#islandnation– This week in THIS ISLAND NATION .... Can politicians be trusted to imposed compulsory boat registration? Preserving fishing tradition... Restricting access to the wheelhouse ... A 27-year wait ends at Glandore and much more .....
There are good reasons to have a register of boats in Irish waters. Many EU countries do. The UK and Ireland do not. The Irish Marine Federation (IMF) has called for a mandatory scheme for the identification of recreational vessels. Now Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has indicated that a 'Vessels Registration Bill' is amongst his priorities. But there are also reasons to be cautious. Experience teaches wariness about politicians when they propose regulations affecting an area of life that has previously escaped unnecessary control.
Such legislation has been expected for some years and there have been indications of what it would contain, such as vessel identification for search-and-rescue; ensuring that boats are covered by insurance; a system to stop the avoidance of VAT on buying boats, all reasonable. However, there are additional issues to be watched.
These include whether the proposals will involve a system of taxation or licensing to swell Government financial coffers, but presented as ostensibly good for the marine sector. For example, will there be another form of 'water tax' imposed to use a boat under the guise of a licence? What restrictions will the State seek to impose on the freedom to go boating, to sail, to use a motorboat, a Rib other watercraft? Will there be compulsory "water licences" akin to "driving licences". Ridiculous to suggest? Perhaps, but there could be a reasonable argument made for such a licencing system, for safety reasons. But how would all of this affect the freedom to use the water and how would it be implemented? Would it be a 'licence' for the employment of legions of public service inspectors.
There are good reasons to require leisure craft entering Irish waters to notify the authorities, such as drug-running prevention and other breaches of the law. The only system that exists is Customs clearance which, according to some visitors, can be 'hit-and-miss,' depending upon the areas of the coastline. Let us not rush to judgement, but do let us be cautious when the State comes calling with new regulations to control the freedom to use the water.
Registration of vessels of all sizes, from small boats to container ships, is done under the Register of Shipping Act. It is not compulsory at present for leisure craft.
Maritime Tradition – DRAFT-NET FISHING
Maintaining tradition is important and in Jack Howard's home in Passage West on the edge of Cork Harbour I discussed the old craft of draft netting. Jack is Chairman of the Cork Draft Net Fishermen's Association who are allowed to fish on the River Lee from May 12 to August 14. The season has been gradually squeezed into a smaller operational period - four days a week from May to July, then 5 days in July and back again to four from Tuesday to Fridays in August. In Cork City and County, under the South/Western Fisheries Board, there are only 17 draft net licences left and the allowed fish catch is 1,632. A generation ago there would have been around a hundred licences and boats operating in the Cork Harbour area.
Draft net fishing on the river Lee in the 1960s - from Jack Howard's collection
"We are doing what is in our blood. It is a tradition and we want to keep it," he told me as he showed me a photograph underlining the pride of a traditional craft handed down through his family. It shows draft net fishermen working on the River Lee and is reproduced here. "There has been pressure from angling sources to abolish draft netting, but anglers should respect that we have a right to catch salmon as well as them and that it is an Irish tradition which deserves to be maintained. There is enough for everyone if everyone respects the others' interests."
I have seen draft net fishermen on the Lee and in other locations around the coast. On the Slaney, Nore, Barrow, Suir and Blackwater small flat-bottomed 'cots' are used to fish in the tidal estuaries. They have distinctive styles and as well as draft netting were used for snap-netting and drift-netting until its abolition. They were also used for eel fishing until that traditional fishery was also closed down by Government decision. In North Mayo 160 draft net men had licences. In Killary Harbour and at Leenane draft netting was often a tourist attraction during summer months.
Draft-netting is a small fishery, but in many coastal regions a way of life, carried out in estuaries and inshore bays where a boat rows out from shore, paying out a net held at the other end onshore. The boat rows against the tide so that the net forms a semicircle. When a salmon is spotted inside the enclosure or felt hitting the net, the boat closes the circle and the net is hauled in.
Shipping – REDUCE ACCESS TO THE WHEELHOUSE
The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch has recommended that shipping companies should restrict access to the wheelhouse. In a report on a collision in the English Channel last year it says that the master of one of the ships involved had been "distracted from his primary role of watchkeeping" by the presence of other people on the ship's bridge. The collision involved the Dutch-flagged refrigerated cargoship Spring Bok and the Maltese-registered LPG tanker Gas Arctic in March about 6 nautical miles south of Dungeness. No one aboard either ship was injured but both vessels suffered structural damage.
THREAT TO SHIPYARDS
A Danish report warns that one in four of the world's shipyards could close in the next two years due to a slump in orders. There are 542 active shipyards worldwide, but 142 have no orders.
Sailing – 27-YEAR WAIT ENDS AT GLANDORE
"After 27 years, we have at last acquired a clubhouse for Glandore Harbour Yacht Club. It may have taken a long time but the reward is that we have ended up with a perfect location for our clubhouse, 100 metres from the harbour," says Commodore, Diarmuid O'Donovan. "It has been the Club's aim to have a clubhouse since its formation in 1985 and a lot of effort has been put into acquiring one which will undoubtedly add to the sailing attractions of Glandore. We have come a long way over the past few years and membership has grown significantly."
The club sailing programme caters for Cruisers, Dragons, Squibs and other dinghies and extensive training programmes include ISA training courses and a sailing programme for local schools each summer. There are club racing fixtures from May to September. The clubhouse will add to the harbour facilities when the CH Marine Classic Regatta is held there from July 20 to 26. This regatta was first run in 1992.
"We have a programme to encompass all classic boat lovers - from those who simply want to watch from the shore, to the most dedicated of boat owners," said the Commodore who has invited all interested sailors to pre-register on the club's website www.glandoreyc.com for monthly newsletter updates. Glandore has been given a €25,000 grant for remedial works, including disabled access. It has trained 10 new instructors for summer sailing courses.
Angling – SALMON SEASON
There are 55 salmon fisheries open and 59 closed for the angling season which has just begun and 32 rivers classed for "catch-and-release". For the first time since 2007 the River Liffey from Islandbridge in Dublin to Leixlip Dam in Kildare falls into this category. Recommended guidelines for catch-and-release have been published. Copies of a 20-minute video, "Catch and Release – The Future in Your Hands," is available free from Inland Fisheries Ireland, Balheary Road, Swords, Co.Dublin – phone 01 8842600.
Marine Environment – JELLYFISH STUDIES
Marine scientists will be carrying out further studies of jellyfish as a result of what have been described as "plagues of jellyfish" on the Mediterranean coastline last summer. There have been eight summers in a row of such "plagues" though previously these had occurred only once in every decade. Investigations will examine whether climate change is associated with the cause.
Fishing Industry – FENIT MEMORIAL
A memorial depicting the bronze statue of a fisherman is to be erected in Fenit, County Kerry, dedicated to local fishermen who lost their lives at sea. Seamus Connolly, a leading bronze sculptor, has been chosen to make the statute which will show a fisherman mending his net. The memorial will include an "area for reflection" incorporating memorial plaques.
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Tom MacSweeney on Twitter: @TomMacSweeney