#Angling - Minister of State Fergus O'Dowd discussed some of the measures being employed to curb illegal fishing at a conference on wildlife crime at the weekend.
Addressing the Irish Wildlife Crime Conference in Ashbourne, Co Meath on Saturday 14 September, the minister highlighted the example of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and its work in tackling illegal activity in the fisheries sector - following news that angling is worth some three quarters of a billion euro to the Irish economy annually.
"IFI is bringing the fight to the poachers," he said, noting that 28,613 man hours were expended on lake patrols, 17,253 man hours were expended on coastal and estuarine patrols and 115,498 man hours were expended on river patrols in 2012 alone.
"But staff are not just going out randomly on patrol and hoping for the best, they are using all manner and means of equipment to target specific areas and increase efficiency.
"For example, fisheries officers are now using bicycles to access areas quickly such as many river banks. Kayaks are being used to conduct silent patrols along rivers and access areas which previously would have been almost impossible to get into unnoticed.
"Quad bikes are being used on some of the countries beaches to patrol for illegal bass fishing. Personal water craft and kayaks are being used to patrol shallow estuarine areas which previously would have been inaccessible to RIBS."
Fisheries patrols, the minister explained, have also had "significant success in the use of night vision scopes, thermal imaging equipment and covert cameras.
"Night time kayak patrols are now being conducted in pitch darkness with thermal imaging equipment along some of the countries largest river systems, and they have significantly aided in the detection of riverine nets.
"But arguably some of the best successes have come for the use of covert cameras. These cameras are covertly located overlooking a known poaching hotspot, the advantage is that they can use infrared light and operate in pitch darkness and they take an image of the subject and text it to the Fisheries Officer. So we now have a situation where the fisheries officer can actively patrol one area and remotely cover a number of other locations at the same time."
The use of cameras, he said, has resulted in a sting operation against criminal gangs poaching a particular fishing hotspot in the north-west.
"However, with all of this innovation there are still people who just do not care," he lamented, noting that in 2012 IFI seized over 24.5km of illegal net.
The only solution, the minister said, is ensuring that all actions against poaching "are underpinned by modern, sound legislation".
He continued: "The ethos of this new Fisheries Act is to make it easy to ‘do the right thing’ provide for administrative sanctions for those who unintentionally do the wrong thing, and save all of the big guns for the people who knowingly go out there to commit a fisheries crime.
"The experience of IFI is that the majority of anglers want to go out fishing, have a reasonable prospect of catching a fish, have a good day and broadly stay within the law – so with this Act we must make it easy to do this.
"Unfortunately there is a ‘rump’ of people out there who for whatever reason, would take the last salmon from a river with a net, for their own purpose. These I would postulate, are the same kind of people who would shoot deer illegally or engage in other types of wildlife crime."