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Guest Column, December 2005

Niall Greene is chairman of the Irish board of ‘Stop Salmon Drift Nets Now’ – a coalition of angling, fishery owner and tourist interests established in Ireland in 2004. He has been fishing for over fifty years and is a member of the executive committee of the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers.

Scientists and Managers tell the Irish National Salmon Commission to end Drift Netting

On 26th January the Irish National Salmon Commission was effectively told by its Standing Scientific Committee and by the National Fisheries Management Executive that drift netting should end with the 2006 season. If this advice is adopted by the Commission at its at its next meeting on 14 February it will constitute a major step forward towards the ending of the last large scale drift net fishery for salmon in the North Atlantic. It will also pose a further major dilemma for the Minister for the Marine appears, with his officials, to be in a state of denial about the condition of salmon stocks and the need to take radical measures to confront the situation. Those radical measures include the need for the adoption of a precautionary, single stock management approach to salmon management – an approach that cannot accommodate the continuation of a mixed stock fishery.

The Standing Scientific Committee (in the most extensive and analytical report which it has issued since its establishment in 1999) told the Commission that:

  • Marine survival of salmon is the lowest recorded probably since the 1970s and that, therefore, “there should be a priority given to conservation rather than catch”;
  • No more than 106,000 salmon should be taken by all methods in 2006 in the nine districts in which exploitation at some level can be permitted. Their equivalent advice for 2005 was 125,000 (although the Minister for the Marine eventually authorised a national regime that provided for the taking of some 170,000 salmon by all methods);
  • Only four of Ireland’s fourteen salmon fishery districts exceeded their Conservation Limits for returning spawning fish in 2005 and that even in these areas some rivers had fallen below the Conservation Limit;
  • Eight fishery districts had had achieved less than 50% of their Conservation Limits;
  • Five districts had achieved between 50 and 100% of their limits.

Critically the Committee went on to say that “mixed stock [i.e. drift net] fisheries pose particular threats to salmon stocks, especially those stocks which are below Conservation Limits”. They note that “given the low level of stock generally, it is not possible to manage existing mixed stock fisheries (i.e. drift nets and some draft nets) such that only those stocks meeting their Conservation Limits will be caught and that only the number of fish in excess of the Conservation Limits for these stocks will be harvested”.

For the first time the Standing Scientific Committee’s advice acknowledges Ireland’s obligations to manage its salmon resource in conformity with the requirements of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation Convention, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas and the EU Habitats Directive.

The full text of the Standing Scientific Committee’s report is on www.cfb.ie.

The National Fishery Management Executive (the organisation representing the views of the Chief Executive Officers of the Central and seven Regional Fishery Boards) presented their initial views on the scientific advice to the Commission. In it they recognised that “the scientist’s document suggests an end to mixed stock fisheries which in effect, means a cessation of most, if not all, drift netting for salmon”. They further recognise that “it seems clear that if the Minister’s commitment [to align national and district allowable catches with the scientific advice by 31 March 2007] is to be adhered to mixed stock fisheries will cease at the end of the 2006 season”.

The NFME stated that they “accepted the broad thrust of the advice of the SSC” and recommended the adoption of a two year strategy for 2006/7. They recommended that “the announcement of the Total Allowable Catch [for 2006] be accompanied by an announcement by the Minister in relation to the cessation of indiscriminate mixed stock fishing with effect from the close of the 2006 season”.

The NFME expressed the view that “increased escapement to rivers must be accompanied by improved management regimes in the rivers including strict control of the draft net fishery and angling catches” so that “over exploitation of the resource will not simply be transferred from the open sea to rivers”.

The NFME noted that:

  • “Many drift net fishermen depend on salmon fishing for a significant part of their livelihoods and a decision to prohibit such fishing [must be] accompanied by a range of measures aimed at easing the financial impact”.
  • “Measures aimed at the control of angling, especially the total angling catch, should be introduced”.
In its comment on the reports Stop Now said that “the advice given to the National Salmon Commission by its Standing Scientific Committee and by the National Fishery Management Executive effectively means that the long running argument about drift netting for salmon is over. They report makes it clear that drift netting must cease if salmon stocks are to be restored. It is imperative that the Government acts immediately to introduce the measures that will be needed to bring about an orderly end to the drift net fishery commencing this year”.

We would be fooling ourselves if we believed that the battle for the end of drift netting in Ireland is over. The Minister has endless opportunities to keep passing the parcel around the numerous State organisations involved in salmon management and thus to avoid having to make hard decisions. This is despite the fact that a significant portion of the drift net community is known to favour some mechanism that would enable them to retire from the industry”.

The analysis and comments which were presented to the NSC would have been unthinkable had it not been for the rational and sustained campaign which Stop Salmon Drift Nets Now and its many international friends have maintained over the past eighteen months. And we will keep it up until we get a result.