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Anglers Express Concern Over Demise of Thornback Ray on Belfast Lough

12th November 2020
Thornback Ray - once abundant but now extinct on Belfast Lough Thornback Ray - once abundant but now extinct on Belfast Lough Photo: Hans Hillewaert

Alex Easton, MLA has called on the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEARA) Minister to create Marine Protections Areas in Belfast Lough.

Belfast Lough is a long, wide, and deep expanse of water, virtually free of strong tides lying between County Antrim and County Down. The inner part of the Lough comprises a series of mudflats and lagoons, and the outer Lough is restricted to mainly rocky shores with some small sandy bays. The outer boundary of the Lough is a line joining Orlock Point on the County Down side and Blackhead on the County Antrim coast, giving about 30 square miles (78 km2) of open water.

The Northern Ireland Federation of Sea Anglers brings together all the sea angling people of Northern Ireland whether fishing shore or boat. Members recently met at Bangor Marina with DEARA Minister Edwin Poots, South East MP Paul Girvan and MLAs Alex Easton and Gordon Dunne. The meeting gave NIFSA the chance to highlight the federation's concerns, amongst which was the reintroduction of the Thornback Rays into Belfast and Larne Loughs, the setting of artificial reefs and the creation of Marine Protection Areas within the Lough.

Minister Edwin Poots (left) meets anglers Harry McKee (Secretary of NIFSA) and Barry Platt (right)Minister Edwin Poots (left) meets anglers Harry McKee (Secretary of NIFSA) and Barry Platt (right) Photo: NIFSA

Mr Easton has said "It is quite clear that commercial fishing in Belfast Lough over many years has decimated many types of fish and wildlife within the Lough. Having spoken to anglers, they no longer catch many of the different species they once did due to overfishing by commercial fishing."

He continued, "A clear example of this is the Thornback Ray which was once abundant in the Lough and is now extinct due to commercial fishing. I would love to be able to see these Rays reintroduced to Belfast Lough, but to do this we would need a survey done of the Marine life, the creation of artificial reefs to support and grow fish numbers and the creation of Marine protection areas around Belfast Lough that cannot be fished by commercial fishing".

Alex Easton intends to write to the Agriculture and Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, about these matters. He continued. "I believe we have time to fix and protect Belfast Lough in a way that we can reintroduce wildlife such as the Thornback Ray, which can be bred at our own Exploris Aquarium Visitor Centre in Portaferry and reintroduced to Belfast Lough. We can ensure that the area is sustained for anglers to fish, which ensuring we grow and protect our Lough but is done sustainably."

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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