On Tuesday 16 July, Judge John King convicted Mr O’Neill at a special sitting of Mallow District Court under Section 173 1 (d) of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 for disturbing spawning beds at Gortmore, west of Mallow on the upper Blackwater.
The court heard evidence from Senior Fisheries Environmental Officer (SFEO) Andrew Gillespie that on or around 1 July 2018, large amounts of spawning gravel had been excavated from the river and deposited at a disused quarry adjacent to the river.
Evidence was heard concerning tracks leading from the river across Mr O’Neill’s land to the quarry. The scale of the extraction led SFEO Gillespie to believe the gravel was being removed for commercial reasons.
The court also heard of IFI’s difficulties serving the court summons to Mr O’Neill and that ultimately the assistance of local gardaí was required to do so.
Mr O’Neill denied the charges and claimed that it was his brother who farmed the land and that he himself had been unaware of the gravel extraction until contacted by Cork County Council in September that year.
Convicting Mr O’Neill, Judge King advised the defendant that his evidence was “not credible”, imposed a fine of €500 and awarded costs of €3,388 to IFI.
Sean Long, director of the South Western River Basin District at IFI, said: “This is an important outcome for the Munster Blackwater and Inland Fisheries Ireland. Riparian owners cannot plead ignorance to avoid responsibility for illegal, damaging works carried out on their lands.
“The removal of so many tons of valuable spawning gravels for minor commercial reward demonstrates a callous disregard for the critically endangered indigenous salmonid and lamprey populations, as well as for the wider community that promotes and benefits from responsible angling practices the length of the Munster Blackwater.
“The maintenance of this vulnerable aquatic habitat is vital if we are to sustain and enable wild fish populations to thrive. We are working to protect, conserve and develop our natural fisheries resource which is of significant recreational and economic value to communities in Munster and across the country.
“We encourage all landowners to contact their advisers or Inland Fisheries Ireland before carrying out and works that may inadvertently damage watercourses on or adjacent to their land.”