Honourable The Irish Society, a charitable body which has been concerned with the development of Londonderry for four centuries. The profits that we make and the rent that we pay to the society are allocated to individuals and organisations within County Londonderry on the advice of a local advisory committee. The Mayors of Derry City Council and Coleraine Borough Council, councillors and town clerks meet under Edward's chairmanship, and on their advice grants can be paid to anybody in County Londonderry simply on the basis of need.


We lease about 250 miles of salmonid fishing in the Province and many miles of coarse angling. You will notice that we do not have a coarse angling director with us. That is not because we think that coarse angling is unimportant. We recognise how important it is, from a tourist point of view, but you have already met Victor Refausse, who is our coarse angling director, and we fully support what he has already put to you.


You will not be surprised to hear that there has been a severe deterioration in fishing stocks in Scotland, England and Wales. We are luckier than most. Of course things have deteriorated since the days in the seventeenth century when we took 120 tons of salmon from the Bann. That is a staggering amount, but it is what the system held. Now we are in much more difficult days, and across the water the catch has gone down enormously. We are still holding up comparatively well. We are in the middle of our peak season at the moment and we are doing much better than last year, which is encouraging.


In our submission we have made 13 proposals. I do not propose to go through each of them. I would like to concentrate on two that we think are worth special comment. First, the balance between habitat restoration and restocking. This is an argument that goes on all over the world. Secondly, the urgent need for a central fisheries authority in the Province.


Mr Montgomery: I will give you a brief background to Bann System Ltd. I will try and truncate it a bit in view of the time constraints.


The company is based in Coleraine. We have a board of eight directors and we employ five full-time staff - gillies and bailiffs - and three part-time seasonal employees. We are not an inconsiderable employer. We manage the society's fisheries and associated interests. There are three main objectives. First, to develop coarse and game angling opportunities on all our waters for the benefit of both local anglers and tourist anglers. Secondly, to manage those fisheries so as to ensure the optimum long-term survival of indigenous fish species. Thirdly, to provide an income for The Honourable The Irish Society's charitable activities in the Province. We are a commercial company.


I would just then split our activities into a number of separate headings. First, the direct operation of three prime game angling beats near Kilrea on the Lower Bann: Carnroe, Portna, Culiff Rock. Many of you may have heard of the Carnroe beat.


Secondly, there is the supervision of the remainder of the game and coarse angling areas on the 34 miles of the Lower Bann between Toome and the sea. Thirdly, there is the leasing of the tributary rivers and other rivers in the county, for example, the River Faughan, to local angling clubs to manage all aspects of the fisheries. Fourthly, there is involvement in the management aspects of the Lower Bann river through membership of bodies such as the Lower Bann Advisory Committee, River Bann and Lough Neagh Association, and so on. And lastly, there is collaboration with the Fisheries Conservancy Board in providing anti-poaching and anti-pollution and general bailiffing support on the Lower Bann.


In our management activities in the last five to 10 years in trying to meet our objective of ensuring the proper conservation and development of game and coarse angling, we have undertaken a number of key steps. First, a voluntary suspension of the historic salmon netting rights, as was referred to earlier. Secondly, we have increased our fishery protection budget for bailiffing to around £40,000 per annum out of the £200,000 per annum turnover of the company. That is our bailiffing effort. We believe that that role in other parts of the United Kingdom is played by Government. We have taken on this significant role.


Thirdly, is the introduction of angler bag limits in the last three to four years, and the promotion of catch and release guidelines which is commensurate with best practice in other fisheries in other parts of the world. Fourthly, we support these lessee local angling clubs in establishing hatcheries, performing their bailiffing role and by allowing them to use our equipment such as inflatable boats for bailiffing work.


We have developed new angling beats and tried to enhance our existing ones with the introduction of a specific tourist angling package for non-Northern Ireland based anglers. This has been undertaken in the last three years. We are trying to improve our marketing ability, including the introduction of an internet site.


We collaborate with the coarse angling director, Victor Refausse, and his colleagues in the Ulster Coarse Fishing Federation to try to develop more coarse angling opportunities along the river.


Little mention is required regarding the threats a company such as ours faces in terms of our business being 90% dependent on wild salmon. Along with many other people who have come before you we also have concerns as to why this species is in decline. We can identify a number of particular threats such as international overfishing, drift netting and bag netting off the coast, disease, parasites and predation, pollution and poaching - we identify the Lough Neagh area especially in those respects - water abstraction in the tributary rivers, creation of obstacles to fish passage and lastly, river and lake habitat degradation. We place particular emphasis on the habitat issue.


Mr Agnew: In our written submission we have identified a number of areas requiring attention if inland fisheries are to be improved. We know that other presentations contain very comprehensive shopping lists. While not wishing to understate the fundamental significance of issues such as drainage, pollution or planning policy, I propose to confine my remarks on behalf of Bann System Ltd to what we believe to be the key area of habitat improvement. Although the Committee concerns itself with eels and other fresh water fish as well as salmonids, we are focusing on salmonids. We have already confirmed that we support the recommendations put forward by the Ulster Coarse Fishing Federation in respect of other fish species.


By way of illustration and for subsequent consideration, I submit a pamphlet prepared by the Game Conservancy Trust on restoring the River Piddle. The pamphlet demonstrates that while degradation by modern land uses has had a major impact on the river, it is possible to restore some types of degraded habitat. Degradation is illustrated in various forms including overgrazing of banks, which causes the stream to become wider and shallower. This makes the river more silty which causes low rates of egg survival. It also makes the river more uniform by removing the meanders, pools and riffles which a river would naturally have. Where these types of degradation have been reversed, very large increases in numbers of salmonids have been recorded, and this is shown graphically in the pamphlet.


Short term increases of between five and tenfold were recorded largely as a result of fish moving into areas of improved habitat. This demonstrates how the capacity of the river to support salmonids can be improved.


Techniques for restoring degraded habitats include fencing out livestock and thus removing the cause of bank overgrazing. This creates a corridor along the river bank which provides an excellent habitat for other flora and fauna. I know that the Committee has an interest in improving biodiversity.


In addition to work being carried out in the United Kingdom, the Central Fisheries Board in the Republic of Ireland, over the period 1995-1998, embarked on a major programme of habitat improvement. The results are similar to those on the River Piddle. Bann System Limited organised a symposium earlier this year to which all interested parties in the Bann system were invited. This included a video presentation by Dr Martin O'Grady of the Central Fisheries Board, which we all found interesting and informative. An expert such as Dr O'Grady could do more justice than I to this topic. If the Committee has an interest in further exploring the possibilities of habitat improvement, we would recommend inviting Dr O'Grady to make a presentation to you. His work includes a cost benefit analysis, which assesses the potential for improvement on a particular stretch of river and places a monetary value on that in terms of additional salmon returns. Against this is set the cost of the actual improvement work.


This approach enables selective targeting of damaged salmonid habitat to optimise the return on investment. It also produces cost justification data which could facilitate submissions for EU grant aid. A great deal of work has already been carried out in this area by the Central Fisheries Board over the last three years. Northern Ireland could also benefit from a co-operative approach with them.


In conclusion, Bann System Ltd is convinced that a stronger cross-border fisheries link would be a common- sense and cost-effective way forward for habitat improvement.


Mr Montgomery: Another critical factor that we identified in our submission to the Committee was the future management structure of fisheries in Northern Ireland. We feel that the key lies in getting the right regulatory and management framework in place at the top, one which enjoys the confidence of, and makes proper use of, the very strong local angling club base in Northern Ireland. The present approach to management is fragmented and under funded and needs to be replaced by a structure which we suggest should include the following: a unified overall fishery authority incorporating the Fisheries Conservancy Board, the Loughs Agency or Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's interests, an authority which has a clear policy objective and a coherent development plan. Underneath that authority would be a small number of regional boards, perhaps four, based on individual river systems, as happens in the Republic of Ireland where the Central Fisheries Board, which is directly funded by the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, has seven regional boards under it.


This unified authority could run the public angling estate, provide administrative, financial, scientific, technical and equipment support, advise the regional boards and assist in obtaining external grant-aid. These boards could comprise a significant proportion of local angling club members. They would deal with issues affecting local fisheries such as environmental protection, habitat improvement, pollution, restocking, poaching, angling development and tourism through liaison, where necessary, with other relevant government departments or local bodies on matters such as planning policy or drainage. Membership of these regional boards would be kept as small as possible and be confined to those with a direct interest in inland fishery matters. The outcome of that would be to bridge the existing gulf between local angling clubs and the various government departments and administrators and reduce confusion on issues such as licences.


I would like to ask Tony Miller, who has had a lifetime of experience in fisheries management in England, to comment briefly on results produced in England from a similar approach to that outlined above.


Mr Miller: Before retiring to Northern Ireland in 1984, I spent 30 years in fisheries management with English water authorities and their predecessors. I was principal fisheries officer on the Thames and then assistant director with the newly created Anglian water authority for the last 14 years. These comments arise from my English experience as my contact with Ulster fisheries management practices has been superficial.


The Anglian area was large, stretching from the Humber to the Thames, including major river systems of which the Great Ouse was one and trout fisheries such as Rutland and Grafham. Several hundred thousand anglers fished the area which encompassed five previous river authorities, each with a different level of fishery service. Legislation for the new authorities required that fisheries be maintained, improved, and developed and that fishery advisory committees be established to be consulted about the manner in which fisheries duties were carried out.


Effective fisheries management on inland waters can only be carried out by a fisheries authority with the agreement, co-operation and approval of the angler users. Anglers own or lease most fishing waters. If they say 'No, we do not want your fisheries management' it cannot be imposed. To meet liaison needs in the anglian area, I established a regional fishery advisory committee together with five local fishery advisory committees. Members of local committees were nominated by local anglers, and their administration and travelling costs were met from the central fisheries budget. Local committees nominated members to the regional committee which was serviced by the Water Authority. The membership included Water Authority board members, and the committee reported directly to the full authority.


The authority's other functions included: land drainage, flood protection, water supply and navigation, effluent disposal and water quality management - the principle activities which affect the well-being of fisheries. Many advantages accrue to fisheries from such a structure. The fisheries management organisation necessary to meet fisheries maintenance needs was the subject of extensive consultation with anglers. It was agreed that it should be science-based, and as a consequence, a regional fisheries scientist was appointed together with five divisional fishery scientists. Each divisional scientist was supported by a team of fisheries field workers. Several years later a specialist fish disease laboratory was set up with a fish health remit.


The scientists were responsible for the development of fisheries management techniques and equipment. The divisional teams, except in emergencies, only carried out fisheries field work, which included fish mortality involvement. Routine licence and bye-law patrolling was carried out by a network of paid part-time bailiffs, drawn from, and nominated by anglers. I believe that a structure similar to that just described is necessary to protect fisheries and maintain good relations between fishery staff and anglers. It does not appear to exist in Ulster.


Mr Campbell: To sum up, we are terribly conscious that Bann System Ltd has an asset which is of great value to the Province. All our leases to individual angling organisations have built-in day ticket requirements to allow tourists to make use of this priceless asset to the benefit of the Province. I wish that we received the kind of support that we need from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Look at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's fishing site on the Internet; it is great on coarse fishing but there is not a single mention of game angling. If you are sitting in London and are trying to discover where to go fishing, you go to Farlow's and say "What do you know about fishing in Northern Ireland?" The reply is "We know nothing, we cannot find out anything about it". One then has to tell them about the Bann System web site, but really it has been five years since the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's fishing site was created, and in spite of all our pleas they still have no references to game angling. Goodness knows that the Province should be benefiting from this terrific asset.


Fish stocks do not just happen, and the threats are much more considerable now - you know them all. Ulcerative Dermal Necrosis is back in Cork, Infectious Salmon Anaemia gyrodactylus salaris - you name it, they are all here, and no doubt we will cover them later. We have a great asset, and we have plans to develop it. We hope very much that we will get your support.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Gentlemen, for your contributions, they were very interesting. We are concerned about several of the aspects which you have raised, and we have already had evidence of this kind in varying degrees.


We have never had a presentation from such a broad prospective as yours and we welcome it on that basis. We have a few questions. Unfortunately, we have run over the time allotted for your presentation, but I allowed you to continue because it is so significant.


My two questions relate to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and they concern the equality legislation, which we are required to establish at the beginning of each evidence session. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers and have you made any improvements?


Mr Campbell: Bann System is a subsidiary of The Honourable The Irish Society, which has been completely non-sectarian for hundreds of years. It has been funding right across the divide and that is an ethos we very much subscribe to. With respect to the aspect of the disabled, one of our lessee angling organisations, Clady Anglers, with our assistance, has just put in a disabled fisherman's set-up. I have been in touch with disability organisations to tell them to come and make use of it. We are trying as hard as possible, with our 36 miles of river and only five points of access thanks to the drainage schemes. As far as is possible we are insisting that the river is available to disabled anglers.


Mr Montgomery: If I could add a point that Tom Maguire, as angling development officer for the Lower Bann and Moyola rivers - he was with the Committee last week as chairman of Moyola Anglers Association - in the last two years has been trying to develop better access for disabled anglers to the fishing stretches of the Lower Bann. He has also helped me to discover where we would obtain a disabled angling boat. That is a special aluminium boat, like a landing craft with a ramp that can take a wheelchair. We have been successful in obtaining a 40% grant from COLLAGE, the Coleraine-based Leader group, towards that. However, we already have a bailiffing boat that has a front ramp. We have approximatapply to fish each year. We do not have many applicants whoely 900 anglers in our database who are disabled, and those who are, often have their own ready-made boats available. We offer them bailiffs, gillies, and every assistance to get on and off the water. We expect this aspect to develop further.


Mr J Wilson: In your submission, you state that a single co-ordinating body needs to be set up for the conservation and development of inland fisheries. Will you expand on that against the framework of the Assembly - and the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee - only being in existence for a short period and having taken over the responsibility for inland fisheries? A by-product has been the introduction of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the continuation of the Fisheries Conservancy Board. Do you think that another new body needs to be set up so soon, and why?


Mr Campbell: Before dealing with this matter, I would say that things are not working the way they should. Just look at fish tagging. We had an arrangement for a cross-border organisation that would have fish tagging carried out throughout Ireland. However, it could not be implemented because the FCB was not funded to cope with that. That is an example of how it is not working at the moment. Something has to be done about that.


Mr Montgomery: On the specific point raised by Mr Wilson, the Assembly has relatively recently come into being and has taken responsibility for the inquiry into inland fisheries. However it has inherited a structure of outmoded management. The Fisheries Conservancy Board was set up in the mid-1960s representing a wide range of fishery interests, including farmer representation and people without any obvious fisheries link. With expansion of the Foyle Fisheries Commission (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) into the Loughs Agency and encompassing Carlingford Lough to its other responsibilities in the west of the Province there must be massive over- duplication of effort and inefficiencies arising.


Anglers complain endlessly about the difficulty in obtaining the correct permit. The river Foyle permits cause confusion whether you are North or South of the border. A great opportunity now exists to conduct a review, since this comes under the remit of the Assembly and the Committee. It is time for an overhaul and to look at ways in which the FCB's central role can be expanded to better complement these other Agencies. Perhaps the FCB could take on more of the role played by the former Department of Agriculture. It does not seem sensible to have two or three different centres of angling administration in the Province.


Mr Agnew: My interest is more business- related. It appears to me that to involve all interested parties will slow down the decision making process.


The objective is to improve inland fisheries, and we would welcome a situation where those involved were directly involved in inland fisheries and that they would be consulted regarding matters related to fishing such as drainage, pollution, and so on. We envisage a shorter structure, bringing the benefits of effective reporting and communication. I do not recommend we modify existing structures but we should take the opportunity to start again with a clean sheet.


Mr Davis: May I turn to the question of licence fees? You recommend that the existing complicated licensing and permit structure in Northern Ireland should be overhauled and simplified. Are you suggesting that our anglers pay one licence fee which would replace all licences and permits for game and coarse fishing?


Mr Campbell: Take the point of view of the tourist who wishes to fish all over the Province for a week. There are complications in getting a Foyle licence, a FCB licence and then a fishery permit. We think that it would be more sensible to have a central body with a central fishing licence arrangement.


Mr Montgomery: You could have a situation on the Lower Bann, for instance, where a coarse angler is fishing Bann System waters in the main river under one of our seasonal permits costing £10. He might then move on to fish in one of the canals at Toome, for instance, and there he needs a Department of Agriculture coarse licence. He is moving a few yards only, and to most anglers, it is the same stretch of water, but because the Department owns the canals and the fishing rights, he has to have a different licence.


The ultimate solution, and I am sure it has been mooted by other people, would be to reduce the number of different permits required and the number of bodies who administer them. A percentage of the face value of the permit could be apportioned between relevant parties such as the FCB and the Department of Agriculture. This would eliminate the confusion currently faced by tourist anglers.


Mr McCarthy: We will move on to the pollution problems. You recommend the introduction of tighter controls on agricultural practices. Could you expand on that?


Mr Campbell: If you want to spread slurry on your field in County Cork you have to get a permit. In Holland you need a permit. We can just go ahead and spread slurry on fields that are already coming down with phosphates - it is absolute madness. Fermanagh has started a scheme, and County Antrim now has a similar scheme, to try to restrict the amount of phosphate that goes into the fertiliser that is spread on the land, particularly near watercourses.


Our problem is that Lough Neagh eutrophication is really thick, as you well know. If you cast a fly in this thick water the fish cannot see it. The eutrophication itself is bad for plant life, animal life and the fish. We have really got to do something. We are phosphate rich in the Province and really must tackle this. We do not need anymore. We should have fertiliser that does not have phosphates in it, and we should restrict the spreading of slurry to a time when it will not get into the watercourses.


Mr McCarthy: Are there any other controls, in relation to agricultural operations, that you would like to see implemented, other than the slurry spreading?


Mr Campbell: As I said, I would like to see the use of artificial fertiliser that does not have phosphate in it. It is perfectly easy to produce and is much cheaper for the farmer. If the farmer tests his field and suddenly realises that he has got too much phosphate on the land, then he can go to Richardson's, or wherever, and get fertiliser that does not have phosphate.


Mr McCarthy: The Rivers Agency has indicated in its business plan proposals for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Do you feel that these charges should contain an obligatory pollution prevention component, and should these contributions be made obligatory or voluntary?


Mr Montgomery: This is a Rivers Agency proposal, and the obvious answer must be yes. Too often, in the past, developers have been able to ignore the by-product of their activities into watercourses and the problems that result for fisheries. It is a part of the equation that has often been ignored.


Mr McCarthy: Do you feel that it should be obligatory to contribute?


Mr Montgomery: Yes.


Mr Agnew: We talked about habitat, organisation and lots of things. If a river is clean for 364 days of the year and is polluted on the three hundred and sixty-fifth, it is a case of one incident and all that effort has gone and is wasted. Therefore, it must be a priority to try, as far as is humanly possible, to address the potential for pollution. An individual incident can have a devastating effect.


Mr Campbell: We brought in a principle in the last two years which we act on as soon as we get a pollution incident which is confirmed by the Fisheries Conservancy Board. If the person is proved guilty we then slap a civil action on him. In some cases £10,000 has been obtained from the individual. That has had a remarkable effect, and the £10,000 goes back into the river.


Mr McElduff: I apologise for my late arrival. I was at the Education Committee meeting.


In your submission, which I have read, you say that sewerage treatment plants are not up to standard, in comparison to EU directives or standards. Would it be fair to say that the Department of the Environment is effectively breaking the law, at present, by not being up to the relevant standard?


Mr Campbell: I would not like to go as far as that. Certainly there have been opportunities where, if it had been a civilian organisation, we would have sued. Of course we cannot. The classic case is in Coleraine where you get raw sewage floating down the river. The ordinary system becomes overloaded, and they just pass it straight into the river. This is appalling in this day and age, and we would certainly hope that at least tertiary arrangements are made to improve the existing sewerage arrangements.


Mr Montgomery: I entirely agree with the Commander's remarks, which certainly reflect my experience. I remember a sewage leak on a tributary of the Moyola in the Maghera area last year which resulted in a quite serious fish kill on part of the Moyola system. That was directly attributable to the Department, and of course the Moyola anglers were frustrated because they could take no action against it.


Mr McCarthy: I should like to discuss predation. You state that wildlife legislation should be amended so that cormorants may be culled in the numbers necessary to protect fisheries, since you are authorised to cull only eight. Other angling clubs have stated that they have been authorised to cull 30 cormorants. Can you explain the process for obtaining authorisation to cull these birds?


Mr Montgomery: I inherited a process, which has not changed since, of having to write to the Environment and Heritage Service at the end of each calendar year asking for a renewal of our cormorant shooting licence. Each year when the licence is issued - it runs from 1 January to 30 June, after which we have to make a return - I have noticed that the number permitted seems to be declining. It was 10 the first year, then it went down to eight, and it may be as few as five this year. I am quite sure other respondents will confirm that cormorants seem to be on the increase.


Owing to their sheer number on the river, we have used a part of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 that allows a fishery owner to deal with a predator taken in the act of predation. Our bailiffs have certainly been able to interpret that part of the legislation to increase slightly the number of cormorants killed. Quite frankly, if one may only kill five cormorants out of those on the 36 miles of river, one might as well not bother at all. It is definitely a serious problem, and I should certainly like to have a larger number included under future licences.


Mr McCarthy: Can you suggest a solution acceptable to all other bodies to predation from both cormorants and seals?


Mr Montgomery: The first point I should like to make is that, as I understand it, the cormorants historically bred on Sheep Island off the north coast, and their numbers may have increased substantially because of the elimination of the rats that lived there. Perhaps we could reintroduce the rats.


Mr Campbell: Unfortunately the cormorants were put on the protected list by the Germans. There may not be many in Germany, but their population is exploding here. They have now set up colonies on Lough Neagh. One does not see them in the daytime, but at dawn, and if one is out there, one sees great clouds of them. Dr Gersham Kennedy, one of the Department's experts, said that 60% of the smolts on the River Bush are taken by cormorants. This is madness.


Mr McCarthy: What about the seals?


Mr Campbell: We do get seals, and I have seen them on the Bann as far up as The Cutts. Living on Rathlin Island, I see these seals, and their population has undoubtedly expanded exponentially. I also regard them as a threat. However, I am concerned with inland waterways, and there are many worse threats, such as the zebra mussels in Lough Erne. An ordinary barge has 25 million of them on it. The problem has not yet reached Lough Neagh, but it is only a matter of time. When it does, they will coat the redds going downriver and threaten coarse fish, growing extremely fast by sucking out the algae which the fish feed on. They kill it all, the water goes quite clear and coarse fishing dies full stop, just as it has in the States.


Mr McCarthy: Thank you.


Mr J Wilson: It has been said - and you are not protected from this criticism - that Bann System is a constriction in the tube. You are holding fish back at places like Carnroe, having some say over the control of water levels and so on, and by the time the fish get up the Bann into Lough Neagh and up the feeder streams to the clubs, who have invested quite a bit of money, it is late in the year for salmon angling. Is that criticism fair?


Mr Agnew: Everyone comes to this question with a certain agenda and perhaps directly interested parties should not be asked. There are two fish passes at Carnroe, and we have no reason to believe that either of them does not function as the designers intended. We would have no objection to an independent assessing the effectiveness or otherwise of these passes. If they are considered to be ineffective, they should be improved.


The fundamental issue is something which is outside our control and that is the amount of rain that falls; until there is a natural flood in the upper river through to the Lower Bann, fish will not move. In our view tampering with fish passes would not change that.


It would not be a clever idea to send salmon up into Lough Neagh where there is a great deal of poaching and netting going on. We look after fish in the Lower Bann, we have proper catch limits, we observe the proper management techniques and we put bailiffs in place. It is very much a moot point whether shifting fish artificially through the regulation of water would be an effective policy.


The point you made about our involvement in water levels is not correct. That is a statutory managed system. We have nothing to do with water levels - they are something that we accept along with everyone else.


Mr J Wilson: I have afforded you the opportunity to respond to the criticism.


Mr Davis: Who is responsible for the section of the Moyola river where the sandbar is located? Has any action ever been taken to have the sandbar removed, and if so, who would be involved in this and at what cost?


Mr Campbell: Baroness Denton was asked specifically to remove the sandbars at Moyola and Ballinderry. One of the solutions was to get the fish up into Lough Neagh and then up the tributary rather than have them circling round unable to get up because of the sandbar. We urge that the sandbar be removed. It is a real burden to us. But we can not afford to do it. It is seriously expensive. The Department has been under pressure to do this, and even back in Baroness Denton's day we were urging her to do it.


Mr Montgomery: I think there is a subsidiary point here, in that that area is not actually Bann System Ltd water. We do not have jurisdiction in Lough Neagh, and we do not have jurisdiction over the lower end of the Moyola below Castledawson. However, the Moyola Angling Association, with whom we liaise closely, is concerned about it and aware of the advantages that would come from its removal. The Chairman of the club last year confirmed that permission had been given by a government department, the Department of the Environment perhaps, for the removal of the sandbar but that no finance was available. This was not much help to the anglers, and I certainly urge that action be taken.


Dr Adamson: You have stated that measures should be put in place to restrict and control fishing at sea. Do you think that all commercial netting should be banned? I know that you have suspended your own commercial netting rights in the Lower Bann. Do you feel that you should be compensated for this and if so by whom? Finally, do you think that all sales of wild salmon should be banned?


Mr Campbell: The answer in a nutshell is yes. We certainly believe that the commercial fisheries should be bought out as has happened in other countries, thereby creating an opportunity for increased angling which brings so much money into the Province. We strongly support that. We have suspended our netting, which has been a financial blow to us. Nevertheless we have done this voluntarily as it is so important that we get fish into the system. We would very much like to be bought out. It is not just the netting; a much more serious threat to estuaries is the presence of fish farms.


A Norwegian study said that 81% of the smolts on a Norwegian river were under stress from sea lice coming from these farms. It is so important that nobody allows these fish farms to be put near estuaries. There are a number of problems of this sort which we are trying to deal with.


Dr Adamson: Who do you think should or might compensate you?


Mr Campbell: Obviously the kind of fund which was being used in other countries should be set up here, and our central fisheries body should have the funding to buy out those nets. Of course the South is an area which should be included because the fish go down to Donegal and then come back up the Bann. We want to stop any commercial exploitation in the interests of angling.


Dr Adamson: My next question concerns by-laws. I know you are concerned that there are no by- laws to control watersports in the Lower Bann. Does the draft Water Order allow for borough councils to make these by-laws, or who do you see as responsible for making them?


Mr Campbell: The mission is there in the order and in the local councils, but they work very much in co-ordination with each other. There is a Lower Bann Co-ordinating Committee which should be able to control the Lower Bann completely. It is zoned at the moment, divided into various areas, but you have no legal control over it. There is nothing to stop someone on a jet ski whizzing up and down, as has happened, in the middle of a coarse angling competition. This is surely madness.


Mr Montgomery: It is a vacuum at the minute. A voluntary users' code currently governs the use of the river. I have been to a number of public meetings up and down the river over the last few years. I have listened to the jet skiers and the waterskiers and the coarse anglers and the game anglers all voicing their various concerns. The root problem is that there is a lawless minority of people, I am afraid a lot of them are boating enthusiasts, who get on the river and ignore the voluntary users' code. We do need some teeth.


Mr Shannon: I agree with your comments about the Tourist Board. As a council we have realised that it is either unwilling or incapable of reacting to the concerns that we have. The web site was one of the things that you specifically mentioned. Why can Bann System not link its web site with that of the NITB? In a way you have probably already answered part of the question, but to what extent would you see this as beneficial to your organisation?


Mr Campbell: If you are sitting in London thinking that in Scotland and England the fisheries stock is bad but you have heard that it is good in Northern Ireland, how do you find out about it? You go to the web site and, of course, you go to the Tourist Board first. You go there and look for "Fishing in Northern Ireland" and, according to the Tourist Board's web site, there is no game fishing here. Mr Montgomery and I went to them and said "Please let us link with your system so that, having got into the Tourist Board site, people could then link to "Bann Systems" and find out about game fishing." It will not do that for at least another year. It will be six years that this rubbish has been sitting on that web site.


Mr Shannon: Why not for another year?


Mr Campbell: Because it says that it does not have the money.


Mr Shannon: It is all about finance.


Mr Campbell: That is what it is.


Mr Shannon: Would it cost much?


Mr Campbell: A complete web site costs £5,000. That is what it cost us.


Mr Shannon: The benefits would be well worth an investment of £5,000.


Mr Campbell: We cannot force it. It has to agree.


Mr Shannon: We invited representatives to our council and they were an absolute waste of space. They would not respond to what our elected representatives were saying. They were found wanting. So you are not on your own on it. It is a very important issue, and I agree with you.


The Chairperson: Perhaps we could restrict our comments.


You made some interesting points about bailiffs. Fixed penalty fines are very topical; Tony Blair has been talking about fixed penalty fines for different reasons and people have commented on how difficult they would be to impose. Do you see fixed penalty fines as being a constructive way in which to proceed?


Mr Campbell: It is instant justice. We had a case of an extremely wealthy chap going down the Bann in a high powered boat and giving two fingers to our bailiff; he was found guilty and fined £25. That is madness, given the time that we spent sorting the situation out. If it were immediate, it would simplify the situation.


Mr Montgomery: It would certainly have a big effect on the morale of our bailiffs. They feel that the cases they put forward get lost in the paper chain and come back from the FCB with derisory fines attached. It is time that poaching lost its romantic image.


Mr Shannon: I agree with you. It is fine having a romantic image of poaching, but it is all about money now. To give bailiffs powers of enforcement would obviously require a change in legislation. It would be very nice to impose an on-the-spot fine, but I am conscious of the fact that it would be very difficult to make it work. If these people are giving your bailiffs the fingers and they are fined £30, it does not mean they are going to hand over £30 immediately.


Mr Campbell: It has been done on the roads in various countries for years - we have now started doing the same. It should be perfectly feasible under the auspices of a central fisheries authority, which we keep referring to.


Mr Shannon: What means of training would you employ for voluntary bailiffs to give them standing among your bailiffs?


Mr Montgomery: Through one of the recent leader programmes, an initial bailiffing course was run in the Sperrins the year before last. Most of the bailiffs whom I know served and trained within the FCB. Both of our full-time bailiffs have come through that system. There is a need to widen the education of bailiffs generally and to extend their role beyond being ticket distributors or seizers of equipment to being countryside guides for tourists. There is a whole industry waiting to happen especially if tourist angling takes off.


The Chairperson: That completes the round of questions. I would like to ask one further question on your submission in relation to fishery protection measures. This will give you an opportunity to expand on the kind of measures you would like to see in place. You have already recommended a well funded and resourced programme to encourage fishery habitat improvement, is there not a programme at present? Could you expand on your statement that the Central Fisheries Board in the Republic has been successful in attracting EU grant-aid. This is an opportunity for you to place your comments on the record.


Mr Campbell: We have the greatest admiration for what the Central Fisheries Board (CFB) is doing, and we are working very closely with it. I would recommend that you see the video. It is remarkable what it has achieved. The CFB receives I think, £12 million from EU grant-aid for developing rivers. It has only just started developing the rivers in Ireland, but it has made significant progress and we would like to be in a similar position. We have a salmon enhancement grant, but that is only a few million which must be spread over the Province.


It has done awfully well, but it is only a drop in the ocean. Certainly we would need to do a great deal more if we are going to make use of this asset.


Mr Montgomery: Cmdr Campbell referred to the Salmonid Enhancement Programme (SEP). It has been around for about five years but has been spasmodic. The funding gradually dried up in the latter years, but the work that was done through that programme was particularly effective. I can think of a number of river systems that have benefited: for example, a tremendous amount of good work was done by the local club along the River Dennett, which flows into the Foyle. The club was able to attract over £100,000 in grant aid. Another example are the clubs on the Ballinderry River, near Cookstown, which were granted over £100,000. We need to see more of this.


Mr Agnew: I will leave a pamphlet for everyone to see. As regards value for money, I was amazed by the results achieved with regard to the numbers of salmonid in a particular area as a result of habitat improvement work. This has got to be a great opportunity. Many factors will affect salmon, and many of them are outside of our control. All that we can do is to optimise the productive capacity of our inland river systems, and, perhaps if we do that, there will be other factors that will outweigh it. Let us hope not, but clearly the decision has been made by the Central Fisheries Board. The Irish Government are supporting habitat improvement as a cost-effective means, and they have a cost-justification approach to it. So that lends itself to the sort of funding that one hopes would be available from the EU.


The Chairperson: That concludes the session. Thank you very much for your time, the information you have given to us and the way in which you dealt with our questions.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr J Haughey )
Mr N McCreight ) Ulster Angling Federation
Mr A Kilgore )


The Chairperson: Welcome.


Mr Haughey: I thank the Committee for having us. We appreciate being allowed to voice our views in the corridors of power. We wish the Assembly well for the future and hope that it continues to do good work. I apologise for the length of our document. We do not get many opportunities to do this, so everything is in there.


The Ulster Angling Federation represents angling clubs. It has a few individual members, but the historical structure of the federation is one of representation of clubs. The views put to us tend to come from club committees. There are 75-80 clubs in the federation, representing 10,000 anglers. We have 30 unpaid directors. We are basically amateurs. We employ Mr McCreight and a secretary on a part-time basis.


The federation has been on the go since the 1930s. In the early days it was very much a hands-on angling body. It ran a hatchery and all sorts of things. In recent years we have concerned ourselves more with the deeper, long-term issues that clubs do not handle directly. We involve ourselves in issues such as planning and legislation that the ordinary angling club does not have the opportunity to look at.


We are very proud of the fact that we are a completely non-sectarian organisation. I have been in the Ulster Angling Federation for 20 years - these two gentlemen have been in it longer - and in that time I have not heard a single reference to politics or religion. We have members from all six counties in the Province and all corners, from Crossmaglen to Belfast to Coleraine, and all we are interested in is fisheries and angling.


We get involved in long-term issues like planning and habitat protection. In many ways we have the interests of a nature conservation group or an environmental pressure group. The fish we are interested in are salmon and trout. If you give them clean water and a decent habitat, that is all they need to thrive and they do not take much looking after. A lot of our activities centre on giving them that clean water and that habitat. That is where the nature conservation issues come in. There is a great parallel with other organisations in the Province which do similar activities. Many of the fisheries policies we promote, such as the protection of river corridors, have terrific spin-offs for other aspects of nature conservation such as habitat provision and biodiversity. If you have a good, clean river corridor with decent vegetation that is reasonably protected, there are all sorts of spin-offs. It is a haven for wildlife generally, not just fish.


The role of the angler has changed over the years. When the Ulster Angling Federation started out, it was a case of people going down to rivers and doing some fishing. That was the height of it. But you will find nowadays that a lot of the angling clubs are very much involved in constructive work. In fact, the Ulster Angling Federation has suffered as a result, because many of the people who used to sit on the Ulster Angling Federation are now tied up in conservation work in their clubs - enhancement schemes, protection schemes and proposals. A terrific amount of constructive work is being done currently and has been done over the past few years. I cannot imagine how many tens of thousands of voluntary man-hours are going into it, but a terrific amount of work is being done by the anglers on the conservation and protection of our systems.


The ordinary angler who just goes out for a day's fishing is very useful to have on the river because he is always looking out for pollution and things such as a weir giving a problem or a digger that someone has tried to put into the river. Anglers are great eyes and ears to have on the river, and we get phenomenal feedback from them. Not much goes on in the countryside that anglers do not see.


I will take you back to this document that we have produced. It is a fair body of work, and there is plenty of meat in there. In reading it again I thought that you might get a sense that everything is doom and gloom in the angling world. I would like to say that it is not. There are people catching fish in our rivers and trout populations are reasonable. It is just that when we get an opportunity to say something like this, we tend to concentrate on the things that we would like to see improved upon. So it is not all doom and gloom. There is angling to be had, and angling is being enjoyed.


What has been lacking in recent years is that we have never had a central plan for angling because of the organisational split of the various bodies. Our compatriots in the South have been very successful in putting their house in order in recent years. I do not know how they have done it, but they have managed to elicit an extremely large amount of money from Europe as a result. They developed policies and gave themselves targets, decided how they were going to achieve those targets. That is something that has been distinctly lacking here in recent years. We have gone from year to year on a hand-to-mouth basis. There has never been any plan or target, and that needs some attention.


Quite a number of improvements could be carried out at a fairly low cost. Some of the issues you will see in the document: the release of freshets down the Lower Bann to try to bring some fish up the Bann system; and some Fishery Act amendments. In fact, I will take this opportunity to congratulate the Assembly on having brought forward some Fishery Act amendments. They are very useful, and we appreciate them. I also understand that some moneys have been found for water treatment sludge disposal. I would like to thank you for using your influence on that.


A number of things which can be done at relatively low cost, for instance, adopting policies on river-corridor protection for area plans. There are many long-term actions that could be taken, which do not involve an awful lot of expenditure. Some expenditure is needed. There is quite a bit of habitat that needs improvement in our rivers. The rivers are the engine, the turbine that drive our fisheries. That is where the fish spawn and breed. While our lakes are very useful, the rivers are where the spawning is done and where the nursery habitat is. That is the engine that drives our fisheries. If you have clean water, good habitat and you look after your rivers, that is about the best that you can do.


We have a terrific asset in Northern Ireland. It is at a stage where we feel that it would benefit from improvement. It has the potential to make a great contribution to Northern Ireland plc. I am sure that all the anglers know that a German chap comes with me every now and again and that he has been back with his family. If people come here and see a bit of fishing and have a nice time, there is an opportunity for the word to be spread that in Northern Ireland we still have a clean, green environment. And people coming from such places as Germany appreciate it very much. The development of our fisheries would not only be beneficial for them; it would have terrific potential for tying in with our tourism development. We look forward to that happening.


The Chairperson: The first question is to do with equality. It is a standard question we ask all witnesses who come before us and is a requirement under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.


Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and also representative of local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there specific problems facing disabled anglers, and have you made any improvements to rectify this?


Mr Haughey: We have membership from all corners of the Province - every nook and cranny. Membership of angling clubs generally reflects what I have already said. In order to become a member of the Faughan Anglers Club, for example, all you have to do is live in the locality. The subject of politics or religion just does not come up when people are on the river talking about fishing. We are very proud of that fact.


There has been some development in disabled provision recently, particularly some of the schemes introduced by clubs. The Claudy Anglers have recently brought forward a scheme. Most clubs on rivers have specific development plans on the shelf waiting to be actioned, being actioned or having been actioned. That is not to say that it is finished; there is more that can be done.


With regard to older people, there is no age bar to angling. The only question there is the cost of the angling licence. There has been a move to get a reduced angling licence for pensioners, but the licensing bodies have been so stuck for cash that it has not been an option.


Mr Davis: I would like to ask two questions. First, you state you would like to see one central fishing authority with overall power and sensible funding. Would you like to expand on that? Do you have a plan and what structure would you suggest? Secondly, would you explain your recommendation that a monitoring body be put in place to provide an independent view of the performance of the Government's fisheries agencies?


Mr Haughey: On the question of a central fishery body, there have been a series of reports. The Parr report on inland fisheries 1963 and a report of the Committee of Enquiry into angling in Northern Ireland 1981 by Black, both recommended one central fishery authority. If you look at the situation from the other way, we now have four bits of fishery administration. We have the Fisheries Conservancy Board, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, your own organisation and then a bit of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. We have four organisations looking after fisheries in a Province of six small counties and 1·5 million people. It is not efficient, and from the early '60s, independent analysis of the situation has reflected that opinion. It would be more sensible to have one fishery authority.


Currently we have no specific organisation in mind. We are conscious of the fact that there has been a recent management consultancy analysis done of the Fisheries Conservancy Board's organisation. If one fishery authority were going to be considered, the best thing would be to ask a management consultancy to examine the situation and produce a recommendation for a fishing organisation.


To be honest, it is not rocket science. What you need is a nucleus of people at the top who know what they are doing, who have a plan and have the wherewithal to carry out most of that plan. My feeling is that if there was one central fishery authority, it would cover the responsibilities of the four organisations that I have already made reference to. It would probably be necessary to pay the nucleus of people at the top on a part-time basis. Quite a lot of our fishery organisation has been dependent upon unpaid input in the past. But if there was one central fishery authority, given the amount of work and responsibility that the central executive would have, it would require at least some part-time paid employees. We need the nucleus of a central executive to drive the thing along, and somebody of the highest quality at the top. We feel that, at the moment, salary levels for some of the fishery posts would not reflect the importance that we would attach to the top post in a central fishery authority, which would be a fairly responsible outfit.


Below that central executive there should be a lower tier-based on either an advisory or a board structure to let people on the ground feel that they have an input into it. At the moment anglers feel that quite a number of things have happened in the fishery world over which they have had no control or influence? It is important to make sure that the angling clubs and the anglers on the ground feel that they have an input.


Mr J Wilson: During the course of this inquiry much criticism has been made about the highly complex matter of the issue and administration of permits and licences. We have heard colourful stories about people having to obtain four or five different bits of paper in two or three days. Indeed, I have even heard anglers debate the difference between a permit and a licence. What thought have you given to this, and would you simplify the whole thing? I am particularly interested in the tourist angler's viewpoint, but also for the benefit of Northern Ireland anglers too, who find the system rather complex as well.


Mr Kilgore: Can I begin by underlining the complexity of the subject. To start with there is a time based licence, and an annual licence which breaks down into short-term, daily and weekly. It can be broken down further into a tourist licence, a local licence, a regional licence, a species licence and an age-related licence. If there are permits for all of those, it means that an angler walking into a tackle shop to get his licence has to sort through all that when deciding what to do and where to fish.


I have had phone calls over the past few days from people who knew that I was coming to this Committee and they were suggesting that it was time that we had one licence for the island of Ireland, because the right to fish it stretches across boundaries and borders. That is a problem. It is even more complex for someone like myself who lives in South Down. I am in a club that regulates and controls two rivers. At this point we still do not know what licence is required, whether it is an endorsement to the Loughs Agency licence or an endorsement to the Fisheries Conservancy Board licence. All that must be overlaid against the enforcement of licensing, and, as a private water bailiff, I am still not sure under what jurisdiction I would take a prosecution. Until the administration is tidied up, the angler who simply wants to go fishing has an enormous task working out what he needs.


One way forward, and we have suggested it in our document, is that one licence is issued, and the revenue from that licence is given on a proportional basis to whatever authority is regulating that geographical unit. That would make it much easier for somebody walking in off the street who wants to go fishing.


At the other end of the spectrum - again to highlight the contradiction of the system - this federation thought many years ago that juveniles should not require a licence.


We felt that it was more important for young people to be given every encouragement to participate in the sport. In one particular area a club has charge of two rivers, and a juvenile has to pay £2 to join the club. He can fish one river with this; however, if he fishes both rivers he will need a £10 licence. All of these things need to be sorted out very rapidly.


Mr J Wilson: This is only for the licence?


Mr Kilgore: Yes. To get a permit one must cross a minefield of private ownership, club ownership, and Department ownership simply to get permission to fish. A licence does not give one a right to fish; it merely gives one the right to have a fishing rod.


Mr McElduff: My question is about water quality. You request urgent action to reduce nutrient application and you state that agricultural waste presents a great threat to the environment. Is this monitored in any way and whose responsibility should such monitoring be? You mentioned the audit office report into the control of river pollution and you said that if the recommendations were implemented we would see a great difference. Can you expand on those points?


Mr McCreight: Agricultural pollution is one of the greatest threats to our fisheries. Various bodies monitor various aspects of it. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has a programme which offers farmers advice on monitoring and management. The Department of the Environment's environment service monitors river quality regularly, in some cases monthly and in others every three months. But it does not monitor the minor streams and it is through the minor streams that the pollution enters. Anglers do not generally fish on minor streams so they do not usually find these sources of pollution. Of course, the minor streams are an important nursery habitat for fisheries.


There is no limit to how much slurry and fertiliser a farmer can advisory leaflets are available, but we feel that until legislationpply or where he can apply it. Numerous is in place enforcing the limit and application of slurry and fertiliser, we are not going to get anywhere. For example, slurry should not be spread outside the growing season. However, last year I came across a tanker spreading slurry on land belonging to the Department of the Environment during a thunderstorm. I was working with a farmer on a fishery project and I said to him, "that's disgraceful," and he said, "oh, this is the best time to spread it." In spite of the education programme there is still a great deal of ignorance. Until we have strict legal controls, we will not see much progress on it.


Mr McCarthy: You said at the beginning of your submission that you depended on clean water and good habitat. You need those for your activities to prosper. You said that the Department of the Environment is not prosecuted for pollution offences. Why not? Are there any other bodies that seem not to be prosecuted?


Mr Haughey: Our terminology may have been a little bit loose. We were referring to those in charge of the water supply and of sewerage. I am not sure whether they are now officially under the Department of the Environment's authority or partly under its authority or what exactly their relationship is. They have crown immunity. If a sewerage plant overflows, those responsible are not prosecuted; and if a water treatment plant causes pollution those responsible are not prosecuted. That is not to say that they ignore their responsibilities, but it is, nevertheless, very galling for an industrialist or a farmer.


Farmers in particular tend to get very riled about the fact that, if they release something into the river, people are on to them in a flash, and they are prosecuted, whereas if the sewerage treatment plant overflows, and there is awful stuff coming in, the question of prosecution does not even arise, since it has Crown immunity. We should like to see that form of Crown immunity removed by some means or other, since it would be a salutary lesson. If some of the these organisations' officers appeared in court once or twice, it might bring things home to them a little more.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think there should be different levels of fines for polluters, depending on whether it is a first or repeat offence?


Mr Haughey: Yes. In whatever sphere, we must arrive at a situation where the level of the retribution matches the level of offence. The problem recently has been that the message from courts is that they do not care about pollution. The message coming out loud and clear is "Go ahead and pollute because this court does not care". Time and again we hear that it is cheaper for a farmer to dump a load of slurry into a river and pay a fine than for him to dispose of it properly.


The blunt fact is that the courts are not applying fines commensurate with the offences. The retribution should be relative to the offence but, in the overall scheme of things, the current fines for pollution do not even come near to addressing the level of damage done.


Mr McCreight: Perhaps we should note that the maximum fine is £20,000, which has been the case for the last four years, and there were only three or four cases where it actually exceeded £10,000. A typical fine is £1,500, which is not really adequate at all.


Mr McCarthy: Why, in your opinion, do the courts tend to treat poaching as a minor offence, with fines similar to those for licence offences, usually under £100?


Mr Haughey: I think that is probably a historical matter, for, in past years, if someone took a fish from the river for the pot, that was probably about the height of it. However, in recent years there have been activities which could be called industrial-scale poaching, mainly in the Foyle system. There are a couple of spots where the problem is particularly bad, and you may have seen the newspaper article this week reporting how a group of poachers gave two bailiffs a very nasty beating. The current problem is probably not appreciated. In some cases, it is not a case of someone taking one for the pot, but commercial-scale poaching.


Mr McCarthy: In your opinion the fines are much too lenient.


Mr Kilgore: In a recent case, a magistrate asked a solicitor the table value of the fish, so he might relate the fine to it. The answer was that it had no table value. The magistrate then gave a derisory fine, but if the value of that fish as brood stock had been asked, the figure would have been thousands of pounds. Even at court level, a level of education is required. A fish of 10 lbs produces between 8,000 and 10,000 eggs. That is the seed corn. When it is in that condition, it has no table value, since it is not edible. The honest answer was that it had no table value, and the magistrate gave a derisory fine, since he could only relate it to market value. Those problems relate to how magistrates treat the penalty.


Mr McCarthy: The Rivers Agency has made proposals in its business plan for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Do you feel that these charges should contain an obligatory pollution prevention component? Should such contributions be obligatory or voluntary?


Mr McCreight: We are talking about the "polluter pays" principle. The Rivers Agency is referring to building on flood plains. Enormous amounts of Government money are spent by the Rivers Agency after developers have built in the wrong place. The same very much applies to polluters.


Earlier on we referred to the Auditor General's report. It specifically criticised the Department of the Environment for not charging for abstraction and discharges. It is only right that the people who cause damage should pay for the clean-up.


Mr McCarthy: Are you saying that it should be obligatory?


Mr McCreight: Yes.


Mr McCarthy: Finally, you have suggested that sludge disposal methods need to be reviewed. Have you any suggestions on the method of such disposals?


Mr Kilgore: The difficulty we have is that there are often reservoirs in some of our upland water abstraction points, and they routinely dispose of the peat sludges which flocculate out of the water treatment works back into the catchment area. We are aware that, in other regions where they have a similar treatment regime, they are disposed of by various methods other than returning them into the environment. We would not be bold enough to suggest a method but feel that there has to be a better way of doing it. It does not seem right that a source of pure water be polluted by material, with an added chemical, that has just been removed from that water.


In the high Mournes catchment area the treatment works at Fofanny, which is above the catchment area of Spelga, simply takes back the flocculated peat sludges. It does not make economic sense, or indeed any sort of sense, to do that. We are aware that that is not the principle applied in other regions, although we are not fully familiar with all of the treatment methods used elsewhere. It may be that, after suitable drying, peat is a suitable material for landfill, but it should not be fed back into the catchment area. It may be used as a fuel as it has a high carbon content, but we would not offer a concrete suggestion as to the best method, other than to say that the present method is fundamentally flawed.


Mr McCarthy: OK, thank you very much.


Mr Shannon: You stated that there is a need to have salmon habitats designated in special areas of conservation under the EU habitats directive. What is the procedure for designation, and what benefits do you see stemming from that designation?


Mr McCreight: The benefit is that the planning authority must then take heed of designation when approving plans. If an area of a river is designated for protection, the legislation can restrict development.


Mr Haughey: I am unsure of the procedure for designating. Our interest is with habitat protection and relates to the protected-river-corridor concept that we have been trying to promote in recent years. If a river is designated as a specific habitat that is deserving of protection, it is not just the fish that benefit but all of the flora and fauna in the river corridor.


Mr Kilgore: If a river is considered to be a salmonid river it should be considered so from source to mouth. A suitable water quality regime then follows that. At present we can have a situation where only sections of a river are designated to be of a quality suitable for salmon. For example, for salmon entering Belfast Lough to go up the Lagan, they have to swim the length of that river; they do not take a bus around the bits that are unsuitable for them. It is that level of designation where the habitat directive comes into play. Perhaps it also gives us the benefit of EU protection, and, whether or not we accept how firm that should be, it becomes internationalised.


Mr McCreight: The procedure is that the Assembly makes recommendations to the UK Government. They, in turn, forward those recommendations to Brussels and then the EU decides on adequacy or acceptability. We initiate the matter here, but the final decision comes from Europe.


Mr Shannon: It is obviously something that you, as a group, would like to see happening. To be fair, that is where I am coming from in this matter. I do understand the procedure.


Mr McCreight: Yes, we support that.


Mr Shannon: You also mentioned non-native species. Different groups that have met with the Committee have all thought that the introduction of all non-native species will have a detrimental impact on native species. Each deputation has spoken of the introduction of diseases. Do you believe that the introduction of all non-native species should be banned?


Mr Haughey: It is a moot point. You would need to get Barney Eastwood in on this one because it boils down to an assessment of risk. You would be betting that the risk of a fish bringing in disease was either 2:1, 10:1, or 100:1 against.


There is one precedent that greatly worries us. Scandinavian Baltic salmon were moved into the Norwegian rivers, and all the scientists looked at that, all the procedures were gone through, and everybody said it was going to be great. Licences were obtained and all movement orders were checked. The Baltic salmon were then moved into the Norwegian rivers, but people did not know that there was a parasite called girodactylus in Baltic salmon, which they are immune to, but which Norwegian salmon are not. That parasite has now caused the most horrendous problems in the Norwegian rivers to the extent where there are a number of rivers which have nil salmon and nil fish populations because this creature has wiped them out. The only way they can get rid of this parasite is to poison the entire river from source to sea - poison every living thing in the river. They have tried that on a number of rivers and have failed. Somehow the parasite seems to hang on. That is an example of what can happen and it worries us.


At the moment, it is likely that they are going to allow carp to be imported into Northern Ireland. Again all the procedures have been gone through, and all the scientists have looked at the matter. They have examined the situation, looked at the fish and the environment, and the feeling from the fishery scientists seems to be that they should allow the carp in. At the end of the day nobody knows what is going to happen two, five, or ten years down the line. It is taking an unnecessary risk. Why should we take the risk? There are horrific precedents that have happened elsewhere. We have had a couple of introductions of our own that have not been all that successful, but we seem to have escaped any of these desperately destructive problems. However, every time something new comes in we are taking a risk. We are saying that we should not take that risk, it is not worth it. Let us keep what we have and look after it.


Mr Shannon: Some of the clubs have had small hatcheries through the Salmonid Enhancement Programme. Do you believe that that could be used to provide localised stock for restocking?


Mr Haughey: I am going to let you speak to Mr Kilgore because he was involved in stocking the first hatchery in Northern Ireland.


Mr Kilgore: I am a member of the Kilkeel Angling Club and we were faced with a major problem on a small local river. We took a three-pronged approach, and if you do not adopt that approach you do not get very far. We enhanced the habitat, protected the fishery by becoming licensed bailiffs and established a hatchery.


A hatchery can be very successful in producing quality eggs and fry, but unless the other two elements are in place it does not work. You have to have a completely structured approach. It is relatively simple to trap fish, take the eggs and rear them to the fertile egg or fry stage and then fill buckets and pour them back into our river. But that will not necessarily make a successful river. It has got to be done in a very careful structured way.


The three-pronged approach offers the benefit of knowing that you have a genetically pure stock which originated historically - and we are talking over a long period of time - in that stream. The stock will have the genetic wherewithal to take full advantage of local conditions built into it. That is the benefit of having a local hatchery.


Having said that, there is also the benefit that on occasions the very fact that mature fish - brood stock - are in a hatchery can be a little safeguard, or insurance, which carries stock through a possible pollution incident. So there are two or three benefits. It has to have all the structures in place. It is relatively simple to establish a hatchery and to produce eggs. But unless you have the habitat right and you regulate where and how you place those it will not make the improvement that you think it will.


Mr Shannon: You also talk about the advantages of daily catch limits and the 'catch and release' programmes. What do you see as the main advantages from those? Is that what you would advocate?


Mr Haughey: In years gone by anglers just went to the river and fished. Now many anglers are tied up with the development schemes, hatcheries and enhancement schemes. A number of anglers have said to me that they have spent so many years working on this hatchery, looking after these fish, that they cannot bear to kill them anymore. We recognise that as a spin-off from all these development schemes, and it mainly applies to salmon. When you have a resource under pressure, we want to try and keep anglers spread across all the river systems, to keep their eyes and ears open. We recognise that the resource is diminished and it is time to look at the amount of exploitation. Catch limits and 'catch and release' are ways of continuing to enjoy the sport, but reducing the impact of angling on the sport.


I read recently that 80% of salmon caught in England, and possibly Wales, are returned alive to the water. Even in places like the River Tweed, in Scotland, where you could be paying up to £1000 a day for salmon fishing, they are putting back salmon in the junction pool over the Tweed at Kelso, and all sorts of places. In fact, Morris Dorrity from the Moyola and District Angling Club, who gave evidence last week, puts most of his salmon back into the Moyola river. Bann System Ltd has reduced their bag limits. So there is quite a movement in that respect in the angling world. We see it as a contribution to reducing the impact on the populations while keeping people on watch on the rivers.


Mr Shannon: Also in your submission you mentioned the Northern Ireland biodiversity strategy proposals of June 1999 and talk about them being implemented. Do you see those as being an advantage?


Mr Haughey: Very much so. I cannot remember the exact details of them although they are in the booklet. They broadly reflect the conservation ideals that angling clubs have adopted. It is really all about protection and conservation of habitat, flora and fauna. Everything in that biodiversity strategy just comes in seamlessly with all of the work that we are doing at the minute.


Mr Shannon: It is a big advantage?


Mr Haughey: Very much so.


Mr J Wilson: I have a couple of related questions. Raw untreated human waste and identifiable bathroom items were pouring into the Sixmilewater yesterday. It can be inspected today for proof. That has been going on for some time. Why do you think it can persist over a long period unchecked? I agree with you about too much doom and gloom in Northern Ireland, generally - never mind angling. However, some anglers are voting with their feet and there is a mass exodus to Donegal and the west coast of Ireland for quality fishing. Do you see the connection?


Mr Haughey: Very much so.


Mr J Wilson: Can the fact that people are leaving Northern Ireland be ignored? Do you have a comment on that? Is there a relationship between that and quality water?


Mr McCreight: Instead of having tourism we have negative tourism. We are losing tourists to elsewhere because we have not made the most of our own facilities. There is a big connection there.


In relation to sewage, I am well aware of the situation in Sixmilewater which stems from a disgraceful lack of investment over 20 to 30 years. Some of our sewerage systems should be in museums rather than in operation. Three weeks ago I was at the Antrim Forum near the mouth of the Sixmilewater. A sewerage manhole had lifted and sewage had flowed into the front door of the Forum. This is not unusual. Every day storm overflows occur along our rivers. Every angler sees them on a regular basis and sees the materials that Mr Haughey has described. It is something that urgently needs to be addressed.


Dr Adamson: I noted you were talking about the junction pool with the Kelso and Tweed rivers. I was there about a month ago, and it is a marvellous place. Where these rivers join were centres of civilisation.


With regard to commercial fishing and fish farms, we know there is a need to reduce the level of commercial exploitation to conserve the stock and to encourage enhancement works to reverse the long-term decline. Would you detail your thoughts on how we could reduce commercial exploitation, and would you outline how the loss of economic benefit could be minimised? The extent of salmon and trout netting in Lough Neagh is unknown and loosely regulated. What regulations do exist, and how can they be improved?


Mr Haughey: May I take you up on one point regarding the loss of economic benefit? If salmon netting is reduced, all of the evidence shows - survey after survey, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Iceland, Norway - that economic benefit will be increased, not reduced, because if you exploit your fisheries by rod and line that is where the money is, not by netting them. You only have to look at the figures, it is a very big subject on its own, and we do not want to get bogged down in it. It you want economic benefit, the first thing you do is either eliminate or greatly reduce the netting. The money is in rod angling, not in netting.


One of our appendices shows an analysis of likely incomes per net. We know from speaking to all the nets men in Northern Ireland that it is a hobby activity now; nobody is making a living from salmon netting in Northern Ireland.


Mr McCreight: The regulations in force in Lough Neagh are similar to the salmon regulations in the sea. Basically, you have restrictions on the size and the mesh of the net, the length of the season and the period during which fishing can take place. There is no requirement for catch returns to be made, so no one knows what is caught. There is no limit on the catch, and there is no quota system. If you had a requirement for catch returns to be made and for quotas to be placed, then you would have some real control over it.


The NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) treaty obliges every member state, including Northern Ireland, to make returns of all salmon caught. Our Administration makes no attempt to find out what number of fish are caught in Lough Neagh. My view is that they are failing to meet their obligations under that treaty. Also, Lough Neagh, as part of the British Isles is almost certainly the only inland commercial salmon fishery in the north Atlantic. It is the only inland area where serious commercial trout fishing takes place. Having said that, there is a very valuable eel and commercial coarse fishery on Lough Neagh, and we do not oppose that, but we want to see much stricter regulation and control.


Mr Haughey: Can I come back to the question of how one reduces commercial fishing? There are two points I want to touch on. A major review has just been published in England and Wales on inland fisheries. It recommends the phasing out of a number of netting operations. The report also recommends that the Government contribute money to compensation schemes to accelerate that phasing out.


There is a move right across the Atlantic to phase out fisheries by various means. Canada, for instance, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying out its salmon fisheries. That is a very high level of expenditure. England is now bringing its forward and persuading the Government to start contributing to it. Recently a number of nets have been bought out in Wales. There is quite a movement on the issue.


About two and a half or three years ago the European Union issued a directive on the phasing out of the drift-netting of tuna and salmon. Lo and behold, the British and Irish Governments managed to get the salmon excepted, but drift-netting for salmon is now being phased out. We see this, along with the whitefish decommissioning schemes, as setting a precedent for the decommissioning of fisheries. We almost got the drift-netting for salmon brought through, but this was dropped at the last minute. Those schemes for salmon, for instance, are on the table at the European Union. All that would be necessary would be to change the appropriate words in the tuna directive. There are many opportunities for that sort of thing.


Dr Adamson: At present fish farm operators must have a fish culture licence. Do you believe that the culture licence conditions are inadequate and, if so, how should they be improved? Secondly, do you think that fish farm operators should be charged an annual fee to cover the cost of supervising them, to ensure they comply with the conditions of their licence?


Mr Kilgore: Why would we risk it? We have difficulties with the growing emergence of a fish culture licence for all sorts of species. Currently the only effective licensing system is for trout and salmon. We are just about to embark on a land-based production of turbot in south Down. This is becoming more common, and is now where the emphasis is. There must be regulation of all these farms because they can range from the very basic "hole in the ground" to very sophisticated water recirculating systems. They are not monitored right through to how they regulate the disposal of waste. One tends to concentrate on consent to discharge rather than on the regulation of the species and what sort, as well as how much, food they have stored. A whole range of matters needs to be dealt with.


Mr McCreight: In fish farms on rivers people produce mainly salmon and trout. There must be a limit on the amount of water that can be abstracted. Some continental countries have protection for fish farms. They stipulate that the outflow must be pumped upstream, so it is imperative to keep one's water clean so as not to kill one's own fish.


There must be a limit on the percentage of water than can be abstracted. Some cultural licences now stipulate a percentage, but there is no way of measuring it. There is no flow measurement, so it actually means nothing. It gets the administrators off the hook, but it does not solve the problem. The anglers pay for this monitoring which is carried out by the Fisheries Conservancy Board and which are funded by anglers. The fish farmers pay nothing towards this. The more fish farms and hydros that have to be monitored, the less money the fisheries boards have to carry out their primary duty of looking after fisheries.


Mr McCarthy: You suggest that the present level of protection of cormorants needs to be removed and that there should be a reduction of numbers to bring the long-term population level down. Are there any solutions to predation by cormorants and seals which would be acceptable to all bodies?


Mr Kilgore: The answer to that is "No". As was previously mentioned, the difficulty the angling community faces is that the RSPB, amongst others, will not accept any suggestion of culling cormorants. Results of research on the River Bush show that something like 60% of smolt production was taken by cormorants. Each smolt which is taken by cormorants costs £2·50 to produce.


There are a number of reasons for the explosion of cormorants. There are also a number of reasons why there needs to be some regulation. For example, cormorants are now beginning to interfere with other bird species - never mind our fish stocks. We are primarily concerned with fish stocks, and the overall impact right across its habitat.


Cormorants now roost inland but are essentially a coastal bird. In the Seaforde demesne, County Down, they are killing off vegetation because of the high acidic content of their droppings - whole areas are stained. They are causing an environmental impact which must be addressed.


As regards seals, if we do not look carefully at how we regulate the seal population we will end up with a situation that occurred 10 years ago. Nature may interfere, as it did then, with disease occurring in the seal population. The last time this occurred it caused major concerns as there was uncertainty as to where it would spread. When populations are allowed to run out of control they have an impact which has a knock-on and lasting effect.


If we manage any part of the food chain we have got to manage all of the food chain. One cannot simply say that we manage a particular part without managing the totality of the relationship. This is what is happening with the cormorant and the seal. We manage parts of the food chain, and there are parts of it which we protect and ignore with the effect of not carefully looking at how the whole food chain interlocks. I think that is an important point.


In relation to the culling of cormorants. The most effective regulation is not shooting them but keeping them on the move. If you kill a cormorant under licence another cormorant will take its place. There has got to be a very careful look at how one actually carries out the operation. If an angling body has, under law, a licence to kill 10, 20 or 30 cormorants, but when one is talking about a population of thousands, then one has to look at the regulatory system of the entire food chain. As I previously mentioned, if you interfere with one part you have really got to manage the overall situation.


Mr McCarthy: Can you give a brief outline of the implications of sand eel netting and capelin catching? What are your proposals for changes in the legislation governing this practice?


Mr Kilgore: There is a major issue here. There is an international dimension. The Danish are taking vast quantities of sand eels which they ensile and turn into a fish meal, a by-product which is used as a food resource for other species. The oil is used to generate electricity in their power stations. If one interferes and takes out large quantities of capelin - a small herring of the herring species - and sand eels, it could lead to a collapse of that particular food chain. This happened before in South Down. Its total herring fishery was almost lost because it was interfered with at one point under the guise of a sprat fishery for fish meal, but in the process, juvenile herring were also being taken. I advance the same argument here. If there is no regulation or a total allowable catch introduced, there will be cross-national implications.


Mr Kilgore: The effect of taking sand eels from the North Sea has had a knock-on effect through the whole food chain. They are the food source for salmon and sea trout at sea, and by reducing their numbers, one reduces productivity. Total world production of wild Atlantic salmon is around 10,000 tons. Some fish farms in Norway can produce 10 times that figure annually. They must find an input to maintain production, and unless there is total regulation, one diminishes other aspects of the environment. Eventually we cause ourselves major problems. Moving beyond the simple regulation of fisheries for the pleasure angler, we are faced with how we regulate our environment for our own survival. It comes down to issues as big as that.


Mr Davis: Where are the sandbars, and who is responsible for that section of the river? Do you have any suggestions how these can be removed, and would you like to venture a guess at the cost?


Mr McCreight: It relates very much to two or three of the main Lough Neagh tributaries. The problem really came about when the Department of Agriculture lowered the level of Lough Neagh. That has been done on several occasions, most recently in the late 1950s or early 1960s. At that time they agreed with the Lough's commercial fishermen that they would maintain their quays, dredging to the depth required for their boats to get in and out, but they did not take any similar steps to protect rivers from the build-up of sandbars. The responsibility must lie with the people who caused the problem in the first place, the Drainage Division. The cost, and how often it would have to be done, are questions for a drainage expert, but the price would probably be not less than six figures.


The Chairperson: Gentlemen, we have had a wide- ranging series of questions. I congratulate and thank you on how well you answered them and co-operated with the Committee members. You may be aware that we have received 70 diverse submissions, some of them as substantial as your own. Dealing with them shall take us a good deal longer than some of us thought at the outset, but your considerations will be very valuable in helping us bring everything together. As you might imagine, certain areas on which we need to make recommendations are already becoming very clear, and it is to be hoped that we shall be able to draw the process to a conclusion later this year. Thank you very much. I am sure we shall be in touch again if necessary.



Members Present:
Mrs Nelis (The Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Agnew
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr F Quigley
Mr D Brown
Mr H Avery
Mr T Conlon


The Deputy Chairperson: Good morning, Gentlemen. I welcome you to our fishing inquiry. We have read your submissions with interest. You will have 20 minutes for your presentations this morning. That is not a long time, and I know that you have much to say, but another organisation will be giving evidence at noon. Members also have questions to ask in relation to your submissions. We will begin with a short introduction from yourselves.


Mr Quigley: Mr Danny Brown, on my right, has been campaigning for better fishing policies in Northern Ireland for at least 15 years. He was chairman of the Lough Neagh and Maine System Game Anglers Association, which no longer exists. He was involved in stocking the River Maine system long before salmonid enhancement money was available. He is regarded by many as the voice of the angler in Northern Ireland.


Next in line is Harry Avery, who was secretary of the Lough Neagh and Maine System Game Anglers Association. He is a lifelong angler with a good deal of knowledge about developing rivers, and hydroelectric schemes in particular, a subject in which he has taken a great interest. Tommy Conlon, at the far end, is also a lifelong angler. He is a journalist and has concentrated his efforts around the Dungannon area and the River Blackwater. He is prepared to speak out on behalf of the angler.


I shall not tell you how long I have been fishing, but it is certainly a long time. I edit 'Angling Ireland' magazine, which covers the 32 Counties, and this gives me an insight into the feelings of the ordinary angler, who has no one to speak for him. I would term myself a conservation angler. That is our line-up.


Mr Brown: Thank you for this opportunity, for which I have waited a long time. I have held the office of treasurer of the Kells and Connor Angling Club for 22 years, during which I have witnessed over 62 pollution incidents on the Kellswater River, 35 of which killed considerable numbers of fish. Department of Environment sewage and chemical discharges were the main pollutants in what is determined an agricultural area.


I was also chairman of the Lough Neagh and Maine System Game Anglers Association. At that time, I represented over 2000 game anglers, and we were continually growing. We could have become the premier angling representative body in Ulster. However, word was put about that if member clubs remained in our association, they would find it difficult to obtain salmon enhancement funding from the Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Division, of whom we were very critical at the time. Our association had to be wound up.


Many times over the years I have requested information from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment and the Environment and Heritage Service. However, I have always been confronted by the same things - lies, silence, secrecy and obstruction and in many cases arrogance, incompetence and anonymity. As an outsider, I very soon became aware of the power of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to close ranks.


In 1988, I helped expose an illegal salmon hatchery in Maghera, County Derry. It was being operated by a scientist and two bailiffs employed by the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB). Board equipment was used to capture the salmon, which were cut open, had their eggs removed, and their carcasses dumped along the river bank. It took something like 50 letters and 23 questions tabled in the House of Commons before an admission was made by the FCB and the Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Division that all this had taken place.


The two bailiffs are still employed by the board, and the scientist, far from being dismissed at the time, was later promoted to deputy chief executive of the FCB, albeit for a very short period. It took 37 questions in the House of Commons to discover the magnitude of the exploitation of fish stocks in Lough Neagh. This is a commercial operation. When it comes to salmon and trout, there are no quotas or conservation measures. It is common knowledge that pike and perch stocks in Lough Neagh are in serious decline. The Atlantic salmon that we hear so much about is close to extinction. Consider the salmon arriving in our system via the Lower Bann. They are faced with traps at The Cutts in Coleraine. They are held up at Carnroe. There are over 30 licensed draft nets for the capture of salmon, and 184 trout nets, in Lough Neagh.


If you think that is bad, it has been said in the House of Commons that a commercial fisherman on Lough Neagh can have in his possession a licence to capture fish, a dealer's licence to buy and sell fish, and a private water bailiff's warrant to protect those same fish. This individual can have any species of fish in his possession, at any time of the year, without fear of prosecution. The number of licensed nets on Lough Neagh peaked in 1994. Laid end to end, they would have measured 94 miles. That is a fact that can be substantiated. The Ulster Angling Federation is fully aware of all of these facts, but in some instances it has chosen to remain silent.


Only after a further 14 questions in the House of Commons was the extent of aluminium sludge dumping from water treatment works on to the hills of every river catchment area in Northern Ireland revealed. We estimate that, over 42 years, 150,000 tons of contaminated aluminium sludge has been dumped in Northern Ireland. The latest site to be affected is Slieve Croobe at the headwaters of the River Clogh at Ballymena.


Following 23 questions in the House of Commons, Mr Michael Ancram MP admitted that there are 104 fattening ponds in Northern Ireland. These ponds operate without culture licences or discharge consents. One pond at Cullybackey is capable of producing 20,000 table-size rainbow trout every 18 months. The FCB knows nothing of these ponds, so they cannot be inspected for compliance with the Fisheries Act. There have been no health inspections, yet these fish move through the food chain into supermarkets and put- and-take fisheries throughout Northern Ireland.


Movement licences must have been issued for every movement of live trout to and from these ponds that do not officially exist. When I requested copies of trout movement permits from the Department, I received 28 out of the 1203 that were written. I have no idea what the remainder contain.


A prosecution was prepared against a fish farmer - a former executive member of the FCB - for not having smolt screens fitted at the intakes to his fish ponds. The case, which I attended along with my colleague Harry Avery, was adjourned a number of times. It collapsed when a senior fisheries officer from the Department of Agriculture made it plain that he was prepared to defend the fish farmer against the FCB. Nothing has happened. The Ulster Angling Federation was fully aware of this, but has chosen to remain silent.


I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Northern Ireland MPs, who have tabled some 171 questions in the House of Commons on my behalf. I could never have obtained this information otherwise. Life would have been a lot easier if the Ulster Angling Federation, which is the only game angling body ever to be consulted by the Department of Agriculture, had assisted me in any way. My colleagues and I discovered that rocking the boat was not part of their ethos. Rocking the boat does not bring a salmonid enhancement facilitator's well-paid job at £35,000 per year, or a lucrative hydro-monitoring contract, such as was summed up the night I met you, worth £120,000, nor a trip to the Palace for a gong. I do not seek a gong.


In closing, I believe this Committee must advise the Minister, Mr McGimpsey, that he has inherited a Fisheries Division whose credibility has long since evaporated over 20 years of incompetence and neglect of our fish stocks. A new start must be made with competent and trustworthy fisheries staff willing to listen to lifelong anglers. We must have a completely new management structure with openness, transparency and accountability. Never again must a Crown Department and a select few influential outsiders be allowed to reign over the fishing empire of Ulster. Thank you.


The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you.


Mr Avery: It is the opinion of all of us here that the manner of the promotion of hydroelectric power in Northern Ireland under the Non Fossil Fuel Order and its subsequent development was the most disgraceful example of disregard for the status of fisheries here and the most blatant abuse of departmental power in the history of fisheries in Northern Ireland.


Despite the lack of proper and adequate legislation and the unique and historic uselessness of the planning agencies in imposing their will on the private sector, the field was explored with almost maniacal fervour by the Government Departments involved in this promotion. As far as we are aware, on no occasion was any energy devoted to the protection of Northern Ireland's salmon and trout stocks, which were by that time in a desperate state because of the incompetence of, neglect by and refusal of the various departments with responsibility to enforce even the inadequate legislation on the statute book.


It is now ironic that all the subsequent problems, of which this Committee is fully aware, were clearly drawn to the attention of the former Department of Agriculture, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of the Environment long before the first round of applications were approved. Where advice was freely given and problems pointed out, that advice was rejected and every effort was made to ensure the most favourable financial circumstances for the developers.


We are now in a situation where those plants that are already licensed are presenting major problems to our fish stocks. The only response by the Departments involved was to commission, at inordinate expense, a study undertaken primarily by people unqualified in the field - a study which those who have knowledge of the field cannot support and which cynically undermines those who sought to supply them with the best advice at the outset.


This Committee is now well advised of the problems that the fisheries here face regarding the present operation of the hydroelectric plants licensed. It is the opinion of those present that fixed closure periods and enforceable measures to protect fish at sites licensed, as outlined in my report to this Committee, is the only way to lessen the damage that is now apparent. Those present have no confidence in the decision makers in the Fisheries Division of the former Department of Agriculture or in the Planning Service of the Department of the Environment to regulate the field or in the FCB to police any conditions imposed.


We are also of the opinion that, because of the desperate condition of our angling estate and the need for radical change, a new agency should be set up with powers vested in it to effectively cover all aspects of protecting fisheries and river environments, and the development of those fisheries to serve the common good.


Because of our experiences over the years, none of us present has any confidence left in the policy makers involved in fisheries here historically and particularly in the FCB as an agency to enforce the legislation or police Northern Ireland's fisheries.


It is vital to bring new talent and people who are trustworthy immediately into the new agency to look after our fisheries. That agency must reflect the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland through the power vested in our new Assembly. It is also of paramount importance that in the future there is diversity of opinion among the organisations representing the anglers and that those opinions are listened to.


Anglers must never again be placed in a position where they are shunned for advice given in good faith. While incompetence, collusion with vested interests and apathy may have been the prime reason for the decline of fisheries here, the failure of the one angling body deemed acceptable by Departments here to represent angling opinion properly was the root cause. Because of this we believe that further financing of lobby groups and individuals within those groups by the Government should cease immediately.


As previously indicated to the Committee, the funding for the new agency is already there. Revenue from the fees for water abstraction and discharge consent licensing which the Northern Ireland Departments failed to introduce as they were instructed to by Parliament, would amount to approximately £8 million over the years, and over £1·5 million yearly would pay for the day-to-day running costs of the new agency without burning the public purse.


The future of fisheries and their economic benefit to our people rests entirely on the conclusions of this inquiry and the recommendations of this Committee. The task of righting the abuses and neglect of half a century is a difficult one but it must and will be done.


Mr Conlon: Thank you very much for inviting me here today.


I come from one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland so I have no qualms about what I say here today. Because of the way in which fishing has been destroyed over the years there are people in our Departments who should be in a place up the road that I pass on my way to Dungannon - a place that is now closed down.


I also have many concerns about abuses with regard to funding, and I have previously made my views known. In February 2000 I was threatened at my club's annual general meeting, and I had to leave. I was a committee member, and one of my relations was the secretary. We went to the meeting earlier this year - or, perhaps, it was at the end of last year - and we were told that the meeting was over and that we were barred from the club. A court case is pending so I cannot say much more about the incident except that part one of the reasons for the ban was that we were asking too many questions. The words said to me at the annual general meeting of the association that covers both sides of the border had a strong impact upon me, and I would not wish to pass comment on them, although I have spoken privately to some members of the panel.


In Tyrone we have the highest recorded pollution rates in Northern Ireland. In 1985 there was a major drainage scheme on the River Blackwater. It was not completed until 1989 and cost over £30 million. Many conservation groups warned the Department of Agriculture of the damage that the scheme would cause, and today there is proof of that damage. It cost a further £30 million over the next five years for rehabilitation works to undo the damage caused to the river, and today that river is one of the most derelict waters in Ireland. Not more than one month ago there was a major fish kill along a mile of that river, but only around 26 fish were killed. That shows how bad the fishing has been.


In the last 20 years approximately £100 million has been spent on that system. There are four hydro- electric schemes, and every one is detrimental to fishing. This year we will see few, if any, salmon in that river.


I agree with what Mr Brown and Mr Avery said. I have been on this panel with these gentlemen for a long time and came to know them by accident. I have been a freelance angling correspondent for over 20 years. I do not get paid, so nobody can ever accuse me of double-dealing.


Finally, rather than my sitting here and talking all day, I ask Committee members to come to the river so that I can show them the evidence on the ground.


Mr Quigley: Madam Chairperson, perhaps you will allow me to sum up. We have worked on this business for some time, and we propose that the Committee should consider a single Northern Ireland fishing agency. The title would be a matter for the Committee, but the agency should comprise of 24 members from the angling community who should be elected by postal ballot every three years. This should get rid of the quango culture and allow people with fresh ideas to be elected to the body. Each person who buys a rod licence should have the right to vote that year.


The new agency should be responsible for the issuing of rod licences, permits and all other licences connected with fishing. There should be a single licence for Northern Ireland. The present situation is too confusing. If you wish to fish in different areas you need four or five licences. A single licence would also help boost tourism. The cost of licences, permits, and nets should be closely examined. Currently, a licence for a 1,375 metre salmon drift net costs £288 per annum. My rod licence costs £21 per annum. I put back every fish I catch - netsmen do not. In 1997 the FCB received the sum of £48,940 from net licences. In the same year it received £242,000 from rod licences. That is five times as much, and I do not think we are getting a fair share.


The agency should promote angling in association with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. That will be an uphill struggle for those taking on that job. Only 585 visitor-game-rod licences were sold in 1997. A greater number were sold for two weekends fishing on the River Moy in County Mayo.


The agency should have sole powers to investigate pollution incidents. Responsibility is currently too fragmented. Nothing gets done - and we have proved that time and again.


The agency should have the statutory right to view all planning applications close to a waterway. That would bring us into line with what happens in the Republic of Ireland where the fishery boards have that right.


The agency would prepare strategy plans for catchment management, development and promotion. We believe that in each region comprising three or four catchment areas there should be an association of clubs and anglers. In conjunction with those associations - which should be promoted by DCAL -the strategies for those catchment areas should develop from the ground up through the new agency to this Committee. The Committee should then make recommendations to the Minister.


The agency should be solely responsible for issuing consents to discharge effluent to a waterway, monitoring and setting fees. Currently, the criteria for making decisions are very unclear. It seems to be at the whim of a civil servant. Monitoring is non-existent. As regards the imposition of fees, between £6 million and £8 million per year are going begging. That money could run our fisheries.


The agency should have sole responsibility for issuing water abstraction licences and exemption certificates. That situation has to be reviewed. We can no longer tolerate 85 per cent of the water in our river being taken to feed a hydro. We are leaving long stretches of our rivers virtually dry. That just cannot continue.


The agency should have sole responsibility for the control of net licences including the right to stop netting because not enough fish are getting through.


The agency should be responsible for the management of Movanagher Fish Farm. The responsibility for that should also be with DCAL, and not another body.


On the basis of being democratically created, the agency will have transparency. The minutes of agency meetings should be published. It will be democratic through elections at ground level. Above all, policies will be angler driven - that is the problem currently.


Of the 24 people who currently sit on the FCB, only six represent anglers. Anglers pay the lion's share. That situation is wrong. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Fisheries Division tried to offload the public angling estate, which comprises all of the reservoirs and the Department's waters, on to the FCB. However, the public waters have deteriorated to such an extent that the private put and take waters actually attract more anglers than they do. The private put-and-take waters represent a fraction of the acreage of the Department's waters. DCAL should consider extending the joint management agreements with the angling clubs in catchment areas in which the Department's water is virtually derelict. Negotiations should take place, and the area should be run jointly by the club and the Department.


I want to speak about inshore fishing. I come from Larne, which has a sea trout/salmon river. Our sea trout spend 80% to 90% of their life inshore; they are freshwater fish that spend a lot of time in salt water. DCAL should have control of inshore fishing. This would also have another benefit. Cormorants are now a serious predator - they are a sea bird but are now a serious predator in fresh water because we have netted their food supply. If we had control again of inshore netting perhaps, in a couple of years, cormorants would return to the sea and leave our freshwater fish alone.


Fifty years ago the shooting of ducks, waders, and curlews et cetera for sale was banned and overnight that trade ceased. There is enough evidence before all Governments to show that the netting of Atlantic salmon should cease, and this should apply to sea trout as well. This should continue for ten years to allow the stocks to increase.


The Deputy Chairperson: I would remind you of the time. What you are saying is very interesting, but the Committee has a large number of questions to put to you.


Mr Quigley: The Bush salmon research station at Bushmills has been a 28-year experiment and, to be honest, the Northern Ireland taxpayer or the licence holding angler has not seen one iota of benefit in that time. It should be wrapped up; the money would be better spent on our rivers and lakes.


The Deputy Chairperson: On behalf of the Committee I thank you all for your contribution, not just to this fishing inquiry but also for your lifelong devotion, contribution and loyalty to the preservation of our water, our environment and the natural life of the water. The fishing industry would like to thank you for that.


Mr J Wilson: As a group, and as individuals, you have been vociferous in campaigning for better practices in the management of the angling estate. Why has that been so necessary and why have you carried on this campaign seemingly on a separate track from established bodies representing angling interests in Northern Ireland?


Mr Brown: I have been a member of the Kells and Connor Angling Club since 1972, holding the post of treasurer since 1978. I have watched slowly as a river has been choked to death. We were once a part of the Ulster Angling Federation, as were many angling clubs in Northern Ireland. I do not know how many retain membership now. I can only speak for the Kells and Connor Angling Club and the clubs I was associated with on the Maine before our association was dissolved. Going to the body that was recognised by the Government, after doing our homework, we found that it was funded by the Department of the Environment through the House of Sport. The people who listened to your argument took it away with them but it went no further - you do not bite the hand that feeds you. If you are to have a lobbying group it must be totally divorced from any Government influence or funding - a week day's fishing on the Bann, if you look after things or do a wee thing here for us.


I am 57 years old this year and I have been fishing since I was seven years old. During these years I have seen the chaos and I have watched the Maine system slowly die, but, as has been said, we were making inroads. I started an enhancement programme in which we involved the local hoteliers and local quarry people - Michelin and Gallahers contributed to the programme. However, because we were so critical, someone in the Government saw fit to do away with the lobbying group. Unfortunately, the people who are supposed to represent the anglers are not doing so effectively.


Mr Conlon: I agree. I have received letters from officers in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development which state that I am putting people's jobs in jeopardy, but I am doing my best to get an answer. However, I have received threats this year from, what I believed were, genuine fishing associations. I therefore believe that there is collusion among people in certain organisations and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.


Mr Davis: Gentlemen, you have all been extremely critical of those who have been in charge of this situation. In your submission you state that the duplication of responsibility and the confusion that arises from it should be avoided. This could be done if all aspects of fishing policy and the protection of river environment became the responsibility of one body.


You have also recommended that a marine and inland fisheries agency be established in which those responsibilities removed from the DOE, the Fisheries Division and the FCB be vested. Do you envisage that this agency will also be responsible for sea fishing? At present the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission are responsible for sea fishing.


Mr Quigley: I have never understood why the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission was required. We have had a licence in Foyle and now we are also going to have a licence in Carlingford Lough. The problems arise where there is a duplication of responsibility. If I have an incident of oil pollution in my river the FCB cannot deal with it. Somebody else has to deal with it because it is in a different category. I would like one house to deal with everything from the headwaters of a stream to where it spills out into the sea and everything in between. This would include what we think should be net free zones around our coast to allow our fish stocks to increase. Every aspect of fishing from two or three miles offshore to the headwaters - the pollution, promotion, protection of fish, stocking, development plans, promotion of fishing through the tourist boards - should be the responsibility of one body elected by the anglers. It has been proven that split responsibility does not work, and it is also more expensive to administer.


Mr Shannon: Gentlemen, thank you for your submission. My questions relate to the issue that you have already mentioned, namely protection measures. In your submission you suggested that it might be possible to secure some money from the Peace and Reconciliation Fund for your salmonid enhancement scheme.


My question is to do with habitat protection. Is it more important to have a habitat protection or improvement measure as a long-term remedy, in the hope that we can do away with the need to re-stock?


Mr Avery: Look at the amount of money that has been spent on trying to improve fisheries through the salmonid enhancement funding scheme in the European Union. If the proper legislation had been enforced to protect our rivers and clean water and spawning gravel, that money would not have had to have been spent.


I am of the opinion that hatcheries are a sort of red herring. Some people regard them as a short cut to an end, but by having them you are trying to bypass nature. If a river can produce 2,000 salmon smolts, 2,000 will go to sea. If one million fry are reared to smolt stage in a hatchery and put into a river, only 2,000 will go to sea. Going down the line of building hatcheries looks good on paper and sucks up large amounts of money quickly, but protection is the main thing. There must be legislation and trustworthy people to enforce it.


Mr Brown: May I give you a brief example, and I cite my own river. It rises in the Larne line at Ballyboley Forest and goes back to Slemish. There are around 18 miles of feeder burns, which are nursery burns. I personally investigated most of them to establish an invertebrate food chain in respect of what was going to be there to substantiate a stocking programme. We have always been faced with the problem that the Department of the Environment's Water Service dumps aluminium sludge throughout Ballyboley Forest, that is leaching back into the headwaters of the river. Not only does it dump it round the forest, it admitted that it was dumping supernatant water. I have a sample of this which I had analysed, and the report confirmed that this water contained 350 millilitres of pure aluminium per litre of water tested and yet the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is sitting there like Pontius Pilate washing its hands of the whole situation. In order to enhance that top end of the river there needs to be a single establishment that can say "There must be no more dumping there; we need to enhance this river". On certain days the river changes. Sometimes red oxide, which was the aluminium, went into it, and sometimes tonnes of white lime. After this was discharged into the river I captured fish and took them to Sterling University in Scotland, to the department of aquaculture there, which is recognised as the best salmonid inspection area in Europe, and what did they find? They found that salmon had been born with spinal defects - due to aluminium. The water had not been properly filtered to give them oxygen, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sat back and said nothing. The body representative of all anglers sat back and said nothing. Unless we get the food chain correct and have a single entity to protect it, nothing is going to work.


Mr Conlon: The short way of answering that question is as I said earlier. In 1985 millions were spent on the Blackwater system by way of development works, and to me, this work was not properly carried out. The money that has been spent on rehabilitating that system since 1985 should have left the river full of fish, but today it is not; there are many reasons for that, including pollution.


Mr Hilditch: Do you think there should be different levels of fines depending on whether it is a first offence or not?


Mr Brown: The Government must have an in-house clean up. Two or three weeks ago I was in the South of Ireland and I heard the Mayor of Ballymena announce the establishment of the new eco-centre in Ballymena costing millions of pounds which will be promoting environmental awareness.


Within an hour of hearing that on television I got a phone call to tell me that an antiquated sewerage station at Tullygarley had left raw sewage bank to bank on the River Braid down to the River Maine. A fish farmer on the Maine had to be informed that deoxygenation of the water was taking place.


The Government must clean up their act first and then establish the criterion that pollution costs. You normally get a warning letter from the FCB if you kill fish. There have been at least 18 reports of fish kills this year. The Government must face the reality that they are the biggest polluter in Ulster.


Mr Quigley: We all know that accidents can happen. A farmer, with the best will in the world, can have an accident and slurry and silage effluent can escape. But some persistent offenders go in front of a magistrate and all they receive is a smack on the back of the hand. We think it should be treated as a crime against the community and not as a misdemeanour.


The Deputy Chairperson: I can understand the confusion with the various agencies. At the moment I am trying to find my way between the FCB, the Water Service, the Environment and Heritage Service, LAPs agency on fish kills in the Faughan, and concerns about lime spillage. When anglers make these allegations they have great difficulty in getting the agencies responsible to admit any liability. I am getting letters saying that it did not happen, but I have absolute proof that it did happen.


Dr Adamson: Mr Quigley, you said that commercial fishing and the sales of wild salmon should be banned. Is there any legislation in place to control the number of fish that commercial fishermen can catch, and would you suggest that netting laws are inadequate?


Mr Quigley: Netting laws seem to be just a free-for-all. That is our objection. When I was a child I had a thing called a pop gun. This was a murderous weapon which had a barrel of about three inches. It was put on a small punt and it fired nails and bits of metal. It was put out on to Lough Neagh or Strangford Lough and it went off like a cannon and slaughtered hundreds of birds. Overnight that stopped when an Order was brought in banning the sale, but not the shooting of, ducks and waders. There was no point in shooting them if you could not sell them.


Everyone talks about how the salmon is in crisis and the sea trout is in crisis, but all they do is talk about it. Task forces are appointed to look at the situation and in five years' time they will still be saying they are in worse crisis than they were five years ago, but nobody does anything about it. Somebody must take the bull by the horns, and it should be this Committee. The Committee should say that it can no longer faff about and allow our fish to decline to the stage where there are 50 Atlantic salmon left in Northern Ireland. It cannot be allowed to get to that stage. Someone has to pull the plug and buy out the drift nets, the bag nets and the fixed nets all round the coast. Let us look at the situation for 10 years and see if we can afford to take some of the crop, a crop which does not belong to us.


It is the next generation's crop. That is what we are delving into - we are going into the reserves. We have passed the stage of taking a harvest. We are now eating the seed, and if you know anything about farming, it is fatal if you have to eat the seed. That is exactly what we are doing at this moment, and it has to come to an end - somebody has to do something about it. That is why we are so frustrated. That is why we have had to persist and to keep hammering and hammering with phone calls, meetings and letters to try to get somebody to listen to us. We asked for this inquiry six years ago. Thank God, you people have now set up this one, but we could not get it six years ago. What were we supposed to do - wait until our salmon are completely gone and then do something about it? That is not an option. We want something done about it now. You people are elected by us, and we believe that you can do it.


Mr Avery: The other thing about the commercial netting for salmon is that over the years when our rivers were in decline, when we had pollution and river abstraction, we had plants taking water from the rivers, no fitted screens and smolts were being killed all over the place. It was just accepted that that is the way it was done, and nobody cared. At that time the salmon stocks were in decline, but the people made their living from the netting of them. Every year they were taking a larger part of a shrinking resource. Those people must be properly compensated. We want the salmon to survive, and we do not want anybody punished. However, it is not altogether their fault. The conditions in the river are deplorable. Over the years they were still taking the same amount. Fewer and fewer were getting by, and now we are in this position.


Mr Quigley: We understand that just over 2,000 fish have come through into the River Bann up to this moment. That is tragic.


Mr Avery: In the early sixties 100,000 ran the Bann. It was Europe's premier salmon river.


Mr Brown: After these fish have sought the sanctuary of the lower River Bann and Lough Neagh they are faced with 30 draft nets for the capture of salmon, without any quotas, without any returns. We do not know how many fish they are taking. This has occurred at several fisheries since the plantation of Ulster.


The Deputy Chairperson: Do you think that as a stand-alone measure, independent of anything else, we should ban commercial fishing and the sales of wild salmon as well?


Mr Brown: If you want to see salmon here in the year 2010 for your grandchildren - you may be father and mother to kiddies - we have got to move now. We are into the millennium. The fish are in a crisis situation. That is acknowledged throughout the world


Mr Quigley: The Atlantic salmon are in trouble.


Mr Brown: We are trying very hard to stock out the top of the Glenwherry with salmon ova that we are stripping from fish this year. We are putting them into beds of aluminium, which is going to kill between 80% and 90% of that year's spawning. Let me get back to the question of one agency. The invertebrate is the food chain of the system. We cannot establish that while the Department of Agriculture is controlling what it does by turning a blind eye to what the Department of the Environment is doing with aluminium. You have to appreciate that the whole of the Silent Valley catchment is covered in aluminium. I have had the facts secured for me through the House of Commons. I said earlier that 171 questions were tabled in the House of Commons. Before that everyone blocked my door. I was knocked about, abused, physically thrown out of places. I have been thrown out of places by Government scientists who did not want to release the information so I took the only route I could take. I owe so much to many MPs and MEPs in Northern Ireland for securing that information.


The Deputy Chairperson: Mr Conlon, I am sorry for interrupting you. There are several important points to cover. Hydroelectricity is the next one. I will come back to you.


Mr Agnew: Madam Chairperson, may I say at the outset that I appreciate the forthright way in which the case has been presented here today, and I quite enjoyed reading some of the correspondence. It was good stuff - someone has a gift with the pen.


You mentioned a particular individual who is involved in the hydroelectric scheme not too far from where Mr Quigley lives. In a previous life he was in the construction industry as well, and I know the background there. I have no difficulty relating to that.


I wanted to ask a question about hydroelectricity. You claim that existing legislation is inadequate and say that the environmental impact assessments may not have been independent. What legislation is required and what would you like to see changed?


Mr Avery: With hydroelectricity, they basically broke all the rules. They took the whole river. Financially, they have got to get a return on their investment. Now if they had bought the turbine from, dare I say it, Mr Maguire, it would have had to be paid back, which is very tempting. This is not something to be handed over to the private sector because the return on investment depends almost entirely on how much water is taken. The more water is taken, the more the pound signs go round in the metre, and that is what is wrong. Developers are taking 85% of the water of the river at the weirs in Randalstown, and it is being returned almost a mile downstream. The question always was how the salmon got up to the weir. The Government Department knew this. We went to some pains to tell them and we asked them to revise the legislation long before the Non Fossil Fuel Order came along. When Danny Mac and I went to the planning meetings, we found that the developer had planning permission already. He had his licence to generate, and there was nothing we could do.


Mr Brown: Without any environmental impact study he already had his licence to generate electric.


Mr Avery: At Randalstown, Terry Maguire drew up the environmental impact study. He managed the turbine. The least anybody could have asked for was an independent environmental impact statement. One page was about the fishery and the rest was about the ratings for the turbine.


Mr Brown: May I answer something you have not asked yet? There are criteria for the implementation of hydroelectricity under the Non-Fossil Fuel Order. They are there if you look for them. I have documents secured from Canada, America, France, Germany and throughout the world. The Fisheries Conservancy Board does not yet have a copy of the criteria, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development does not have a copy of them. The criteria in my documents were adopted and implemented by the National Rivers Agency in the United Kingdom, but there is nothing here to say that we have to follow the rest of the United Kingdom.


Mr Avery: Mr Brown and I went to a company in Belfast for an assessment of water inspection on the River Maine and I will hand a brochure over to the Committee because I think it is a fine company. It was prepared to look at the problems on the River Maine, at the water abstraction and at what was happening and prepare a report containing a recommendation on how to run the River Maine and get something out of its fish stocks. It was charging in the region of £10,000 - £15,000, exclusive of VAT. The monitoring study cost £120,000.


Mr Quigley: Anglers have been accused of being anti-environment. We have been accused of conducting a vendetta against hydroelectricity and against the Department on this sort of thing. That is total nonsense, we are not against green energy. I have a granddaughter, and I would like her to be in a cleaner world than I am in today, so I am for it. In Northern Ireland we have reservoirs for which 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, water comes out to go to your taps. Why could the hydros not have been put on the outlets from the reservoirs? There are no salmon up there, there are no trout running up the concrete wall to get in.


Mr Agnew: The water could still get to your homes as well?


Mr Quigley: Oh yes, the water goes through a bronze blade. It is not going to be contaminated; it is not going to be polluted. It can generate the electricity. We can have our green energy and not disturb one fish. That was put to the Department before the first planning permission was given. What happened? It was ignored.


Mr Agnew: Are you saying - and I think you are - that the environmental impact assessments were drawn up by someone who had a vested interest?


Mr Brown: Correct. You put it properly. I could not have put it in those words. That is correct.


Mr Avery: When it comes to generating electricity from rivers in Northern Ireland, I have grave doubts about developing plants rated 200kw and below. Just consider the turbine and all the copper winding. It takes a massive amount of electricity to produce the copper casing, and then there is all the cement that goes into the works. There is a big deficit before you can start generating at 200kw. The figures on their planning application were a lie. They quoted the highest figure they could get on a maximum flow to make it look rosy for the Minister. At 200kw it is going to take two or three years before you can empty that global emission that was made by producing the stuff. To produce hydro-electricity, you need big rivers - massive rivers - as in Sweden and Brazil. It works well there, but in Northern Ireland some of the rivers are only pitiful streams that have been drained. It is a lot of effort for very little electricity although you do sell turbines.


The Deputy Chairperson: We are almost at the end of our time and we have a lot of questions left. The Members have your submissions and they will read them. I will touch briefly on some points mentioned during your presentation today - and I assume in your submission as well. With reference to the rainbow trout fattening ponds, I think you said there were 104, most of which are illegal, and that Ministers are aware of these. I find that incredible.


Mr Brown: I had asked this question so many times and got no answer, so I got an MP from Northern Ireland to table 22 questions. Mr Michael Ancram rose to his feet and had to admit that there were 104 known fattening ponds. When we further questioned this we found that firstly, they did not have a culture licence which is required to feed fish and that, secondly, they did not have a consent to discharge the excrement - and everything else that the fish were getting dosed with - into the local waterway. However, the DOE actually issued a consent to discharge to the site at Cullybackey, which was still totally illegal. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development denied that it existed. Until I made it public, the FCB did not even know there was 104 fattening ponds. It is not even allowed to go near those places.


The Deputy Chairperson: Are they still operating?


Mr Brown: They are still operating - all apart from one.


The Deputy Chairperson: Are the responsible agencies aware that this is happening? Is it in Hansard?


Mr Brown: Yes


Mr Quigley: To move fish from one place to another, alive, requires a movement licence. So you can work out what was going on yourself.


The Deputy Chairperson: So section 11, which I believe is the appropriate legislation, has been violated?


Mr Brown: I was able to give one of these to the press, which was signed many days after the movement had actually happened.


The Deputy Chairperson: Have members got any other questions? We have been enlightened here today - I am sure you would agree. I will give you the opportunity to sum up your presentation - whoever wants to do that. I want to give Mr Conlon a chance to make his point before the summing up.


Mr Conlon: I could sum it up in one way. I get reports from the South of Ireland. Jim has read them and I think the Committee has read them. The newspapers in Northern Ireland also get these reports. They are upgrading the angling in the South in the areas of game fishing, coarse fishing and sea fishing. In Northern Ireland I do not know what the budget is for angling, but as an angling reporter I do not get one iota from any department to write in that paper. It is quite clear, in my view, that there should be one agency running our fisheries. If that does not happen, we are totally and utterly lost.


I will be a pensioner at the end of this year, and I never thought I would ever be sitting here. I hope that some good comes out of it.


The Deputy Chairperson: You invited us to come and see some of the problems. We are under pressure in the inquiry, but we will take that on board. We will look at our timescale and perhaps members of the Committee could go and see some of the places mentioned.


I want to thank you all again for your presentation which has been enlightening. Keep up the good work for the preservation of our environment - especially fishing. The Committee will pay close attention to the points raised this morning.


Mr Quigley: Thank you for inviting us. Can you please make us unemployed!


Mr Brown: I have waited a long time to get here. In the past I have had doors slammed in my face, and I have been kicked out of certain places - I have been treated badly. I thank you all kindly today.


Minutes of Evidence

Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr D Rowe )
Mr B Johnston )
Mr W Baird ) Ulster Farmers' Union
Mr W Aston )
Mr H Johnston )


The Deputy Chairperson: Good afternoon, Gentlemen. We have until one o'clock for submissions and members' questions. I would like to introduce the members of the Committee.


Mr Rowe: Thank you for inviting us to speak on this subject. I am president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, although I am not an expert on fish farming. I live in Fermanagh, on the edge of Lough Erne - in Lough Erne occasionally, depending on the weather. Our commodity director, Mr Wesley Aston, is with us to provide explanations of technical terms, should the need arise.


Mr B Johnston: We are members of the Northern Ireland region of the British Trout Association and the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) Fish Committee. The UFU acts as our secretariat and ably represents our interests here and in Europe. It provides us with a forum in which to discuss issues and develop plans for the industry. The British Trout Association (BTA) is our trade association and represents over 70% of the trout production in the United Kingdom. Funds are collected through a levy on members to pay for research and for the genetic promotion of trout.


The BTA in Northern Ireland represents over 50% of the production of trout and represents two of Europe's premier trout hatcheries. Trout farming started in Northern Ireland in the 1960s with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture. Willie Baird was one of the pioneers. At the time, the control of fish culture licensing and discharge consents was second to none in Europe. Today, however, most European countries have legislation similar to ours.


Trout production grew steadily, and a recent Cross-Border Aquaculture Initiative (CBAIT) survey suggests that production reached 1,000 tonnes per annum in 1992 and 1995. Of that 1,000 tonnes more than 60% was exported, mainly to the English wholesale markets. Trout farming in Northern Ireland has recently experienced difficulties. We had difficulties with sales in 1998, and they grew much worse in 1999. Overproduction in Great Britain and the lack of concerted marketing led to the collapse of the wholesale market price. Our geographical isolation compounded matters, and trout could not be sold at a profit.


Production of trout in Northern Ireland has reduced. A recent agriculture initiative survey produced by CBAIT suggested an annual tonnage of around 865 tonnes in 1999; our group estimates that that could be around 650 in 2000. A number of sites have closed, others have reduced production, and some now specialise in producing trout for angling waters.


The effects on the industry have been considerable. When reduced production is combined with lower prices, revenue from exports could be down by more than 50%. There is a corresponding fall in the number of people employed in the industry and a cumulative loss in the incomes of the rural areas where the trout farms are sited.


As this collapse occurred in late 1998 and in early 1999, the BTA commissioned Promar International, a business and marketing consultancy, to produce a survey of the industry and a trout development strategy.


They were very critical of the industry, saying that there were too many small-scale producers, something which makes it almost impossible to supply the major marketing outlets effectively. Producers are too individualistic, resulting in poor co-operation and low market development. Our product is traded in wholesale markets with limited marketing and little or no added value. There is no industry-wide quality scheme, leading to sales of poor-quality trout to the consumer. Surveys found consumers came from the older and better-off part of the population. The real killer blow for me was their observation that trout is seen to be dull and the poor man's salmon. We have our work cut out for us in modernising our industry.


The Promar report goes on to cover further production and marketing issues. However, the general message is the same: we must develop more efficient production units and increase the processing and marketing of the product.


Technology is available to improve and modernise trout farms. Trout feeds have improved dramatically in the last 10 years, not to mention the last 30. The improved feeds, with the application of modern filtering, recirculation and oxygenation of the water, can increase the production of trout from existing farm sites. Modern feeds have already reduced the impact that trout farming is having on the environment, and this could be built upon.


However, the capital requirements are large, and in a struggling sector, assistance would be necessary to maintain the present operators and allow development. The availability of some sort of modernisation grant over the short term would be the most productive. The producers must tackle the problems of quality control, processing and marketing of the product. Hazard analysis and quality assurance of farm trout will very soon be essential for the marketing of all produce. Indeed, only the availability of best-quality trout for processing will generate the demand necessary for the industry to expand, something we must do if we are to lower costs and compete. Present processing and marketing assistance must stay in place, allowing development of new markets, and, one hopes, new added-value products. This is vital for the long-term development of aquaculture in Northern Ireland.


I should like to raise two further matters with the Committee, the first being Northern Ireland's disease- free status. Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man have the highest disease-free status in Europe. This is very important to the trout industry. It also allows two trout hatcheries to operate in the Province, producing trout eggs for export around the world. The disease-free stock in Northern Ireland farms dramatically reduces the need for chemical and drug treatments, and an important key in maintaining and developing this disease status has been the services of the Veterinary Sciences Division of the Department of Agriculture. These services are very important to our industry and will continue to be required for further development and research.


My final point regards the angling interest in "put-and-take" and managed fisheries in Northern Ireland. The leisure and tourism market is becoming more important, and angling is a resource that can be developed. Anglers require fish to maintain their interest. Our committee has estimated that some Northern Ireland trout farms grow in excess of 100 tonnes of trout per annum for angling markets. Put alongside the figures from Movanagher, the Department's farm at Kilrea and the efforts of the Bush and Foyle hatcheries, the Erne and Melvin enhancement scheme and a number of other small hatcheries around the country, it has become obvious to us how important a healthy fish- farming industry - perhaps producing more catchable fish than our natural systems presently - is to good angling. We suggest angling groups receive encouragement to develop, and if necessary assistance to scale up operations from small ponds into larger fisheries, thus generating a demand for trout from our industry and providing a better recreation and entertainment role.


I return to the summary of our submission. In basic terms, our industry needs to expand. It is in difficulty, mainly because of its production-led ethos. It is unlikely that production will increase without production co-ordination and market development.


Production has declined and may even decline further unless farmers can reduce their costs. Assistance will be needed to protect and sustain the present industry.


Taking the longer-term view, the application of quality assurance and subsequent market developments should bring an increase in demand, and it is conceivable that the volume of production in Northern Ireland will increase. The application of modern techniques may increase the annual trout production to approximately 1,500 tonnes from its present 500 tonnes. There will also be further increases in production with the farming of other fish species.


The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr Johnston, for your presentation. The Chairperson, Mr ONeill, has arrived so we will exchange places now.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mrs Nelis. There are two questions which I am duty-bound to put to you at the outset and, as you are aware, the rest of the Committee have questions which they would like to ask you as well. From those questions I hope that we will get all the information that you and we would like to have on the table.


My two questions relate to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and concern the equality legislation which we are required to deal with at the beginning of each evidence session. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups, such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing - no, that would not apply to you. We will rest with the one question.


Mr Rowe: Mr Chairman, are you asking that question of the Ulster Farmers' Union or of the fish committee in its own right?


The Chairperson: Of the Ulster Farmers' Union.


Mr Rowe: The Ulster Farmers' Union qualifies on all those counts. We have a wide spectrum of members from all walks of life in Northern Ireland. Farming people have disabilities, and we represent all of those members.


The Chairperson: Thank you. It is important that we ask that of each group that comes in. Jim Wilson wants to put some questions to you on pollution.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you, Gentlemen. I want to clear something through the Chair first of all. I have read your submission, and you are concentrating on trout farming. I have a question of a general nature that is more for the Farmers' Union, but with the Chair's permission and your permission I will put it to you. It is related to pollution.


The Chairperson: Go ahead.


Mr J Wilson: The angling fraternity is very conscious of the co-operation that it gets from the farmers, the landowners, and particularly in recent years, given the in-river works which we have been carrying out with heavy machinery, with getting access to the river over your land. Without that co-operation angling as a sport and as a pastime just would not exist. Having said that, there is a level of criticism in my question, and I want you to accept it in the spirit that I am asking it. All the evidence is there to prove that from time to time major fish kills in our rivers can be attributed to careless management practices on farms. You said that you come from Lough Erne and that you know there is a scheme running there, the Nutrient Management Scheme. Perhaps at some time we will get that scheme into the Lough Neagh basin as well. Why do you think this carelessness continues, especially given the publicity that is attracted to a major fish kill?


Mr Rowe: Mr Chairman, first of all we are here to answer any questions we can as best we can, and I welcome the question from Mr Wilson.


Carelessness is one way of putting it. However, do not forget that agriculture has lost over 79% of its income at the present time. Income has dropped from approximately £300 million to £79 million. Agriculture is not in a very good position to reinvest in ways of stopping pollution, and that is a major problem within the industry. Sometimes carelessness on farms happens, and the law redresses that. Sometimes things happen that are not careless, rather they are acts that cannot be foreseen - for example, heavy rain can occur just when you are putting in silage and it may wash a lot more water into tanks than you want. Before you get out in the morning the tanks could be overflowing. There could be many reasons.


Some people say that those who offend, reoffend and that maybe they do so because they cannot afford to do their best to stop pollution. We would like to see Northern Ireland's water-quality problem addressed by measures suitable to the farming community. In other words, if there is a need for more storage, suitable research has been done, and we see a need for something to be done, money through structural funding should be made available for that. That would not just be for the good of the farming community, but for the tourism industry, the fishing industry, and the water-quality industry. We have a big problem with cryptosporidium at the moment. That is not related to farming, but there are so many issues involved, and we take your point. Things do happen. We are sorry when they happen. If there is carelessness involved, it is dealt with through the courts. Quite often there is not actual carelessness. There may be acts that are not foreseen and about which something needs to be done. There is a wider issue that needs to be addressed from the farming point of view to stop pollution.


Does that answer your question?


Mr J Wilson: Thank you for taking my question, which may have been slightly outside the paper you presented.


Mr Rowe: The Committee is here for the good of us all, and we all want to participate in the debates to try to improve life in Northern Ireland. If I cannot answer any question honestly and fairly on general agriculture I will get an answer for the Committee.


Dr Adamson: At present, fish farm operators must have a fish culture licence. Are the present culture licence conditions satisfactory, or do they require amendment? If so, how should they be amended? Furthermore, should fish farm operators be charged an annual fee to cover the cost of supervising them in order to ensure they comply with the conditions of their licence?


Mr Rowe: I will comment on the last part of the question first. Charging for a licence in respect of any type of agriculture production could be generally detrimental.


Mr Baird: I would point out something in relation to the licence. The 1966 Fisheries Act is really the framework legislation, which allowed fish culture licences to be issued and fish farming to start here. I do not want to bore the Committee with technical issues. However, I would point to section 59 of the Fisheries Act - grids and gratings. My fish culture licence says that I shall have in position a grating to keep out smolts and the young of salmon, trout and eels.


This is quite impossible. One cannot keep out elvers, the fry of eels, as they are no thicker than a thread. Even if they are thwarted, they can climb up the banks and over the grass into the ponds on their downward migration.


This is an area that causes many problems and much contention. Section 59 of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 requires that a grid with spacings of 5·1 cm, something like two inches, be placed across the inlet. This is primarily to stop the ingress of downward migrating spent fish or downward migrating fish of any sort - large fish. However, the Act provides for a small screen: the Department, in the issuing of the licence, told us that we had to have a screen on for three months of the year, during the downward migration of young fish, with a bar spacing of 12·5 mm, which is half an inch.


The Act states that the grating shall be kept on

"during the months of March, April and May and at any other time."

It is the phrase "at any other time" that is causing total confusion. The 12·5 mm, referred to in the fish culture licence, will only keep out fish that have width of 12·5 mm and above. It will not stop all the other types referred to in section 48. However, if I have any of these small things present in my farm I am committing a criminal offence under section 48. I have fairly recently been through the courts on this very subject. The judge said that the case should never have come to court as the problem was with the legislation and not with me. It took three years before he came to a conclusion about it, and only on the basis that the charge was withdrawn. He said that there was a case to be answered for abuse of privilege and that the legislation was obviously never designed to deal with the inside of a fish farm. I cannot stop the migration or movement of fish, however tiny, into my farm. It is the same for other fish farmers. I can only do my best to ensure that I do not injure them and give them a safe passage through the farm, which I do.


However, there is no defence acceptable in this. Under section 5 of the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, which deals with pollution, if one has done everything that reasonably can be done, that can be accepted as a defence and taken into consideration. However, that does not apply to section 48 of the Fisheries Act. Quite frankly, the Fisheries Act needs to be gone through. The Fisheries (Amendment) Bill is in front of the House at the moment, and there needs to be more detailed co-operation with the legislative Committee, or whoever is dealing with the matter, to tease these matters out.


I am not a lawyer. That was one of the things missing from the aquaculture curriculum in the colleges. Most of us would have needed a degree in law to operate, never mind in biology. The legislation is very anomalous in places. The problem arises from the fact that the 1966 Fisheries Act, which is what all this is about, was introduced several years before the advent of fish farming. Fish farming did not even exist then - it was only a thought.


They have used that. For instance, a fish farm is interpreted in the Act as a mill. A mill can close down and mills must close down at weekends. You cannot close a fish farm down. Five minutes and everything is dead, including us. There is a need for the fish farming industry to be consulted on the framing of this new legislation, if only to sort out the anomalies in the present legislation, never mind new legislation. I hope that answers your question, however long-windedly.


Dr Adamson: There was the supplementary about the charging of an annual fee.


Mr B Johnston: It would be very difficult for trout farmers in Northern Ireland to pay any sort of annual fee at the minute given their financial responsibilities. Also, I know of no other country in Europe that pays an annual fee for licensing by the Department. It certainly does not happen in the British Isles.


Mr Shannon: Would it be appropriate to have the wording of the legislation changed to state that they "wilfully have in their possession"? If the word "wilfully" were put in, would that in some way give you, the fish farmers and the organisations which you represent, the opportunity to work?


Mr Baird: Yes. That is the type of thing that I am referring to that needs to be teased out. In other areas of life it can be a crime to have certain things knowingly in your possession. The word "knowingly" is important - someone else could put them in your possession. For almost 30 years these problems did not surface because there was a liberal interpretation by the enforcing authority that applied a degree of common sense. Nevertheless, when the legislation was interpreted literally it caused many problems, and while it remains there it can be an instrument of torture for trout farmers. Indeed, any bad legislation dealing with any aspects of an anomaly -


Mr Shannon: We have identified an anomaly in the legislation, and perhaps now is the time to address it. If it needs an amendment and the introduction of a few extra words to make it correct we can look at that. I would like to ask about assistance and specifically about the British Trout Association. It has suggested that any future increase in production should be, or will be, on larger farms trying to reduce costs with smaller farms closing because they are not competitive. In your submission you said that all forms of assistance must be targeted towards the modernisation of those existing trout farms that can reduce their production costs. Are you suggesting that smaller fish farms should be left without assistance, or do you believe that assistance would be better targeted at the smaller fish farms? Indeed, where would the assistance come from in relation to the larger and smaller farms?


Mr B Johnston: Historically, trout farms have been all sizes, from five tonnes of production to 500 tonnes per year. The average size in Northern Ireland is quite high compared with others in Great Britain. However, there are some small farms that we feel would not be viable in the future, producing as they do less than 25 tonnes of trout per year. Assistance through grant aid for modernisation could turn a 30-tonne farm into a more viable unit producing 60 tonnes of trout per year.


However, the Promar report highlights the need for some sort of scale production and suggests that farms producing less than 100 tonnes might not be able to compete in the wholesale market. In this scenario, smaller units would concentrate on niche markets, such as producing fish for angling or local tourism. The assistance would be to make medium and larger farms more competitive in the full trout market and for smaller farms to develop their production and niches in their surrounding area. Both can be covered by that. However, I feel that some farms will suffer and go to the wall.


Mr Davis: I should like to turn to the question of capital investment. You have stated that new techniques, together with improved compound feeds, mean that significant increases in production can be achieved without further risk to the environment. What is the present situation regarding the environment? What risks are there?


Mr B Johnston: Trout farming in Northern Ireland has a reasonably good pollution record. I do not believe there have been any prosecutions of people failing discharge consents. We are strictly monitored on our discharge consents, and you will find the figures speak for themselves. We are monitored once a month by the Department of the Environment. The improvements in trout feeds have reduced the amount of phosphorous in our discharges and thus reduced the problems with weed growth in the rivers and eutrophication. I feel that further improvements in technology, taken along with the feeds, can increase the conversion of the feeds and reduce the pollution or the return of the water to the river. New advances in filtration can also remove suspended solids and ameliorate damage to the river. Trout farming's record on the environment shows it is a very low-volume and low-damage polluter.


Mr Davis: I should like to raise another brief point, Mr Chairman. You also state that new equipment would reduce labour costs. Can you therefore ensure that these new techniques would not be detrimental to local employment?


Mr B Johnston: As we see it, the new equipment would allow increased production with the same labour force. Unfortunately, I fear that jobs have already been lost in the Northern Ireland industry over the last few years, with some farms closing and a reduction in production. However, I envisage that the fall could be stabilised and perhaps increased again.


Mr Hilditch: You stated in your submission that the present processing and marketing assistance must stay in place. What is this assistance, who provides it, how much money is involved, and what criteria are used to allocate it?


Mr B Johnston: I am afraid I am not qualified to answer that at all.


Mr Rowe: Could you repeat the beginning of the question again please?


Mr Hilditch: In your submission you stated that the present processing and marketing assistance must stay in place. I should be interested to learn what the assistance is.


Mr H Johnston: The present processing and marketing are provided mainly through Northern Ireland capital processors already in business. They acquire grants from time to time. For our produce, there is a certain amount of effort on promotion and marketing through the British Trout Association, to which some trout farmers subscribe. The British Trout Association spends a considerable amount of money on marketing and promotion and from time to time has received grants from European funds and from the Department of Agriculture to do so. We hope that those grants will still be forthcoming where they are justified.


The Chairperson: Mr Hilditch's question is rather more penetrative. In your submission you are asking us to ensure that the present processing and marketing assistance must stay in place, yet you cannot tell us what that amounts to. Do you understand my point? If you are asking us to support a point, you should be able to tell us what it is.


Mr B Johnston: I do not fully understand the system myself. I have not partaken of the available processing and marketing funds. I understand that there is funding through LEDU for the development of processing businesses and funding through the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) regarding the processing in the fisheries sector. How that operates in relation to processing and marketing I am unsure.


The Chairperson: This is Mr Hilditch's point. If you are asking us to support something that you are not sure about, that makes it even more difficult for us to accept that part of your paper.


Mrs Nelis: You say in your submission that hazard analysis and quality control are essential to the marketing of your produce. Could you give us some indication of the updated position of quality control assurance schemes in Northern Ireland and also any knowledge of control assurance schemes in both England and the South of Ireland?


Mr B Johnston: Presently in Northern Ireland there are no operating quality assurance schemes. There are quality assurance schemes operating in Scotland and England for the production of trout, namely Scottish quality trout and a scheme called "Trout Check" in the South of England. There are other smaller schemes operating in England. To my knowledge, there is no quality assurance scheme for the production of trout in Ireland, North or South. I have been working hard to try to generate interest in a quality assurance scheme and people are interested in both the North and South of Ireland. Through the British Trout Association, we have been working with some quality assurance specialists in England and Scotland to try to produce a broad-base quality assurance scheme that would be available to all trout farmers. We hope this will come to fruition in the coming months.


Mrs Nelis: Could you suggest alternatives to increasing the recreational role of angling, and how would that develop from fish farming?


Mr B Johnston: Our thoughts were that some sites could develop different species for farming, such as pike or perch, and use those for stocking waters for recreational angling. People could specialise in the production of fish for angling. The demand would need to come from the angling fraternity and the fisheries availability to take the fish from the producer. It is quite a long-term project. Different species would be one way of removing the pressure on farmers to produce trout from smaller sites.


Mrs Nelis: How do you deal with allegations and concerns of the angling fraternity regarding the escaping of trout from fish farms which get into the natural habitat of the rivers and eat the small brown trout?


We have had submissions in which where people have been critical of fish farms' role in trying to preserve the natural environment of the river and also in taking measures to stop the escape of trout from fish farms into the natural habitat.


Mr B Johnston: Escapes from trout farms should not happen. The owners should manage the farm, double screening both the inlet and outlet so that fish cannot escape. However, accidents do occur. Also, rainbow trout are classified as indigenous to Northern Ireland by the Department - they are in all waters. It is to our detriment that fish do escape and get into the rivers. Perhaps they do damage the fisheries; that is possible.


Mr Rowe: On a general agricultural point I will answer the middle part of your question about the production of fish for recreation. In some circles it could be seen as a diversification. A pond could be created and stocked with fish for people to fish at so much a catch or so much a rod. This could be a diversification on ordinary agricultural land or farms. Trout could be reared for those, and this is something that could be looked at. I have seen it in other places; they have ponds on farms where you can buy a rod for so much a day and take so many fish. That could be developed as a tourist-type activity, and a farm diversification in Northern Ireland. If properly policed and worked it would give some benefit to the hatcheries and the fisheries, particularly if you stock it with other types of fish, not only trout. Farmers looking for ways of diversification could look at this.


Mrs Nelis: It is certainly something to think about to help out the farming industry. It would have to be properly licensed because one of the major concerns about fish farming at the moment is that there are a lot operating illegally and not operating within the legislation as laid down by the Department.


Mr Rowe: We are not here representing those people. Obviously it would have to be done correctly. If you are going into a business and you do not do it correctly, you usually do not last too long.


The Chairperson: The other area is freedom from disease.


Mr Agnew: The submission states quite clearly that Northern Ireland has the highest disease free status in Europe. Why is that the case? We are told that there is an increase in the naturally occurring diseases and parasites. In light of that could there be a danger of you becoming complacent. Are you happy enough that disease detection is currently adequate, or are there needs for further improvement?


Mr Baird: The Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was the framework legislation that really saved the fish farming industry, or the fisheries, as such. We were treated as a totally isolated area within the United Kingdom. In fact until 1982 the legislation in the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 isolated us from the rest of the United Kingdom. No imports of live fish were permitted into Northern Ireland and the then Department and Veterinary Sciences rigorously oversaw this. Again, the rest of Great Britain and Europe all had their fish farming industries in position before their legislation.


Northern Ireland was the only area that had legislation covering the health of fish before there was a fish farm. I was the first fish farmer, and I had to comply with the legislation. There was no one operating before that. Nothing could be brought into Northern Ireland without the implementation of quarantine regulations. The first eggs were brought into this country by the Department of Agriculture and Movanagher Fisheries. They were brought in, isolated and quarantined before they were used. I believe that was carried out under the strict control and supervision of the Veterinary Sciences Division.


The situation was almost unique - not only in Europe but in the world - insofar as trout health was concerned, and that has stood us in great stead until now. Later, EU regulations were introduced to deal with approved and non-approved zones, non-approved zones within approved zones and situations like that. However, we are still at the top of the pile as far as the new classification is concerned. That has been achieved with the complete co-operation of the trout-farming industry. We all operated very closely with our licensing and controlling authorities. That is possibly contrary to what others may have told you.


I would refer again to the escapees and such matters. The issue was first mooted when fish farming first came about and attempts were made to stop all types of fish farming in the early years. Thirty years have now passed. The fisheries scientists have produced nothing to show that these fish create a detrimental effect, even if they did get out. We were told that they were going to eat all the food. That has not happened, and you can check that out. Instead of listening to others and myself about what is happening, you can talk to fisheries scientists, who are studying these things. They have not come up with evidence to show that there has been a detrimental effect on our fisheries.


The Committee should take grave cognizance of the fact that a lot of allegations being laid at our door need to be verified scientifically. I would make that point strongly.


Mr Agnew: I want to come back to the other two points. Is disease detection adequate or is there room for improvement?


Mr Baird: As far as the industry is concerned, disease protection is adequate. The diagnostic service is still free to the fish farmer. That was the only way to ensure that rigorous health controls could be met and that people did not hide things. A free service means that a fish can be immediately taken to the VRL for examination. If the poor farmer had to fork out £50 or £100, and he did not have it, there would be a tendency to forget about the matter and hope it would go away. Eventually our whole disease status would collapse.


I am not aware of anything threatening our disease status at the moment. I would like to see that the diagnostic service is retained. It is one of the finest in the world. We have had some of the best fishery scientists in salmonoid diseases working at VRL. We should be very proud of that.


The Chairperson: There is a slight contradiction in what you said earlier about the escapees. I would like to give you the opportunity to clarify that for the record. You said that there was no scientific evidence to indicate there was any harm resulting from escapees, yet you also said that there have been no escapees. How could there be any evidence if there have been no escapees? Perhaps you might like to put your answer in another way in order to make the record clearer.


Mr B Johnston: There can be escapees if there is a flood on a farm, or if a bank breaks on a pond and the fish get into the river. However, those incidents should be reported to the Department. They should have a record of when and how those escapes happened. Our own farm at Newtownstewart was covered with water in 1987 and practically the whole stock went down the river.


The Chairperson: Did the river suffer any ill effects?


Mr Rowe: No.


The Chairperson: Thank you for helping us with our inquiry and for giving us such valuable information. We will be considering your views along with those of many others.


Mr Rowe: May I add something on processing and marketing? As you may know, many processing and marketing plants, including fish processing plants, receive financial help from the European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF). Therefore it is very hard to quantify how much money is given to processing plants for any industry in Northern Ireland. Some of us are more easily recognisable than others, and that is why we would like the fish industry to be included in such grants.


If fish or beef farmers cannot do the processing, markets cannot be developed. It is important that these grants are available to every field of agriculture so that food for the consumer can be processed to make it safer and more attractive, and to create a bigger share for all of the farming industry, not just for fishing.


The Chairperson: Thank you for that clarification. This concludes the public session.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr P Mulrone )
Mr H O'Reilly ) Garrison and
Mr S Maguire ) Lough Melvin Anglers
Mr E McPartland )


The Chairperson: Good afternoon, Gentleman. The Committee is made up of a broad representative group, and we have made provision for you to give a presentation of 10 to 15 minutes. We will then ask some questions. May we have your comments please?


Mr Mulrone: On behalf of the Garrison and Lough Melvin Anglers Association I would like to thank the Committee for inviting us here today. Garrison is a small village in west Fermanagh. It is surrounded by Lough Melvin, one of the few remaining wild trout fishery lakes in Europe. It is a beautiful lake with wonderful fishing - salmon and trout. It has been there since the ice age - some 13,000 years.


There are three to four species of trout, Sonaghan, not found anywhere else in Europe, and the Gillaroo, which is found only in Lough Melvin. We have ferox, brown trout and Artic char, and in respect of coarse fish, some eels and perch.


As everyone knows, these lakes are precious, as there are few of them left in good condition. The Garrison and Lough Melvin Anglers' Association took over the lease of this lake in 1997. It was previously leased for 25 years by the Department of Agriculture. The lease was due for renewal in 1997, and the club took it over, because we felt we could do more to look after the lake than the Department at that time. We felt that steps needed to be taken in order to ensure that this lake was going to remain for future generations to enjoy.


It is vital to the area, as Garrison is a small village which, due to the troubles, has had very little business over the last 25 years. There has been very little traffic through the village, and it has suffered greatly.


Now we feel that, thank God, the troubles are over and that there is a great time ahead. If the lake can be kept in pristine condition, then tourism has got to be looked at in a big way. We feel that in angling especially it is not being targeted enough. We find that coarse fisheries are being targeted more. We have probably the best lake in Northern Ireland and probably the second best lake in Ireland. It is, as I said, one of the few remaining lakes in Europe. We feel that there is not enough being done to promote game angling in the area. It is still not being promoted enough, and we feel that we are being left out. It is the club's aim, and in its interests, to keep the lake in pristine condition and to improve and enhance the fishing areas and the launching areas, so that when tourists come they will have good facilities from which to go out in their boats and good fishing when they get there. That is in everybody's interests. It is in the interests of the area, and so on.


Secondly, our biggest concern is pollution. I am sure you are aware of the threat of zebra mussels that has come into being within the last two years - in our case, within the last 12 months, since the last season. We were not really aware of the problem until the start of this season, and we took steps in order to try to protect the lake. We had a very good meeting with the culture, arts and leisure people in Garrison. We had signs erected, and we also got a grant from them and the rural development people in order to purchase some boats to have at the lake so that anglers coming in could leave their boats at home or refrain from bringing them to Melvin if coming from a lake that was infested. Lough Erne, which is within five miles of Garrison, is heavily infected, and with the close proximity between Lough Erne and Lough Melvin, many anglers are going back and forward. The danger is that these mussels will be carried on the boats and will eventually get into Lough Melvin. That is something we are deeply worried about and do not want to happen. We have talked to a lot of anglers about the signs. We are getting them to wash their boats before they come to the lake. They are then issued with receipts which they have to produce to show us that they have washed their boats and can therefore fish on the lake. I know this is hard on the anglers, but we have to take these steps. If we do not, there is no doubt that the lake will become infected, and once it does, that is it.


The Sonaghan trout, which are mid-water feeders, feed on the plankton and rely totally on that for their food. If zebra mussels get into the water - and you can get up to 100,000 in one small colony - one of those mussels can filter up to a litre of water a day and everything in that food chain. In other words, the plankton that the Sonaghan feed on will be wiped out, and the Sonaghan will be gone. The lake has had Sonaghan for the last 13,000 years, so we have a huge responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. It would be the greatest catastrophe ever, because Melvin cannot be restocked. We have done everything in our power so far, and we will be looking for more help to see if we can arrange something or come to some compromise. We need some sort of a wash-bay in the area that will be in close proximity to the lake but will not endanger it. That would ensure that all the boats are properly washed. This problem is not going to go away. It is going to be there for a number of years. We do not want that to happen to Lough Melvin. That is one major problem we have in the area, and we are working flat out to try to contain it. The people in our club and in our committee are all very good workers and are all totally committed to that.


The lake has got to be there for the next generation and the generations after that and also for the tourists who want to come into the area. We want to have a good, clean lake. During June we took some photographs of the water. You can see that heavy green algae are starting to appear on the water, which is another very worrying sign. We had slides to show, but you did not have the facilities, so I will pass this photograph round.


There is a sewerage plant in Garrison, and we are worried about the fact that the run-off pipe runs into Lough Melvin. The sewerage plant was erected some 30 years ago when there were only 30 or 40 houses in the village. Now there are several hundred houses in the area, and the plant has not changed. We contacted the Department, and they said that it is capable of providing for these houses, but we have no evidence to support that. John O'Neill, who works in outdoor activities, told us that on several occasions he has been in one of the bays beside the lough with canoeists, and he saw various particles, including nappies, coming out of that pipe and going into the water. This is very alarming, and it cannot be allowed to happen. We will also be looking for major assistance to look into that.


This year alone, on the northern waters of Lough Melvin, up to 300 salmon have been caught. Due to the fact that the fish have been bigger, this has been the best season for probably the last 20 years, and that is all the more reason why the Melvin should be looked after and protected. It is the best lake in Northern Ireland, and I am sure it is the second best lake in Ireland and perhaps in Europe. One angler from Irvinestown caught a 20 lb salmon recently. That is the type of fish coming into the Melvin this year.


The River Drowess runs into the Melvin, and the Atlantic salmon travel from the sea up through the River Drowess and into the Melvin. We are very lucky to have this lake on our doorstep. Lough Melvin is on the border of Fermanagh and Leitrim. One third of Lough Melvin is in Northern Ireland and two thirds is in Southern Ireland. The fact that the lake is divided causes extra management problems, because you have to work with different bodies. On the Southern side no body controls the lake apart from the tenants. Peter Bradley in the Rossinver Fishery has control of that area, and we work well with him, but further down the lake there is nobody who has any control over it. It is a very difficult problem, but we are making inroads. We have had several meetings and are working towards getting some sort of a structure so that we can look after it.


Our next major project was river enhancement. We did this on one or two rivers two years ago. To keep any good fishery in top condition and to maintain good levels of stock, the rivers must be in good condition. There are roughly seven or eight rivers running into Lough Melvin if you count those in the North and Southern Ireland. That is one reason why Lough Melvin always has such a great stock of fish; there are so many rivers in which fish can spawn.


We have had a major problem over the last 20 or 30 years with falls called "Scott's Falls". No fish can pass over these falls. The main river is called the Roogagh, and only about one third of the stock of fish can get to spawn, because the main river cannot be passed. We are now doing research and are planning to put a project together to get work done on these falls so that the salmon and trout will be able to travel up this river. We would have to introduce some fish from other rivers to travel this river, because very few fish travel it. The fish can get only about half a mile, and then they are blocked. The river is in very good condition; it travels for miles, and it has the best gravel and the best beds of all the systems going into the lake.


There are two or three other rivers which we have also put down on the project, and we are hoping, in the next month or so, to get Alan Keys and another assistant to come down and walk these rivers, tell us what needs to be done, and we will then apply for a salmon enhancement grant to get the work done. We are doing a lot of work, and any help we can get or any pressure that can be brought to bear from any corner will definitely be very welcome.


The Chairperson: There will now be a question- and-answer session. I am obliged to ask all groups some questions relating to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. These questions concern the equality legislation. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers, and have you made any improvements?


Mr O'Reilly: Two thirds of the membership of our club are from one side of the community, and one third is from the other. Our members range in age from 17 to past retirement age; in fact we have anglers aged 80 years.


With regard to the question of disabled anglers, we have tried to develop a facility for the disabled on the lough side road to Lough Melvin. However, we have been held up over the last 12 months by the Fisheries Conservancy Board which will not give us the lease on that end of the slipway, and we cannot do anything until that lease goes through. Mr James has been dealing with that personally over the last 12 months, but he is having great difficulty in getting any satisfaction. The disabled facility would have been in place had we got the lease on it.


Mr Shannon: From your comments, it is obvious that you have a great deal of pride in Lough Melvin. We have been informed that Lough Melvin is one of the few remaining wild fisheries in Europe, and you have confirmed this. It is also unique because there are two different species of trout inhabiting the lake. I understand that these trout are found in Melvin and in no other place in Europe. What policies would you recommend be implemented to secure their future survival and to promote the fishery internationally?


Mr Maguire: You are talking about the Sonaghan trout, which is found in Melvin and nowhere else in the world. The problem with the Sonaghan is the rivers. If the rivers and spawn beds and the facilities in the river were appropriate for spawning, this would enhance the Sonaghan stocks and keep them there. It is important to keep Sonaghan in the lake, because if they ever got out of the lake they could never be reintroduced. The main reason for keeping them alive and in the lake is to update the spawning of rivers.


Over the years very little has been done about pollution and the cleaning of these rivers. Years ago these rivers were the responsibility of the Water Service and river agencies. Due to pollution, Sonaghan stocks in Lough Melvin have decreased slightly over the years. Fishery boards set up a small fish pass on the Tullymore River, and they had records of 10,000 fish travelling these rivers in October, November and December, but these numbers have now definitely decreased. There needs to be electric fishing on these rivers to see what fry there are and why the Sonaghan are not surviving as well as they used to. These problems are probably due to forestry and pollution - slurry, et cetera - going into the rivers.


Mr O'Reilly: There is also the problem of heavy rainfall in that part of Fermanagh in the last two years. A great deal of gravel was swept away leaving only bare rock. The natural spawning areas are, therefore, being destroyed, so there need to be groynes in those rivers and gravel should be put back into them to recreate the spawning areas. That is essential.


Mr Shannon: You feel that the area should be promoted internationally because there is a potential to be realised. How should that be developed?


Mr Mulrone: In conjunction with other bodies in the area, the club is putting together a package to promote angling. For the past 23 years we have run a competition, but we did not hold it this year. As this was the millennium year, we felt that it was appropriate to give the lake a rest.


On average, 12 competitions are held each year, counting those held in Northern and Southern Ireland, and, as anybody can appreciate, if competitions are held for 23 years on that type of format, a lake that has not been stocked cannot keep going. If you keep taking from the barrel, you will eventually come to the bottom, and then it will be too late.


In Garrison we took the lead, in conjunction with Kinlough, to ban all competitions on the Melvin this year, and we hope that this will improve fish stocks and help to let more fish up to run the spawn this year than last. During our competition last year, there was a great deal of rain and very high water, and a lot of the fish were running early. They were gathering up at the mouths of rivers, and during our competition, a lot of the trout taken were trout heading up the rivers. A competition was run by another club in mid- September, and the same thing happened, so we decided this year that we would have to give it a rest. That is the first time that it has had a rest for roughly 23 years.


Mr O'Reilly: I was at Angling '99 in Birmingham, and Fermanagh and Dungannon District Councils had a stand there. There were two girls handing out brochures about accommodation at an angling fair. We hope to lobby those people who know something about game and course angling about such stands at trade fairs. We would like to promote our area - Fermanagh and Tyrone. It is very important that people who have knowledge of angling be on the stands and work very hard to promote their area. That is one way in which we will get our message across.


Mr Davis: According to your submission, farming practices are causing serious pollution in the lake. Do you have any suggestions on how to address this pollution? Which organisations monitor the pollution in the lake, and how often is that monitoring carried out? In your opinion is that sufficient? Would you recommend tighter controls on agricultural practices?


Mr O'Reilly: At the moment the Fisheries Conservancy Board monitors the lake, and if there is any pollution or spillage from slurry, it takes water samples. We are not privy to the results of those tests, unfortunately. Europe should designate an area around Lough Melvin and say that farmering should not be allowed within so many kilometres of the lake. The farmers should be compensated in some way for setting aside that land, especially for the spawning streams. The land should be cut off completely from them, set aside and left to grow naturally, and no insecticide, fertiliser or slurry should be put on it. It should be fenced off completely. That would be one way of stopping pollution and enrichment from phosphates getting into the lake. Forestry is presently fairly well controlled; there is good co-operation. There are only a few farms around the area, but they are heavy polluters with a lot of fertilisation, trying to get three cuts of grass from their land.


Mr Mulrone: In conjunction with that, we have been in contact with Magee College in Londonderry. People there are doing a project and taking water samples from the Melvin. They are going to inform us of what the condition of the water is and what we need to do.


The Chairperson: For the record, to clarify the issue of the Fisheries Conservancy Board's taking samples, does this happen only after there has been a problem? Is it reactive? Is there any proactive sample taking?


Mr O'Reilly: Yes, once every month.


Mr Mulrone: The Department of the Environment also takes samples from the treatment plant. We have seen the results of those, and they are not outside European standards.


Mr J Wilson: On the pollution issue, I can confirm what you have shown us here today. I saw the algal bloom this year for the first time. It was extensive and very alarming. Are you aware of the nutrient management scheme practiced in the Lough Erne catchment? Are you part of it? I understood that it covered Lough Melvin, but perhaps it does not. The farming community there engages voluntarily with the Department in a process whereby good farming practice is established on the farm in return for grants for soil testing, and so on. I believe it has been quite successful.


As you know, algal bloom is caused by enrichment with nutrients running off the land - such as excess phosphorus. That is what is being addressed in the Erne, which, in my opinion, has almost reached a crisis stage. Perhaps this management scheme can reverse the situation. You should be thinking about coming in to the scheme. It would address the catchment farming problem.


I understand you had a successful follow-up to your meeting with Fisheries Division. Is there any aspect of the work you are proposing following that meeting that the Department is not co-operating on? Has there been a follow-up? Have the proposals for building a pass in the falls resulted in co-operation between your club and the Department?


Mr O'Reilly: In the last two months we have had good co-operation with Mr Robin Humphreys. As a follow-up on the boats, they have granted us £5,000. It was to have been £15,000, but they said that they did not have the money. That buys only four boats. Initially it was to have been five boats, five engines and five trailers to get the boats off and on for anyone who comes to fish on Lough Melvin. It is important that the boats be taken off when people are done with them because of the vandalism that can occur.


We are not part of the scheme you talked about, but we would like to get involved with it. There is a lot of monitoring to be done. If the farmers are getting soil tested, someone has to be on the ground to ensure that the proper practice is adhered to.


Mr J Wilson: It is the only way that the algal and enrichment problem is going to be turned around in the foreseeable future. The sooner you get on board and encourage the farmers to participate, the better.


Mr O'Reilly: I understand that the fisheries boards have been changing offices and departments. We have had difficulty in getting through to various people. David Houston seems to be head of one department and deputy head of another one. It is difficult for us to get through, because we have to talk to different staff at different times, and one does not know what the other is doing. We are prepared to wait until they get settled. We will, I hope, get better co- operation then. At the present time, however, Mr Robin Humphreys is giving us very good service. There was a good follow-up on that meeting we had with yourself and the Department. Heather Campbell in Garrison got us the four boats, and they are now in place. The money has come through, and the boats are in place.


Dr Adamson: I want to return to the problem of zebra mussels. In addition to the action you have already described, is there anything further that we can do? If anglers do not take their boats out of the water as you require them to do, is legislation required, or would that be counter-productive?


Mr McPartland: Zebra mussels are an unknown quantity. Nobody really knows exactly what harm they can do, other than developing and spreading at a very alarming rate. We have got some literature from Dr Robert Frazel of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development who is an authority on this aspect. The marine institute in the South has also produced literature. All we can do is follow the guidelines advocated by Dr Frazel, which is to erect signage around the lake. We are hoping that anglers are responsible people who will follow the guidelines. As far as the infestation in the lake is concerned, Hugh, along with Patsy and Sean, who are based in Garrison, have walked the shores turning stones over. They have not seen any evidence of zebra mussels yet. There is also a Dr O'Donnell who works on the Southern side who is very interested and is keen to make sure that all is done there to prevent these mussels spreading. His tests have not shown any signs of mussels, but it is difficult to know. Perhaps there are scientists unknown to us who could analyse whether they are there. If they were there we would have seen them by now, because they attach themselves to the hulls of boats. I would also be fairly satisfied that they are not a problem as yet, providing we react to the situation and ensure they do not infiltrate the waters.


Dr Adamson: Is there some research to indicate whether they could be wiped out by biological means?


Mr Mulrone: The research taken off the Internet states that the only way they can be annihilated is via some sort of toxic poison, and if you poison the water, you obviously poison the fish. In other words, according to literature from the Internet, they cannot be annihilated. They will destroy the lake. There is no evidence that they can be wiped out by any other means. The only precaution is to wash boats and all the fishing gear, including nets, fishing reels, rods, everything with very hot water - at temperatures of up to 100 degrees. They can go through everything, even boat engines and every gate. That is the only positive way. We have been voluntarily scouring up and down the lough watching, and there are at least five, six or seven different points in Lough Melvin where you can launch a boat. As a voluntary body, we find this very difficult, as we have been all over the place. I am sure that some anglers are saying "Not these boys again", because you turn a blind eye. You say "What the hell do we care?" But we do care. That is the reason we are here today.


Mr O'Reilly: You talk about legislation. I think that would be counter-productive, mainly because education is the issue here. There should be more publicity from the Culture, Arts and Leisure Department, from the Fisheries Conservancy Board and from different clubs. If we could amalgamate, give a good publicity push and provide a good educational programme, that would be better than legislation.


Mr McCarthy: You spoke earlier about the fishing competition and the river enhancement. You have obviously suffered a loss of income due to the cancellation of your annual fishing competition. Has this loss of funding affected your plans for river enhancement and work on fish passes? Have you also applied for grants for enhancement work? What policies would you like to see changed to enhance inland fisheries?


Mr Mulrone: That is a very good question. First and foremost we have been talking to Alan Keys who will come down with an assistant to walk the rivers and tell us what needs to be done. After their survey, we will apply to the salmonid enhancement plan to obtain money for a project improving the rivers. Obviously, there is a body responsible for work on these rivers. We will have nothing to do with it, but we can oversee it. Alan Keys will take the lead in looking after the project.


Mr McCarthy: Where is he from?


Mr Mulrone: He is the top man at Ballinderry Hatchery.


What improvements can be made? More pressure must be applied. As Mr O'Reilly said, Government bodies must look at it from a broader base to put together a programme to help different organisations, especially clubs involved with something like the Melvin. They need that help, for everyone knows it is very difficult for a small club with few workers. If someone in higher authority can put the writing on the paper, point in the right direction, give advice, and lean on other Departments so they move more quickly to help get this work done, that is the way forward. It will leave the Melvin secure for generations to come.


Mr McCarthy: Obviously, to direct what you feel best for the river, you would be anxious to have an input.


Mr Mulrone: We should have some input.


Mr McCarthy: You mentioned that you had secured finance for a boat. Is that right?


Mr Mulrone: We had a meeting with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's fisheries division, and we were promised money at that time to purchase five boats, five engines, five trailers, life jackets, and so on. A few weeks went by after the meeting, and when we talked to the different bodies again, they could get their hands on only £5,000 with which we duly purchased four boats, all we could afford at the time.


Mr O'Reilly: We suffered as a result, though not having competitions this year. The entire community has suffered.


The Chairperson: That more or less covers the main questions. I notice in your submission and, indeed, in what you have said today, that you have done a great deal of work on a voluntary basis. In fact, it is all voluntary. Do you get any assistance with training? Is there any facility for that? Do you see a need for training, and would a group like yours benefit from it?


Mr O'Reilly: Yes, it is essential. I did a course - more for guidance - but we did a great deal of work on fishery habitat with Dr Ken Whelan, a marine biologist in Dublin. It was initiated through Fermanagh College and the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training in Hotels, Catering and Tourism (CERT) in Dublin. If there were more such programmes and angling club members could attend them on a compensated basis to be educated in all aspects of fishing, it would be a good thing, and perhaps Culture, Arts and Leisure should look into it.


The Chairperson: In particular, in a unique lough such as yours, do you see a case for professional full- time staff?


Mr O'Reilly: Yes. Dr Andrew Ferguson of Queen's University in Belfast did a survey in 1986, recommending that a person be put in place at that stage to look after the indigenous species in the lake. That was 14 years ago.


The Chairperson: I hear the stocks are beginning to show signs of deterioration.


Mr O'Reilly: The stocks and balance must be right on rivers so that one does not interfere with one river catering for a particular type of fish and another catering for salmon and other fish.


Mr Maguire: In that lake there is a run of wild salmon and grilse for early anglers from February - something one does not have in other lakes.


You have four species of trout and the salmon also, which you do not find anywhere else - Lough Corrib is the only other such lake in Ireland. It is a great attraction for all Northern Ireland anglers to come there from 1 February. Apart from a small scheme three years ago, nothing has been done on these rivers for the last 100 years. These falls have been talked about for the last 50 years. I have been talking to anglers who, 50 years ago, went to meetings to get these falls sorted out so that fish could pass across them, but nothing has been done so far. There are at least seven rivers on the Northern side that run into the Melvin, and every one of them needs repair, updating and better facilities for spawning for the fish to survive.


Mr O'Reilly: You would not be aware that a lot of anglers go from Northern Ireland, and we lose that revenue to Southern Ireland - they are going down the west to fish. If we could enhance our fishery and bring it up to a higher standard we would capture many of those people and ensure that the revenue does not go out of the area.


Mr Mulrone: I want to read a few lines from Dr Andrew Ferguson's report from 1985. The project was undertaken from 1981 to 1985, and his recommendation on conservation and management was stated as


"Lough Melvin with its three brown trout species and Arctic char may be one of the few remaining examples, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of north -western Europe, of a natural post-glacial salmonid lake. Such a post-glacial salmonid community is typically very fragile and susceptible to disruption and destruction. In particular, reproductive barriers are in delicate balance and susceptible to human-induced changes such as introductions, expectations and nurification leading to the loss of this unique population. The geographically isolated position of Lough Melvin together with the absence of pike and roach has meant that this has remained in a relatively natural and pristine state. The recent report to broaden the lake is a cause for concern, as this shows the repetitiousness on which detrimental changes can take place currently requires that urgent attention be given to the conservation of this unique fish community"


This is going back 15 years, and nothing has been done in that time.


Mr McCarthy: The purpose of this Committee is to make sure, at the end of the inquiry, that in Northern Ireland the whole thing would be improved. If we do that and are successful, what is happening on the other side of the border? We want to ensure that it will not spill back and destroy what we, in the Committee, would be improving. Have you any similar way of getting this across to the authorities on the other side of the border?


Mr Mulrone: We are hoping that this Committee will be able to have meetings with the people from Southern Ireland to make sure that does not happen. Obviously you have the power; we have not.


Mr McCarthy: That will stop wherever the border is, but we want to ensure that whatever work we do to improve things is not lost on the other side.


Mr O'Reilly: We have ongoing co-operation with the club in Kinlough and Mr Peter Bradley of Rossinver fisheries. We have ongoing meetings with the three bodies and everybody is on the same wavelength - the lough has to be seen to. In Dr John O'Donnell, who is retired, the Kinlough Anglers have a very watchful eye. He is watching the access from the other side all the time. We have ongoing meetings.


Mr McPartland: On behalf of the Garrison and Lough Melvin anglers, thank you for allowing the club to come and meet you and for devoting time to this issue. We may sound as if we are very concerned about particular issues, which of course we are, but we want to say that this club has been positive over the years. We have this competition which is enjoyed by all. We have worked with young people and tried to get them interested in fishing instead of other activities, and we are progressive. We do a bit of whingeing about things that are very important, but we want to get the message across. It is to do with the rivers that are blocked, the falls that are impassable and the threat of zebra mussels. Those are real concerns, but we also do a lot of positive work which has not been mentioned today.


The Chairperson: Gentlemen, we thank you very much for coming along this afternoon and giving us your time, experience and knowledge. It is all recorded, and we value it very much. We will be deliberating on that and, indeed, on all the submissions we have received, and we will be drawing together recommendations for the Minister and the Department in November, I hope.



Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Rev O Kennedy )
Mr W J McIlroy ) Lough Neagh Fishermen's
Mr F Tennyson ) Co-op Society


The Chairperson: Good afternoon. We are pleased to have you along this afternoon and to give you the opportunity to expand on your submission. I hope that through questioning we can gain an understanding of what you see as the major problems you face and to look at ways of dealing with them.


Rev Oliver Kennedy: Thank you very much for the invitation and the opportunity to present our submission to the Committee. I am aware that all of the members have received a copy of our submission and presume that they will all have read it. The submission is fairly detailed and so there is little I can add.


Unfortunately, most of what people in Northern Ireland know about Lough Neagh is what they learned in their primary school days - which in my case was a long time ago - that is the biggest inland lake in these islands, being about 160 square miles in area. It absorbs a large area of the land mass of Northern Ireland. Local folklore ascribes the origin of Lough Neagh to Finn McCool, an ancient Irish giant, who woke up one morning with a sore head, presumably after he had been imbibing some of the native Tyrone brew the night before. To rid himself of his bad temper he lifted a rock and cast it into the Irish Sea. The crater that it left behind is supposed to be Lough Neagh, which filled with water, and the rock is the Isle of Man. There are times in the last forty years when I wished that Finn McCool had found some other way to relieve his pent up feelings.


All that most of us know about Lough Neagh is that it is a big lake, but it is renowned on the continent of Europe as the provider of the best quality wild eels, probably, in the world. That is not only local patriotism speaking. Some of the quality smokers in Holland and Germany will confirm that. It has a long and chequered history, but there is no point in exploring that other than to point out that evidence of eel fishing around 2000 BC exists at Newferry, downstream of Toomebridge, but that was a bit before my time.


The history of intensive commercial fishing on Lough Neagh probably dates back to more recent times, and the present title stems from the grant of the bed and soil of the lough and of the River Bann by Charles I to the Earl of Donegal in 1640 from whom it devolved to the Earl of Chichester and eventually to the Shaftesbury estate. The present co-operative has a lease from the Shaftesbury estate.


There was probably more intensive commercial fishing for eels in the mid-nineteenth century, and, as most of us know, it has been surrounded by controversy and, occasionally, violence. There has always been a fishery for silver eels at Toomebridge on the River Bann, and the second line of defence is at Kilrea, where they are also caught. To give you a biology lesson, about 12 million elvers arrive from the Sargasso Sea, probably in late March, early April and May of each year. If they were left undisturbed by local fishermen, they would spend about 14 years feeding and growing in the lake. During that time they are called "brown eels", and, using either long lines or draft nets, fishermen fish for them between 1 May and, probably, late October each year. A total of about 550 tonnes are caught during the season, and, at its peak, we handle between six and nine tonnes of eels a day.


Bearing in mind that the average eel weighs about eight ounces, that is an awful lot of eels to handle on a day-to-day basis.


The eels which succeed in escaping the attentions of fishermen eventually become fully mature, and they turn silver; their digestive tract closes up; they do not feed any more; and their instinct is to go back to salt water.


The theory is - and I do not pretend to know how to prove it - that all European eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea. It is a fact that they do not spawn in local waters, so their instinct, when they are fully mature, is to get back to salt water, and the only way to get out of Lough Neagh and into salt water is down the River Bann to Coleraine and out to the sea. At that stage, from about mid-September on, eel weirs are fished at both Toomebridge and Portna with the intention of catching the silvers. As I pointed out there is a "Queen's Gap", provision for some of them to escape.


Down through the years various bodies have controlled the fishing weirs at Toomebridge and Kilrea, and obviously they were run by commercial enterprises whose main objective was to catch as many silver eels as possible in order to maximise their profit. The more brown eels that fishermen caught in the lough, the fewer remained to become silver, and that reduced their profitability. There have always been eel weirs at Toomebridge and Portna in which to fish for silver eels, but, understandably, families who lived around the lough shore felt that they had a moral right to earn a living by fishing, and for generations they have done so. The company did not look particularly kindly on their enterprises, and if you were to consult the records of the Petty Sessions Courts around Lough Neagh you would find that for the last 200 years, throughout the summer months, fishermen were persecuted and prosecuted, and they merely eked out an existence.


Around the turn of the century, as some of you probably know, a case was taken by the company to try to establish that it had the exclusive right to the eel fishery on Lough Neagh and the River Bann, a case which eventually went to the House of Lords. The history of that and the eel fishery in Lough Neagh up to that date is enshrined in a book called 'Stolen Waters', written by Tim Healey, a barrister who represented the fishermen.


The decision in that was not particularly definitive. It suggested that the company had the exclusive rights around Toome Bay at the northern end of the lough but it was not definitive as far as the rest were concerned. So fishermen proceeded to fish, catch eels, and sell them to local fish merchants who in those days sent them to Billingsgate Market. Nobody was particularly happy, but at least there was some accommodation.


In 1959 a Dutch merchant who had been buying the silver eels at Toome realised the real profitability of the fishery. He encouraged the four main eel wholesale firms in London who had been getting the bulk of the catch from Lough Neagh to combine with him and form a company which was called Toome Fishery (Northern Ireland) Limited. They bought over the rights, established themselves at Toome and proceeded to exercise their rights much more effectively to the detriment of local fishermen. The one basic condition that the company insisted on was that all the eels had to be sold to the company itself so that there was no alternative market.


But fishermen, being reasonably resourceful, found an alternative market in Billingsgate. Then Toome Eel Fishery took named fishermen to the high court, and the case went on for about six months, which was one of the longest running cases at that time, and eventually it was decided in favour of the company. As a result of this, understandably, the company proceeded to intensify its efforts to control the fishermen who could only fish on the lough if they had permission from the company and obeyed the regulations that all the eels had to be sold to the company giving it, inevitably, a total monopoly on one of the most productive wild eel fisheries in Europe.


At that stage the fishermen felt that they were at the end of their tether and that there was no future for them. They sought advice but unfortunately I was young and foolish at the time and recommended that they form or reorganise their fishermen's association, get it registered as a trade union and negotiate with the company. As time went on we did negotiate with the company, and we also availed of the services of the then Ministry of Agriculture that was responsible for fisheries to try to reach some acceptable long-term accommodation.


In 1965 one of the five shareholding companies in that particular company decided to dispose of its interest. The fishermen's association decided that that would be a constructive step forward to try to bring an end to the conflict of interest which had persisted over those generations so the association bought the 20% interest in the company. That gave them the right to a fifth share in the profitability of the company and to have a director on the board who used his position to encourage the other directors to consider disposing of their interest. So, in 1971 the co-operative bought out the remaining shareholders and it now controls the fishery. As a result, the eel fishery in Lough Neagh, which must be regarded as one of the biggest natural resources of the Province, came at last into local hands, and the fishermen had control of it themselves. The co-operative has done its best to administer that efficiently in the intervening years.


At a lecture in September of last year Dr Chris Moriarty, who is one of the recognised experts in eel biology, paid tribute to the co-operative for having administered the Lough Neagh Eel Fishery in such a way that it is the only commercial wild eel fishery in Europe which has avoided the decline to which all the other wild fisheries in Europe have been subject.


Basically there are about 150 boats fishing on the lough regularly from May through to late October each year. They are licensed by the co-operative but they themselves are self-employed. Each boat has two of a crew so that there are at least 360 people involved on a regular basis throughout the summer. They in turn employ others to help them to run lines and look after their tackle, so there are at least 400 families around the lough shore who earn a livelihood by fishing for eels on Lough Neagh.


The co-operative has developed contacts with the continental market. Originally Billingsgate Market in London was virtually the sole outlet for Lough Neagh eels. When the co-operative began the marketing of eels it developed contacts with the continent, and now about 80% of the total catch goes to Holland.


People fish either by long line or by draft net, whereby they set the lines in the early afternoon and lift them the next morning. The co-operative has lorries which go around collecting from the fishermen, bringing the eels down to our premises at Toome, where they are graded for size, packed live and shipped by air, mainly to Holland. Eels caught this morning on Lough Neagh will be on a flight to Amsterdam arriving there at 10.30pm at the latest. The smokers take them back to their premises, clean them overnight and smoke them the next day. The eels caught this morning will be on sale as smoked eels in Holland tomorrow afternoon.


The total output of brown eels in summer is about 550 tonnes, and about 150 tonnes of silver eels are caught at the weirs. A grave concern over the last few years has been the decline in the recruitment of elvers. I said earlier that there was an analysis of the elver run into the lough and of the brown and silver eel catch over about a 30-year period, and there should be an annual recruitment of about 12 million. If it is around eight million, everybody is happy, but in recent years there has been a drastic decline which unfortunately cannot be ascribed to the activities of local fishermen, since no biologist in Europe knows what has gone wrong.


The facts are that elver recruitment to European eel fisheries generally has shown a decline. I am not good at remembering dates, but I believe the worst year was about 1983, when it dropped to 750,000. It has picked up since then, and if it averaged eight million, we would be relatively happy, but this year it is about only 1,500,000, bad news for future stock. Bear in mind that if the elvers were left undisturbed until fully grown, that would be 14 years, so poor recruitment in any succeeding years means lean times ahead, something we are very worried about.


To restore a balance, the co-operative has bought elvers over a number of years. You have the statistics of those elver purchases, which would have restored the balance fairly well, but it is a very expensive exercise. When we first bought elvers, sourced from the Severn area of the Bristol Channel, they were about £28 per kilo when delivered to Northern Ireland. In the last few years, that has soared to around £300 per kilo. There were only two years when we succeeded in persuading the Department to pay some grant aid. The rest has come out of our own resources, and at the present rate of around £300 per kilo, we unfortunately simply cannot afford to keep on buying enough. We have applied each year for grant aid, and it is simply rejected. We hope that through your good offices you may bring influence to bear and help us in our application for grant aid.


That is one major area of concern. Another is water quality, both in the lough and the river, something to which there is no short-term solution. As an illustration of just how serious that is, silver eels can be kept in the river at Toomebridge, and the old company could have kept silver eels alive in tanks in the river for up to two months. Now the water quality in the river is such that you can only keep them alive for about 10 days, after which they become sick, and we have a problem.


Where it would ordinarily have been possible to spread the marketing of that total catch over a three-month period, you have now about 10 days to dispose of a catch of silver eels or else they start dying. That is something to which the Rivers Agency and other agencies should be devoting very serious consideration. I am not aware of anything being done about it. As far as we are concerned, it is a serious problem.


Another area of major concern is that other rivers and lakes in Ireland are affected, not just by zebra mussels, but also by worm infestation. It is known that rivers in the south of Ireland, and the Erne itself, are seriously affected by this. Our concern is that eels caught in the Erne are frequently transferred to tanks on the shores of Lough Neagh by a buyer who has premises there. The discharge from those tanks goes into the Lough, and there is reason to suspect that worm infestation will be transferred to Lough Neagh. We do not want to interfere with anybody else's commercial enterprise, or the conduct of their business, but this is potentially a very serious problem. I wrote to the Department about it earlier this year.


Zebra mussels also pose a serious problem. If they got into Lough Neagh, the eel fishery would be ruined. There are roughly 400 families earning a reasonable living from that fishery - I say a reasonable living because any enterprise engaged in the export of its produce nowadays is up against the value of sterling. The price of eels has dropped drastically in the last few years because of the sterling situation. This year, eels are at least 20% down in value compared to previous years.


Another matter that we have drawn to the attention of the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Department is the question of licence duties. Licence duties, both for the nets at Toomebridge and for commercial fishermen on the lough, were set years ago. At that time the silver eel catch was nearly four times what it is now. It has reached the stage where the duties are no longer at a realistic level. Licence duties on Lough Erne are about a quarter of what they are on Lough Neagh. There is a lack of balance. We have requested, not that Erne fishermen should pay more, but that consideration be given to a total review of the licensing system on Lough Neagh.


I have probably said enough. I will be happy to try to answer questions.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much.


Under the equality provisions of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998), we are required to establish at the beginning of the evidence session whether your organisation has members which represent a cross-section of the local community and local groups, such as disability groups and Age Concern. There is a second part to the question, but I do not think it really applies to you. Are there specific problems facing specific anglers, and have you made any improvements? That is more for the angling groups rather than yourself.


Rev Oliver Kennedy: We are not involved with groups like Age Concern. Our concern is to promote the interests of those who have traditionally fished around Lough Neagh. We have no interest in discriminating. We promote the welfare of all those who have traditionally fished for eels on the lough.


Mr Davis: I thoroughly enjoyed your opening remarks. It is a great pity that I have to ask you questions. However, I would like to turn to the topic of brown eels. Regarding the actual fishing activity - and you mentioned May and late October - why is fishing restricted to that period? What are the criteria and limits regarding the issue of boat-owner's licences, and who has set those? How much is a boat-owner's licence, and if someone catches over the limit, what happens? In relation to quotas, could you explain how the quota is calculated, and the procedure and authority involved in altering those quotas? Finally, how do you enforce the rules in relation to the co-operative fishing regulations when fishing with rod and line?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: The questions are all relevant. Unfortunately my memory is not as good as it might be. I will take them one at a time. By law, the season is from 1 May to 10 January. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development set that period, and we simply respect it. We would say that the period is academic - because fishing depends on weather conditions. The biology is such that when the water gets cold, the immature eels go into the mud and hibernate for the winter. Therefore, when the water gets cold, they cannot be caught.


While, by law, fishermen would be entitled to continue fishing up to 10 January, in practice it will slacken off by early October. There would be very little fishing after the beginning of October.


Mr Davis: Could I follow up by asking about boat- owner licences being issued to applicants who qualify under the criteria and within the limits agreed. What are the criteria and limits, and who has set those?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: The co-operative is administered by a management committee and a board of directors. The committee is appointed from among the members. You will appreciate that Lough Neagh is a finite resource, and it is important to prevent overfishing. More licences mean that more eels will be caught. Therefore it is necessary to restrict the number of licences. The limit is now approximately 180 licences per annum.


When the co-operative first took over in 1971, fishing was not that remunerative, and a lot of people had drifted away from it. The co-operative system of marketing meant that better prices were attracted, so more people wanted to return. Since some of the fishing families around the lough had eight or nine boys wanting to obtain a boat-owners licence as they came of age it would have been impossible to accommodate such a number, so a limit had to be imposed. No-one would pretend that it is pleasant enforcing the limit. However, it had to be done or we would have had unrestricted fishing, and there would be very little encouragement for anyone to fish.


The criteria are laid down by the management committee, who are themselves fishermen.


Mr Davis: The cost of the boat owner's licence. [Interruption] In relation to the quotas could you explain how the quota is calculated and the procedure and authority for altering those quotas.


Rev Oliver Kennedy: We do not charge for a licence.


The quotas are determined by the market. There is a limit to what you can realistically take out of the lough without depleting stocks. If you look at our analysis of the brown and silver eel catch, there has been a change in the balance between the brown and silver eels. The old company would have been interested in the maximum profit from the sale of silver eels. Our concern is that fishermen are gainfully employed and work for a living rather than receive a share of the profits from the silver eels. We have allowed them to fish for more brown eels and the silver eel catches have dropped because of that.


The quota system is to regulate the market because fundamentally the real market for Lough Neagh eels is in Holland. While a lot of eels are consumed in Holland there is a limit to what they are prepared to take on a day-to-day basis at a realistic price. We fix a quota system which tries to keep the total production on a day-to-day basis within the limits of what you can market at a realistic price.


Understandably there are variable marketing factors. If you get a particularly warm summer, unfortunately more eels are caught here in Ireland. If the weather is warm here, it is warmer in Holland. People are less inclined to eat fish or meat in these conditions and so the demand drops. Alternatively, you can flood the market but take a reduced price. We therefore adjust the quota to take account of the market conditions to try to keep prices up rather than flood the market.


Mr Davis: Regarding your co-operative's fishing regulations, how do you enforce the rules?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: We have five full-time protection officers and boats on the lough and we do our best to enforce the rules this way. I would emphasise that we do our best because I have been out on the lough myself. It is approximately 16 miles from north to south and about 10 miles from east to west, and unless you had a navy, you could not really enforce the regulations. I regret to say there is an acceptable level of disobeying regulations. In the last analysis, the vast majority of commercial fishermen were not prepared to observe the regulations and so it was impossible to enforce the rules. If you have about 160 or 180 boats all round the lough who are determined to break every rule you make, unless you have an army and a navy and are prepared to prosecute them day after day, you get nowhere. We depend on the co- operation of the fishermen which, fortunately, for the most part we have.


The Chairperson: I was a bit remiss at the outset as I did not introduce the members of the Committee. I will do so now as each one is going to ask some questions.


Dr Adamson: To follow on from Ivan Davis regarding brown and silver eels, what percentage of the migrating eels are now allowed to escape to spawn and is this number adequate?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: I am not a scientist or a biologist. By law we are required to leave what is called a Queen's Gap. In other words, a certain stretch of the river is unfished and that we do leave. That is laid down by regulation so we observe the regulation and hope that the people who made the regulation got it right. We have no reason to suppose that it is not right, but there is no way in which we can monitor the number which do escape.


The fact that the elver recruitment has been a major cause of concern does not necessarily mean that it is a local problem. The facts are that, before the co-operative established that the commercial fishing for eels was a reasonably rewarding activity, there were lots of lakes and rivers elsewhere that simply were not fished at all, and there were silver eels escaping from there to spawn. When the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was being enacted the Department empowered an eel fishery to fish the full stretch of the river, and I argued that that was irrational.


I was told by the then scientific officer that there were sufficient stretches of rivers and lakes in Europe and elsewhere, unfished or unfishable, to ensure that sufficient escape. I said that they were depending on someone else's incompetence or charity to restock their river. In the interim more and more rivers which were not previously fished are now being fished, and because they are being fished there are not as many escaping from elsewhere. To be honest, no one knows why there has been such a marked decline in the elver recruitment. We would like to know, but we honestly do not.


Dr Adamson: You have said that wild eel fishing on Lough Neagh is the sole and honourable exception to the trend that eel fisheries are in decline as the result of over fishing. Where do these findings come from and how do you know that Lough Neagh is the exception?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: I regret to say that Dr Chris Moriarity made that statement, not me, and I would have to ask him to justify it. There have been representatives of the Department here attending conferences in Denmark and elsewhere. All have reported that scientists in those countries are concerned about the decline in their eel fisheries. They have looked at Lough Neagh and been surprised to see that it remains constant and viable. Dr Moriarity was kind enough to say that in that respect the management of the Lough Neagh Fishery was a role model. The other thing of course is that we have purchased elvers at considerable cost over those years. That has not been done in the other European lakes and rivers.


Dr Adamson: Why do the Dutch and Germans eat eels and we do not?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: I would like to know that too. Basically Irish people equate eels to snakes and they just do not like the look of the things. The only people in Ireland who eat eels are those who have grown up around the lough shore. It is not that they particularly like them, rather that they happen to be available. The reason there is such a demand in Holland is that the original Zuider Zee was one of the major eel fisheries in Europe at that time. There is a tradition of eating eels and smoking eels. There is a multiplicity of small smokers dotted around that lake, which is bigger than Lough Neagh. It has been overfished and now the production is way below local Dutch demand. Fortunately for us the Dutch like smoked eels.


Mr McCarthy: You mentioned water quality, and I have a number of important questions on this. The co-operative has expressed concerns regarding the local water quality. What have been the implications of being unable to hold silver eels in the local river for more than 10 days?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: Silver eels are caught in nets at the weirs at Toomebridge and Kilrea. The catch is determined by the phase of the moon and the flow conditions in the river. Basically, silver eels will not migrate in daylight or in bright moonlight. It is an established fact that they will go only in the dark phase of the moon. If you get the right combination of weather in a 10-day period in each month, then you can catch a lot of eels. Our total catch is liable to be something in the region of 150 tonnes. It is quite possible to catch 100 tonnes of those in four days if the weather conditions are right. Then you have 100 tonnes of eels to dispose of. In the old days, and I hate referring to old days, it was quite possible to keep those eels alive and in good condition for up to two months in the river or in tanks. Now, whatever is wrong with the water - and I am not a scientist - after 10 days they begin to get sick. As soon as we catch eels, the buyers in Europe very promptly hear on the grapevine. They know we have got 100 tonnes of eels and have 10 days to get rid of them, the price tumbles because of that.


Mr McCarthy: Regarding environmental issues, agricultural waste could represent a large threat. Would the co-operative recommend the introduction of tighter controls on agricultural practices, and is this monitored in any way? Whose responsibility should it be?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: The Department of the Environment should be responsible for monitoring it. We do not have the facilities for monitoring such a vast area of water. Equally, it is not so much about introducing tighter regulations as enforcing existing ones.


About 20 years ago there was a major outbreak of algal bloom on the lough that resulted in the death of vast quantities of fish. There was alarm at that time by the then Department of Agriculture. Fortunately there has not been a major outbreak in the intervening years, but having said that, nobody has done very much to prevent it. The Department would say they have but they really have not. Fundamentally, the major culprit is the Department of the Environment which, has not updated the sewerage plants around the lough to take account of the growth of population in towns like Antrim, Craigavon, Dungannon and Cookstown.


Mr McCarthy: It sounds very similar to the situation in Strangford Lough, in my area. We have got exactly the same problems. You state that the results of regular sampling of water quality have not been available to the co-operative. Why is that?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: I do not know. I have asked for the information, I have been promised it, but I have never got it.


Mr McCarthy: Maybe you will after this. The River Agency has indicated in its business plan proposals for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Does your group feel that these changes should contain a pollution prevention component? Should these contributions be made obligatory or voluntary?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: Basically, they ought to be obligatory. Anybody discharging anything into a waterway or a lake should have standards and be required to abide by those standards. Voluntary contributions are no good. That would not work.


Mr McCarthy: Should there be different levels of fine for polluters depending on whether it is their first offence?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: In agreement with the conservancy board I would contend that there ought to be a much higher deterrent by way of fine. At the moment the fines are really ludicrous, and the fines imposed by different magistrates vary. There is no doubt that some farmers and some other people who discharge unsuitable water into the rivers and lakes find it more profitable to do so and be fined rather than take alternative steps.


Mr McCarthy: Does your group believe that rewarding good environmental policy and procedure could be a more effective means of reducing pollution?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: I am not so sure about that. One would always hope that all citizens are responsible, but the facts are that they are not. Deterrent is liable to be much more effective than that type of encouragement.


Mr McCarthy: Finally, the co-operative has called for immediate abolition of crown immunity from prosecution which the Department currently enjoys and which has been abolished elsewhere. Could the co- operative state how this immunity has had an effect on fisheries, and what countries have abolished the crown immunity?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: Crown immunity from prosecution means that the Department of the Environment, which is the major culprit, cannot be prosecuted. As far as I am aware, crown immunity has, in fact, been abolished in England and certainly the conservancy board, as some people here can confirm, have made representations to the Government that similar legislation should be introduced here. It is totally unacceptable that the Department of the Environment, through the inadequacy of its sewage disposal plants, should be a major polluter and immune from prosecution, while other minor offenders are prosecuted.


Mr J Wilson: My first question relates to disease. I do not understand why the eel tanks from the Erne and Shannon systems end up on your shores. Can the fish not be moved on without either the water or the fish coming in to contact with the waters of Lough Neagh? I accept and share your concerns about disease, in particular the zebra mussel. Why are the shores of Lough Neagh involved in the process?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: There are several buyers on the shores of Lough Neagh who buy eels in the Republic of Ireland and from the Erne system. Rather than ship them from the shores of the river or lake where they buy them they bring them back to Lough Neagh and keep them in tanks, the discharge of which goes into the lough. We are very reluctant to interfere in the administration of somebody else's business, but when it reaches the stage where a major national resource such as Lough Neagh could be put at risk then we think that there ought to be some preventative measures ought to be taken. Those eels should be either packed and shipped from the shores of the lake in which they were caught, or there should be a closed system on their storage tanks so that there is no discharge from their tanks into Lough Neagh. Those representations had been made to the Department, particularly during the current season, and, quite honestly, I have not got any realistic response. They are considering it, but they are not sure what they can do under current legislation. Does that answer your question?


Mr J Wilson: Yes, it does. However, I think that you have got to pursue the matter. If the discharge gets into your body of water the whole enterprise will have to be abandoned. I have had personal experience of such a catastrophe in Lough Erne, and it must be taken very seriously.


You state in your submission that not enough funds reached the Fisheries Conservancy Board, and a lot of people would agree with you. It is funded from the sale of licences. Have you any other ideas as to how the Fisheries Conservancy Board could be more adequately funded?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: It has to be funded by central Government. It is discharging statutory duties, and they are necessary duties. I have been a member of the Fisheries Conservancy Board since it was established in 1966, and I must admit to being one voice who has consistently advocated that there should be public funding. I am not arguing that there should not be licence duties but it is unacceptable and unrealistic that the board should depend either on licence duties or on some income from the Department for discharging duties.


The conservancy board does get some money from the Department of the Environment for pollution control work. The only reason the conservancy board is asked to do it is that probably does it cheaper than the Department, and that is not a realistic policy. The only other way is by subvention from public funds. I understand that there is no similar body in these islands, either in Ireland or in the UK that does not receive subvention from public funds. That has been a running sore since the board was set up in 1966, and licence duties payable by both commercial fishermen and anglers are increased annually. There comes a stage when enough is enough. The conservancy board has staff that must be paid, and it has work to do. It has been demonstrated that it cannot do it from the receipt of licence duties.


Mr J Wilson: This may sound a little bit tongue- in-cheek, but at the same time I am making a serious point. You have talked exclusively about commercial fishing for eels. You know, I know, and anglers know that before coming into the Bann and into such rivers as the Glenwhirry, salmon have to pass through Lough Neagh. There is a belief amongst the angling community that the salmon and dollaghan are also caught on the lough when fishing for eels. Would you care to make a comment on that?


Rev Oliver Kennedy: There is no significant quantity of salmon caught by commercial fishermen on Lough Neagh. That is a fallacy. I have said that repeatedly at the Fisheries Conservancy Board meetings, but obviously angling interests prefer to believe that all fishermen are taking vast quantities of salmon. They are not. It would be foolish to say that somebody does not catch one now and again, but no commercial fisherman is specifically fishing for salmon.


As far as trout are concerned, there has been the traditional trout fishery on the lough and at present the co-operative has the scale fishing rights on the lough. Again, there is a feeling that there are vast quantities of trout being extracted from the lough. About 10 years ago, there was an outbreak of disease among the trout, and fishing for trout has declined, so there is no longer a sizeable fishery. Does that answer your question Jim?


Mr J Wilson: Yes, and I hope you do not mind my giving you the opportunity to answer it.


The Chairperson: That brings to an end the question time. It simply remains for me to thank you very much for providing us with what we would all agree was a very important piece of evidence, one that as a result of your long experience, is a very valuable one. On behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank you very much. We will be deliberating these matters and all of the submissions we have received, and we hope to be in a position to make recommendations to the Minister and the Department around November.


Rev Oliver Kennedy: We, in turn, would like to thank you for the opportunity to come and present our case, and may I say that any member of the Committee who wishes to visit the fishery at any time is welcome to do so.


The Chairperson: Thank you. That is an offer we may take up if we have time