Seanad Éireann - Volume 169 - 07 March, 2002
Adjournment Matters. - Fisheries Protection.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to place on the record of the Seanad the great concern of the people of counties Cavan, Westmeath, Meath and Longford where Lough Sheelin has played a pivotal role for generations. As one of their Oireachtas representatives, I wish to raise the great concern of the people of this area in the House tonight. I thank the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources for coming to listen to the concerns which I will highlight for him and for the opportunity to listen attentively to his reply. I hope he  will present a long-term plan for Lough Sheelin under the auspices of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board.
Lough Sheelin has been one of the great assets in our area for many years. The first objective for the people in the area of the lough is to stop the culling of all fish, including trout, which are also killed in nets as this interferes with the natural ecological balance of the fishery. Our second objective is to extend the pike fishing season to the whole year as Lough Sheelin is the only lake in Ireland which has a totally closed season, making it viable for tourists for only seven months in the year as opposed to 12 months on Lough Corrib, Lough Mask, Lough Owel and Lough Ennel, the other designated trout fishing lakes. This would better serve the local business community and bring much needed revenue to Lough Sheelin.
Anyone who knows Lough Sheelin can only sympathise with those who invested hard-earned savings in building guest houses only to find that the season is so short. The Sheelin Shamrock, a hotel on the shore of the lake, had to close because of the deterioration in the lake over the years, mainly due to pollution from outside sources. The Minister's predecessor, former Deputy John Wilson, made great attempts to remove the dreaded pollution which had been created by third parties, whose identities were widely known in the area. The closure of five guest houses in the area has been attributed to the lack of fish stocks in the lake. I call on the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board to reassure the people of the entire midlands and the fishing community throughout Europe, who have visited our area for many years.
We are led to believe that the Inny system is to be made a licensed fishery. This would further discourage tourists from coming to the area and would mean that Finea and the parish of Castlepollard, where I reside, would be the only areas of Ireland with no free fishing at all. This would stop local tourists and day trippers from coming to our area for the pleasant sport of fishing. The Minister's constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, has visited our area, which is included in the CLÁR programme as one of three or four areas with the greatest decline in population. Four townlands adjacent to the village of Finea have endured population declines of almost 100%.
These are the concerns I bring to the House and I look forward to the Minister's response. As one who seeks a Dáil seat in County Westmeath, I speak on behalf of the deprived area in the north of that county. The people of the area do not receive their fair share and I speak for them because, in the words of Patrick Farrell, “Where is the one who does not love the land where he was born?” It is for that reason that I highlight their problems in the House and I hope, with their support, to continue to do so in the future.
Mr. Fahey Mr. Fahey
 Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I thank Senator Cassidy for giving me the opportunity to respond to this very important question.
A number of large lakes situated in the north west, west, south west and midland areas constitute a unique ecological resource. They are the only lakes of their kind in the world, with the exception of Lough Leven in Scotland, which have an indigenous fish fauna dominated by the salmonoid species brown tout and, in some cases, shared with Atlantic salmon.
A large number of scientific studies carried out by the Central Fisheries Board staff and other independent scientists have shown that the board's policy of culling pike, a non-indigenous piscivore, to optimise production of our native fish is fully justified. The maintenance of large native stocks of trout as a consequence, apart from being an integral part of Ireland's natural history, has provided high quality salmonoid angling for anglers and led to the development of a major tourist angling industry based around these waters. The fisheries boards have actively promoted measures to foster growth of wild brown trout stocks. These have included, for example, water quality programmes, baseline riverine surveys, river and stream development and enhancement, stock management and education and consultation.
The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board informs me that it owns the fishing rights on Lough Sheelin. Both pike and trout angling are allowed during the open season between 1 March and 12 October each year. It is the board's policy not to allow fishing during the closed season from 13 October to 28 February. The board states that this measure is necessary to ensure the survival of wild brown trout stocks in the fishery. I also take the opportunity to point out that section 18 of the Fisheries Act, 1980, empowers the Shannon board to take appropriate measures in relation to the improvement of fisheries within its remit.
Lough Sheelin is one of the few wild brown trout fisheries still remaining in Ireland and it is the Shannon board's policy to ensure that all possible measures are taken to ensure that the lake remains as such. For over 20 years the board has fought against pollution on the lake and, unfortunately, this issue has not yet been resolved. The board, however, has managed to maintain a substantial stock of wild fish in the fishery during this period. In recent years, under the tourism angling measure, the board has spent over £500,000 – €634,869 – rehabilitating the streams of Lough Sheelin to ensure that they can produce the optimum number of brown trout. Along with its activities to reduce pollution and maintain a healthy stock of juvenile fish in the streams, the board also undertakes other management practices on the scientific advice of the Central Fisheries Board.
These practices include the culling of pike which prey heavily on juvenile trout stocks. The  polluted conditions in the lake have resulted in an imbalance which requires large numbers of pike to be removed from the lake to enable the trout to survive. The removal of pike is traditionally undertaken using gill nets. However, in recent years, the board has introduced a new practice of electrofishing which allows the fish to be taken alive from the water and transferred to other suitable fisheries.
The board has also introduced a policy of removing as many pike alive as possible from the gill nets and, at present, is moving alive to other waters between 30% and 40% of all pike caught. The board informs me that, in 2001, only 20 to 30 trout were caught in nets. The board is satisfied with the scientific advice received on this issue and on a yearly basis commissions the Central Fisheries Board to undertake stock assessments to review the progress of trout stocks and management practices.
The board regards the maintenance of Lough Sheelin as a wild brown trout fishery as vitally important. The Shannon region has over a thousand waters and only on five is predator control practised in order to develop and protect brown trout. In most other fisheries pike stocks are present and good fishing is available. I am satisfied that the measures adopted by the board will ensure that our wild brown trout stocks in Lough Sheelin will continue to be enjoyed by future generations.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I thank the Minister for his long reply and invite him, after the next general election, to visit our area. Perhaps we can draw up a strategic programme for the survival and enhancement of the tourism industry in the area, where Lough Sheelin will play a pivotal role.
Seanad Éireann 169 Adjournment Matters. Fisheries Protection.