COVID-19 prompts rise in illegal fishing in Ireland

Published on
July 24, 2020

Irish fisheries protection authorities have been battling a surge in poaching that appears connected to the mass furloughing of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also restricted the activity of enforcement officers.

Inland Fisheries Ireland, which monitors salmon entering rivers from the Atlantic, has seized driftnets and illegally caught salmon along the western coast in recent weeks, with two of its officers the victims of false imprisonment after boarding a vessel near Belderrig pier in County Mayo. Additional seizures of illegally caught salmon have taken place in Donegal and Cork, IFI said, and photos posted on its website show dozens of seized fish, which it said are usually sold on the black market.

The IFI, a statutory body operating under the aegis of Ireland’s Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, issues licenses for recreational angling, but the sale of any wild salmon in Ireland is illegal, according to the authority. Salmon stocks returning to the country’s rivers have dropped from 20 percent in the 1970s to approximately five percent in 2019, according to the organization’s latest annual report.

“We wish to highlight the importance of protecting migrating salmon and sea trout stocks against illegal fishing activity,” Inland Fisheries Ireland Deputy CEO and Head of Operations Greg Forde said in a press release. “The risk of targeted netting of salmon at sea remains the highest priority for our protection staff.”

Forde said IFI officials have seized a total of 91 nets nationally in Ireland since the beginning of the year, collectively measuring 5,300 meters in length. He said that while the IFI announced a recruitment drive this spring for seasonal inspection officers to conduct more coastal inspections in an effort to reduce illegal salmon fishing in Ireland, “the value of prompt and accurate information from concerned members of the public who report instances of suspected illegal activity or pollution alerts cannot be overstated.”

Forde and IFI warned Irish caterers against purchasing illegally harvested salmon, which could land them in their own legal trouble.

In a separate announcement, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), Ireland's authority for seafood safety and sea-fisheries protection, announced their intervention in two separate incidents of illegal fishing in recent days.

In the first, SFPA officers searched a lorry in Rosslare, a port on Ireland’s southeast coast, destined for Spain with approximately 700 illegally caught lobsters on board, of a total cargo of 6,000 lobsters. All the lobsters – most of them undersized – were returned alive to the sea and the SFPA is preparing to file charges with the Irish prosecutor’s office.

Legislation brought into force in 2016 restricts recreational fishers to catch one lobster daily and prohibits them from selling their catch, Steele said. Lobsters that have been V-notched must not be retained, Steele said. Some 60 V-notched lobster were seized from the lorry, which is specially fitted out with large water tanks to transport lobster while still alive in order to maximize their value, according to Steele. 

“The volume of such a find of undersized lobsters is both significant for the future viability of the fishery and concerning given the scale of the find,” SFPA Chairperson Susan Steele said in a press release. “The fishery for lobster is one of the most traditional fisheries among coastal communities and the mainstay of many small vessels fishing all around the coast of Ireland.”

In a separate incident, 86 illegally caught lobsters were seized from a recreational fisherman in the same region.

“The actions of a few fishermen selling undersized and V-notch lobsters undermine the legitimate fishermen trying to maintain a sustainable fishery and livelihood,” Steele said. “The majority of inshore fishermen act responsibly and in conjunction with state agencies, including the SFPA, to ensure the protection of the species which have been in decline in recent years. Many inshore fishermen participate in voluntary measures such as V-notching to assist with restocking of lobster.”

Photo courtesy of Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority

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