Kayak Fisherman Ireland

Pay Up!

With a new angling calendar year upon us what do we have to look forward to? As usual, it can be argued and theorised that we have long summer days of tench fishing to look forward to. Trying to entice trout from the top on the dry fly. Waiting for a tope to tear down tide with the bait. Tearing our hair out after trying every trick in the book with the local mullet. That is, of course, dependent on how the mullet respond to having 140 tonne of their brethren scooped out of the sea just off the Cork coastline a couple of months ago. Will it be a slow season ahead for mullet in the south and south east this year? I would be shocked otherwise.

One thing I do hope we see is a ban on fishing for, or at least a quota on, fish that are not ‘commercially viable’. Those fish that do not fall into the category of being worth much at market are not deemed worthy to have regulations on them. They are being scooped out by net after net to be processed into pelleted fish meal. Take the lowly sprat for example; they are not deemed as desirable for human consumption so there are no limits as to how many can be caught. A herring boat that fills their weekly quota can then turn their attention towards sprat and fish for them unhindered. Sprat, as one of the lower members of the food web have all kinds of animals in the aquatic environment depending on them. Fish, dolphins and whales all feed on them and they are arguably one of the most important foundations of marine life in Ireland. Still, we value a tonne of household rubbish higher than a tonne of sprat. This is very telling of our attitude towards the sea as a nation. I sincerely hope this situation changes this year.

One thing I hope that very much stays as things stand is the need not to hold a permit for coarse or sea angling in Ireland. There has been a lot of speculation recently that some sort of payment will be expected of anglers in some form or another going forward. At the time of writing, negotiations are on-going between parties who do not represent the majority of anglers in Ireland and the body charged with looking after out fish stocks. As is a tiresome feature of the Irish political landscape, language is being used to confuse the ordinary angler and riddles are the language of choice. A licence, permit, tax, call it what you will (contribution is the most amusing one), it all amounts to anglers having to pay for their sport.

should anglers be forced to pay up to fish a bog lake like this?There are factions of anglers who are rightly annoyed. I cannot blame them. Why should some of the angling community be expected to contribute towards what they perceive to be a shoddy service? If you pay for goods or a service you would expect them to be of a high standard and fit for the purpose intended. Granted, salmon and sea trout anglers do have to pay for a licence to fish and in return their fees get put back into their end of the sport. As a result, they have negotiated themselves into positions of influence when it comes to decision making for Irish anglers as a whole, even though they only represent a minority. Fair? Most certainly not. Their fees have contributed towards a culture where it is perceived that their targets get priority over all others when it comes to funding, protection and legislation.

If a fund was to be developed where the introduction of a fee/permit/licence/tax/contribution (haha) then the current structure of fisheries protection, management and legislation would have to change, to become equally representative across all disciplines of the sport. As an angler who travels the length and breadth of the country to catch whatever I can, I would find a system like this extremely unfair. I would go so far as to say that I would refuse to support it outright in this current environment. Each member of the angling community is free to make their own choices but I would encourage members of the piking, coarse fishing and marine fishing communities to boycott such a mandatory payment. Why? I’ll break it down into the three categories….

Marine

First off, most think it is ambitious at best to try and implement a licence/permit/tax/contribution on sea angling and I would be the first to call it farcical. Is it right that sea anglers be expected to pay for a product that has been diminishing in terms of average sizes and numbers of fish caught in many parts of the country? Is it right that sea anglers be expected to fish in waters that see trawlers coming ever closer to shore and targeting all types of fish that can be sold to be processed into fish meal? I really do not think so. What can you do to appeal to them? I certainly don’t speak for all sea anglers but establishing a kilometre wide commercial free fishing zone around the entirety of our coastline may be a good start. It may, over time, see an increase in fish numbers and eventually justify the cost of the piece of paper that anglers will be expected to pay for.

Pike

Now for the pikers. Is it fair to ask pike anglers to contribute money towards the culling of the very species that they are trying to catch? Pike management is seen as a folly by many and to ask pike anglers to contribute towards it is not only mean spirited, it is truly antagonistic. Most see the removal of pike as interference with an environment that was able to keep itself in balance for centuries, long before fisheries management and trout competitions came along. Is it really right to ask Irish anglers to pay money towards an organisation that uses methods such as gill netting and electrofishing to remove fish that have been genetically proven to be resident for far longer than any of us? As I see it, I think any Irish pike angler would be insane to even consider ‘contributing’ towards slaughter of this fashion.

Coarse

Again, asking this particular group of anglers to stump up their hard earned for a piece of paper that says they can fish would be not the right thing to do as things stand. How would it be fair to ask them for money when countless reports of poaching of their quarry go unattended or, worse still, completely ignored. I know countless anglers that have reported incidents of coarse fish being poached that have been responded to with either contempt, ignorance just be being ignored altogether. Why should the coarse angler be asked to pay for their angling when perfectly good waters have been emptied of coarse fish to provide ‘put and take’ fisheries. Why should they be asked to pay when it is blatantly obvious to them that their sport is very low down in the pecking order of Irish angling?

should you have to pay up to fish here?

There are federations clamouring to support the idea of this proposed compulsory ‘contribution’. Their logic is that any funding can be ring fenced and put directly back into the sport. The idea is a good one in theory but does every member of every federation really believe that every cent will go back into angling? I do not. Sorry for the cynicism but I grew up in an era of brown envelopes, dodgy dealings, backhanders, dirty politics, nest feathering and spin. Forgive me for not believing what I am told. Did every cent of the property tax go back to local services? Not a chance of it!

The arguments outlined above are reasonable and although I acknowledge that I do not speak for every angler in the country I am sure that there are many out there that share the sentiments of my outlook. At the time of writing IFI have refuted claims that such a payment scheme was to be implemented but there are many federations that represent different angling groups that are pushing ahead regardless. There will be more meetings into the New Year and I will watch how the scenario keeps unfolding with interest.

One final point I would like to make on the issue is that the representing federations are adamant that the agendas they are pushing through are representative of the majority of anglers in the country. I can stand up and state clearly that none of the angling federations represent me. There are many anglers up and down the country that have no desire or inclination to be associated with any angling federation. I like fishing because I like to go fishing. It offers me escapism from study and gives me an opportunity to get out into the fresh air. One thing that sours angling for me is politics. As far as I am concerned, politics should have no place in angling.

I and many anglers like me have no time or patience for what is commonly perceived as the squabbling and infighting between grown men that seems to go hand in hand with angling. To the outsider, all it looks like what the different representative groups in angling do is argue and fight amongst each other for scraps to line their own nests with. There is an insular view to different faucets of angling from anglers who practice another style. I have mentioned before that there is a general disdain shared between the different angling groups. Is it any wonder that such a fractured group of people do not get listened to when it comes to policy change and implementation?

or even here?

I have a proposal. It may sound radical to those that are set in their ways but try and stick with me to the end before throwing your toys out of the pram. It is unquestionable that things could be done to vastly improve the product that is Irish angling. It is also unquestionable that money will be needed to make these changes and unlike ten years ago, money has stopped growing on trees. It is going to be needed from somewhere and anglers seem to be the obvious choice. But how are they expected to pay when each feels that their section of the sport is treated unfairly?

If the federations that claim to represent ‘all the anglers’ put their differences aside and form an alliance to truly represent all anglers equally, then that would be a step in the right direction. Whether you use bait, lures or flies your ultimate aim is to stick a hook in a fish so why not put aside your differences and work as a far more powerful unit than numerous smaller units could ever do? Could the powers that be decide to treat all anglers and all fish equally? Could fish favouritism be made a thing of the past? Could some fish management methods be cast to the side? Could marine anglers be given a fair deal by introducing commercial free zones? If the answer to all of these questions are ‘Yes’, then I feel you will have a good chance of getting all anglers to contribute towards the upkeep of their sport. If not, then good luck……

By Gary Robinson

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