The IFI annual report for 2016 also emphasised financial challenges, with IFI chairman, Fintan Gordon, writing that “the fact that non-pay funds are being expended each year to meet the pay costs is becoming unsustainable in the short- to medium-term”.
The report, laid before the Oireachtas, outlines how 1,487 illegal fishing items were seized in 2016 by officers — 266 more than in 2015 — including 301 nets and 818 illegally caught fish.
According to the report, 103 prosecution cases were initiated for breaches of fisheries and environmental legislation in 2016, with 54 convictions recorded that year for fisheries offences.
In addition, 156 fixed-charge penalty notices were issued and 195 anglers received cautions for minor breaches.
The report also said that 31 fish kills were reported in 2016, eight of which were caused by agricultural practices, two by municipal works, and one by industrial works.
While 16 fish kills were as a result of disease and natural causes, in four instances the exact cause “was difficult to ascertain”, Mr Gordon said.
In the same year, 21 prosecution cases were initiated by environmental offences and 15 convictions in the same year, while 22,000 environmental inspections were carried out, including a considerable increase in the number of inspections of civil-engineering works and infrastructure.
As for the management of invasive species, the report said that, “due to the lack of statutory basis and specific budget allocation, the sustainability of the weed-management effort on Lough Corrib continues to be reviewed”, even though, in 2016, control works were undertaken at 21 locations on the Co Galway waterway.
The first record of Asian clam in the Erne River was also recorded in January, 2016.
Some 188,000 man hours were dedicated to safeguarding fisheries in 2016, with more than half the time spent on river patrols, most of which were conducted in vehicles or on foot.
In the chairman’s foreword to the report, Mr Gordon said: “The operating environment has continued to prove challenging for IFI fishery officers.
“They continue to operate in an increasingly challenging environment and one particularly worrying incident, involving staff being threatened with firearms, illustrates the constant need to prioritise risk-assessment, safety, and supports.”
In summer, 2016, gardaí investigated after fishery officers in Co Donegal were held at gunpoint. They had confronted masked men who were using illegal nets to catch salmon.
Overall, 26 incidents resulting in injury were reported to the Health and Safety Authority in 2016.