Last month, when I wrote about using gill nets, a practice banned in marine fisheries in the EU due to the social, moral and economic costs attributed to them, it caused a bit of a stir. What I tried to do was to outline the reasons and principles behind why, as an assumed modern nation living in today’s Europe, gill nets are an invention that should be banished to history and looked upon as part of an era when we could say that ‘we knew no better’. We do know better and I hope that the piece I penned last month went some direction to conveying that. Some people who read the piece were very supportive as to what I had to say. Others; not so much! Gill nets and their use is always going to be a contentious issue and though I never claimed to be a professional scientist, I did make an attempt to portray the evidence as I see it from a scientific point of view. Anybody with a passing interest in the world around them should have been able to interpret my reasoning and apply it to their sport as anglers and agree or disagree as they see fit. As with any contentious issue, the opinions are going to be divided.
The issue with most angling debates when they arise is that they are confined very much to the ranks of the anglers. Most of the general public seem not to take an interest and not get too bothered ‘over a few fish’. I think one big problem that anglers have to contend with when trying to make changes for the better of their sport is an overwhelming sense of apathy displayed by the public. Most people that are not anglers would probably be of the opinion that pike should be removed from waters, believing the misinformation that they have been supplied with over the years by the anti-pike brigade. Rumours and untruths that throughout the years have become ingrained in the public psyche and fuelled and spread by those that knew no better at the time.
Science has moved on. It has progressed. We now know more than we ever did and new secrets and revelations are being discovered at an incredible rate. To plead ignorance now would be shameful. But how do you go about reversing decades of lies that are now believed as fact? How does one change the mind of a wider public with regards to our waterways and their inhabitants?
It is no secret that Ireland is still in economic turmoil no matter what the national broadcasters tell us. Ireland now has the highest net emigration in the European Union. People, young and old, are leaving in their droves in an attempt to find a better life. Small towns and villages are being decimated of their youth populations. Tourism numbers are down and the angling tourism cash take is way down on what it once was. Sad times. Why? It is fair to say that there are not the numbers of visiting anglers coming to these shores that there once was. I can see why there may have been a push to protect ‘brown trout fisheries’ in an attempt to keep tourist anglers coming to particular parts of the country. If we can provide what the visitors want then we can attract them to a certain area. But are ‘managed’ fisheries really what the visiting anglers want, especially when we try to promote ourselves as an angling nation where the ‘wild’ tag features heavily?
Another contributor to this magazine, Ashley Hayden, mentioned some startling figures in his article last month with regards to visiting anglers to this country, taken straight from an Inland Fisheries Ireland commissioned survey that they back fully as an indicator of the value of angling to Ireland as a nation. His sleuthing uncovered that of the visiting anglers that come to Ireland each year 13% of them come here to fish for pike, compared to 7% for trout. The average stay of the trout fisherman is 2.30 days compared to 4.80 for the pikers. Nearly double the amount of visitors for an average stay that is over twice the duration. Now it does not take a mathematician, rocket scientist or hot shot banker to figure out that there is already double the amount of beds filled in a B&B, hotel or guesthouse on the back of a pike holiday as compared to a trout holiday. Double the bed nights, double the takings and that is before the spend in local shops, pubs, restaurants, other amenities and tackle shops is taken into account. I am sure you can see where this is going…..
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that in many tackle shops in Ireland, the revenue take on pike gear far exceeds that of the take on trout gear. My days of working in the tackle trade saw the same pattern. Orders in tackle shop books should reflect this and chats with a couple of tackle shop owners confirm this. Their pike vs trout spend in the shops would be in a ratio of 5:1 very much in favour of pike. The increased spend also accounts for takings during the cooler months when, due to the small population of this country, a couple of piking expeditions can keep the tackle trade ‘ticking over’ during the leaner months. With social media enabling more information to be far more freely spread the word has gotten out that there are serious mismanagement issues afoot in Irish freshwater fisheries. A look through any UK or European forum on angling will find stories of the Irish gill netting pike and removing fish from their fisheries. The pieces are usually followed by a plethora of comments that articulate disgust at the actions and show a resolve to never come back here again. And still the take for pike fishing exceeds that of the trout fishing which has been put up on a pedestal and promoted left right and centre. Imagine what could be done if both types of fishery were managed to support each other?
Managing our waters as mixed fisheries will undoubtedly offer more work to communities and not just through the traditional March to September window. Opening up pike fishing and managing it as a viable aspect of a mixed fishery will see a generation of income for many smaller towns and villages dotted around the country. It could allow for more people to become involved in the industry, perhaps halting the urge for some sections of our society to emigrate, an urge materialised from a frustration of having nothing to do and feeling positively trapped by the lack of options to take. That is not a good place to be.
Morals and logic dictate that gill netting is a barbaric act that has no place in modern, civilised society. Study and research have also shown that pike management is the equivalent of a ‘wild goose chase’ and does nothing to assist with the other aquatic environment’s inhabitants. It is a wasteful practice that not only requires funding but also potentially drains a lot of income from affected areas’ local economies. But still, here in Ireland we push on regardless. People make mistakes. There is no shame in that and we learn from our mistakes. Perhaps the persecution and eradication of pike from certain areas has been a mistake? Suppose the bigger mistake in trying to preserve trout numbers was not addressing planning procedures beside feeder streams? Or allowing agricultural runoff to contaminate these feeders unchecked, allowing eutrophication to slowly erode away at water quality? Leave the predators alone and address these issues and I think we will be a long way towards world class mixed fisheries. Fisheries where both fantastic pike and trout fishing can be had, not to mention the bream, hybrids and other usual specimens that an Irish mixed fishery of world renown would have the potential of producing.
I am not a pike angler. I am not a trout angler. Or a kayak angler, or sea angler, or coarse angler or whatever other analogy some would like to use to try and pigeonhole me into a certain category. I am just an angler. I like trying to catch them all. I also realise that to have a healthy and balanced eco-system, whether it be aquatic or terrestrial, there is a need for apex predators and the hierarchy that they create and enforce, as outlined in last month’s article. But that can all be brushed aside by the general public in favour of creating jobs and generating income. I wonder how the same general public would feel, in this age of austerity, if they knew that taxpayer’s money and funding was being used to carry out projects that potentially have very negative impacts on small communities up and down the length of Ireland? How would they feel about public money being used to create an environment where sons and daughters have to leave their homes, families and homeland in search of work that could have been provided here through tourism? Why is one option being shunned in favour of another weaker option when even the most recent figures show that the former is potentially a far greater earner for the people of Ireland? In this day and age and taking into account where we are fiscally as a nation, I am disgusted and repulsed by it.
My piece last month got quite a few people talking about a subject that is somewhat taboo, that thought only compounded by Inland Fisheries Ireland’s lack of willingness to engage with the public on the matter. On the back of that topic being covered I would like to congratulate the ‘men’ that took the time to contact me through a ‘private number’. Anonymity behind a private number is courageous indeed and it is well for some to have little else to be doing.
The nature of the phone calls do have me thinking about who would be bothered to make such calls and what would they have to gain by doing so? Some people do not want me writing about Irish gill netting operations and the fact that they take the time find my number and then call me to warn me off has me thinking that there is something more hidden away here that possibly warrants further investigation?
Threats are the reserve of a party that has little or no capacity to construct and engage with intelligent conversation so violent or suggestively violent behaviour is usually the knee jerk reaction that they assume should have a desired effect. If anybody would like to engage with constructive and intelligent comments or views then I would be delighted to hear from them through my email address at firstname.lastname@example.org