Fears for dolphins after inshore trawling ban overturned 

Fears for dolphins after inshore trawling ban overturned 

If Fungie or any similar solo bottle-nosed dolphin had a notion to settle in an Irish harbour, they could be in stiff competition for feeding on sprat and juvenile herring.

If Fungie or any similar solo bottle-nosed dolphin had a notion to settle in an Irish harbour, they could be in stiff competition for feeding on sprat and juvenile herring.

There is mounting concern on certain parts of the coast over the environmental impact of a small number of larger Irish-registered vessels working within the six nautical mile limit.

“If we are going to take the forage fish, what is left,” Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow says.

His group has called for a moratorium on sprat fishing pending further scientific research.

Independent TD for Galway West Catherine Connolly has also called for a ban on “unsustainable fishing for sprat”.

It is understood that the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has been alerted to the activities of several large vessels which are legally engaged in fishing for species like sprat, pilchards, and small herring, mackerel and scad.

The larger vessels are in legitimate, but direct competition, with smaller craft which are struggling to break even and claim the larger boats are engaged in “industrial fishing”.

Marine mammals, such as humpback and minke whales and common and bottlenose dolphins are also chasing the food source.

A groundbreaking ban on trawling or seine fishing by vessels over 18 metres of length inside six nautical miles, introduced by former marine minister Michael Creed, was recently overturned as a result of a High Court judicial review.

The ban initiated had allowed a time extension for larger vessels on sprat to make alternative arrangements.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue recently confirmed he is appealing the High Court ruling. 

While welcoming the minister’s move, the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) and National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation have both called for an interim “stay order” which would retain the ban, pending the outcome of the appeal.

NIFA member Michael Foley, a third-generation inshore sprat fisherman from Wexford, said that each year is more and more challenging for the inshore fleet.

When I began fishing 37 years ago, there were small boats in every port, but now all you have is a handful of boats on pots

Mr Foley, 52, pair trawls for sprat on his 13-m Western Dawn off the south coast.

“I sent my son off to learn a trade as I could see no future in fishing for him, but when this ban on larger vessels working inshore came in last year he thought of returning to fish,” Mr Foley said.

“When I began fishing 37 years ago, there were small boats in every port, but now all you have is a handful of boats on pots,” he said.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation representing 53 larger vessels said it believed the process used for the initial inshore ban was “fundamentally flawed” and said its view had been "vindicated" by the High Court.

It said it would continue to offer its services to the new minister to see if more research should be carried out by the Marine Institute and if a draft management plan for sprat was required.

A Marine Institute study on the impact of inshore fishing found that vessels over 18m in length spend two per cent of their trawling effort inside six nautical miles.

It found that vessels between 15 and 18m in length spent 9% of their effort inside the baseline, and this rose to 27% for vessels between 12 and 15m.

Figures from the SFPA show that some 12,800 tonnes of sprat was landed in Irish ports in 2019, of which 66% was sold for fishmeal and 34% for human consumption.

In 2018, almost 4,000 tonnes of sprat was landed and 94% of it went for fishmeal.

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