In Ireland the non-native invasive species roach Rutilus rutilus has a higher level of protection than the native Brown trout Salmo trutta. The CONSERVATION OF AND PROHIBITION ON SALE OF COARSE FISH BYE-LAW NO. 806, 2006 makes it an offence to take more than 4 roach in one day, or take any roach over 25cm (10 inches). This law applies to all coarse fish, other than Pike. This rule does not affect most of the Irish or British coarse fishing community, as they do not want to eat coarse fish. Although a little restrictive, the rule also does not significantly affect the Irish or British pike angler; they are still allowed to kill up to 4 small roach (other coarse fish) to use as dead baits while pike fishing. However, there are many people in Ireland who like to eat roach, bream and other coarse fish. Many of these are eastern Europeans living in Ireland, and they are restricted and criminalised by this law.
It is of course accepted that laws are necessary however to protected our fisheries, and accepted that many fisheries will probably need to be exclusively “catch and release” in the future. However, things start to look a bit curious when you look at the protection of our native Brown trout. Brown trout is widely fished by the Irish angler, and is (maybe after salmon) the most favoured fish for the Irish dinner table. However, on most of Ireland’s river and lakes there are no bag limits for brown trout, and the size restrictions are generally that you can’t keep fish below 25cm (which are too small for the table anyway), but can keep any number of fish you like above this. The Irish trout angler can, on most fisheries, catch, kill and eat as many brown trout as he or she wants. An angler can go out on Lough Derg and catch and kill 32 ‘table sized’ brown trout if he is able. There are certainly no laws against it.
If an angler catches a 1 Lb Perch Perca fluviatilis (over 25cm) this fish is protected, so has to be put back. A 1 Lb trout on the other hand is not protected and can be killed. There is no scientific, ecological or conservation reason why this should be the case and why there is a law that would give greater protection to the 1 Lb perch. Indeed, there would be a greater case to be made in favour of the trout – a native species in decline – than the non-native perch. Perch and coarse fish populations in general in Ireland are doing relatively well are not under any threat, except from water pollution, habitat change etc. There is no scientific evidence that taking coarse fish for eating in Ireland is depleting fisheries, and certainly no scientific basis for protecting that 1 Lb perch. The evidence is political only.
Despite the high angling pressure on trout stocks in Lough Corrib, Inland Fisheries Ireland consider that most trout there die of old age. In the vastness of Irish lakes such as Lough Derg, could taking a few fish on rod and line for the table really have a significant impact? In relation to trout, most coarse fish are highly fecund and fast growing. None of these species are native to Ireland, and many can be classed as non-native invasive species. It is noteworthy that several tonnes of perch are killed every year in the silver eel nets in Killaloe, while thousands of them are killed passing though the turbines at Ardnacusha. A single cormorant would eat 30+ in a day during the breeding season no problem. Take thousands of these fish in a lake like Lough Derg and you are still not getting into biologically significant numbers.
Last week Inland Fisheries Ireland successfully prosecuted Roman and Vytas Maslauskas, originally from Lithuania but living in Ireland for 8 years, at Killaloe District Court. They were fined €500 each and were also disqualified from holding a driving licence for a period of 6 months. Their crime – killing 32 perch between them, the majority probably small one and two year old fish, with 8 larger fish. It is accepted that that keeping 16 perch each was excessive, but it is clear that one does not need to have two vans for this operation. At the end of the day these were two small bags of a very common non-native fish species. This amount of fish fish would be lost in two standard plastic supermarket carrier bags, for example. The fish were caught on rod and line, but it was proclaimed to the judge that they were using a “fish finder”. However, this is normal practice and almost every boat on Lough Derg now utilises one of these devices, particularly when trout fishing. Inland Fisheries Ireland again talked up their own operation and seriousness of the offence by saying that “Two vans were used in the operation for transporting the fish and equipment”. However these were just two guys with small bags of fish and their fishing rods, feeling full wrath of Ireland’s unfair fisheries laws. This was not a proportionate punishment for these two men.
In the press release following the conviction of the Maslauskas brothers, Amanda Mooney, Director at Inland Fisheries Ireland, Limerick welcomed the ruling and stated that “this result sends out a strong message that our wild fish populations must be protected”. However, what message does this really send out? and what exactly is being done about the illegal netting of salmon, for example, in the Lower Shannon which is being undertaken by criminal gangs from Limerick City as a type of “recreational fishing”? Like targeting angers for logbook recording, prosecuting the Maslauskas brothers is certainly a much more straight forward and less risky operation to IFI staff that taking on the real issues affecting fisheries on the River Shannon.