We hear all the time that Bloody so-called Environmentalists want to ban fishing, that is not the case. Certainly we in the Irish Seal Sanctuary want to see commercial and recreational fishing continue into the future. To say that fishermen can be their own worst enemy sounds glib, but at times it is true.
On a number of times we have been approached by commercial fishermen who have concerns about the industry. Some have tried the usual processes to raise their concerns and have found themselves confronted by inaction and denial, even from Dept and State agencies. Some have turned to us as a last attempt to address their worries and asked if we can do anything to about their concerns..It may be that some are afraid to let it be known that they have concerns and that they might be regarded as ”whistle-blowers”. In every case we try to do our best to assist these fishermen,Even making complaints to the European Commission under our name to protect their identity.
Last year we were approached by both recreational anglers and a commercial fisherman who were very concerned by large boats fishing inshore for Sprat and Sandeel (both non-TAC species). The concern was that these boats are killing everything. We agreed to try to help and to raise awareness.
The majority of the fish targeted by the fishing industry are predatory, feeding on other fish. In fact I cannot think of one which does not feed on other fish or their eggs. To scientists these food fish are known as forage fish. Some species are eaten by almost everything in the sea. A case in point being the humble Sandeel. This small fish is the target of a lot of commercial species but also of birds, seals and even some whale species. Sandeels have a very high nutritional value. Sprat also comes into the category of forage fish. It was realised as long ago as 1880 in the Eastern USA that the destiny of forage fish is to be eaten. Left alone that means that they are eaten by other fish. In the States the forage fish in question is the Menhaden or Bunker. Then industrial fishing began for these fish to process them into oil and fish-meal. They realised in the US that with their natural prey being fished to feed chickens and pigs that the other fish species were having to resort to eating other small fish to survive. These included the juveniles of commercially valuable fish species and it was realised that it also included Salmon smolts. When the industrial forage fishery collapsed and the Menhaden were given a chance to recover the Salmon also recovered to some degree. As the likes of Striped Bass and Bluefish returned to feed on Menheden
In Ireland we have the situation where we allow industrial fishing for forage fish to continue and then wonder why very few Salmonsmolts return as Grilse and Salmon. The fact that we have ignored the experience they have documented in the USA shows us to be attempting to “reinvent the wheel”. We must learn from others mistakes rather than make them ourselves.
Our marine resources belong to all, yet it is just a few large trawlers that exploit the non-TAC forage fish which feed our other fish. It is surprising that other fishermen do not attempt to curtail this fishery. Inshore fishermen are concerned about these pair trawlers operating in our bays and estuaries, as static gear cannot be used where they are operating. We often hear complaints about seals taking the food from the fishermen’s nets, but these guys are taking the food from the fish’s mouths for a few Euros so they can continue to fish after their own quota of more valuable fish has been used up. They are taking the food from the fish that all fishermen target, not only that but it is then destined for fish-meal with will go to feed fish farmed fish, pigs and chickens. Surely this food should stay in the sea to support our wild fish stocks. To catch these small fish the use of small mesh nets is required and the areas where they fish for them are known nursery areas for other commercial species.
I cannot imagine many having much sympathy for a farmer who sells off most of his hay in September then complains that she does not have enough feed to last the winter.
Johnny Woodlock, Sea Fishery Advisory Group