WILD salmon face extinction in Northern Ireland, fisheries minister Carál Ní Chuilín has warned.
In an update on the conservation of salmon stocks in the province’s waterways, she said: “There is evidence that wild Atlantic salmon are in serious decline, and face the very real threat of extinction. We must all be focused on the need to save this iconic fish species.”
Ní Chuilín said any activity which kills salmon in Northern Ireland would come under scrutiny, including commercial netting and recreational angling. “My officials have been in dialogue with the coastal salmon nets men,” the minister said. “The salmon nets men have proposed a number of measures including voluntary cessation for this season. These discussions are constructive and I have therefore deferred my decision on the licensing of commercial salmon nets until the conclusion of this dialogue.
“I should also emphasise that no net fishing is presently taking place – the season has not commenced. We therefore have a window in which to engage and conclude an agreed position with the nets men.”
Ní Chuilín announced a Catch and Release Only directive for those fishing in public angling estate waters. “It is clear that all stakeholders must act to address this issue – and angling removes as many, if not more, fish from the water than commercial nets,” she said. “Therefore, in relation to recreational angling, we must take the most robust measures we can within the existing legislation.”
Guidance will be issued to anglers directing that all wild salmon caught in public angling estate waters must be released. The catch and release rule is among the conditions anglers agree to abide by when purchasing a Game Angling Permit.
“I am calling on all anglers not to target salmon,” she said. “Those that do are encouraged to use methods which are less likely to harm the fish. Anglers should use fly only with single barbless hooks to facilitate return of the salmon unharmed to the water, so giving the fish a chance to spawn and rebuild the population.
“As outlined previously, the weight of scientific evidence and the threat of heavy EC infraction fines means the continued exploitation of salmon – for commercial or leisure purposes – is unsustainable. A wider consultation on salmon conservation will begin shortly as we look at ways of tackling this issue in the long term. However, further actions will be required if salmon numbers continue to decline.“This is a complex, emotive problem. I have heard compelling arguments from all stakeholders. I hope those who have made their voices heard through various outlets will engage constructively in this consultation, and we can work together in addressing this issue. Alongside this, officials will continue to clamp down on illegal fishing to ensure salmon have the best chance of survival.”