I note Cllr Michael Burke’s opinion piece in the latest issue of your paper regarding the challenges facing the Western lakes of Ireland. There are a number of inaccuracies relating to Inland Fisheries Ireland and our work which require immediate clarification.
Inland Fisheries Ireland is a national organisation which acts as a custodian of the fisheries resource. The Western Lakes are part of this expansive resource and our team works to conserve, protect and develop these lakes, along with the 74,000 kilometres of rivers, 128,000 hectares of lakes and 5,500 kilometres of coastline. We do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with a very limited staff complement.
Ireland is unique in the developed world in that we do not have a long term sustainable source of income to contribute towards the conservation and development of this valuable natural resource. When you consider that every village, town and city in this country has a waterway that is capable of nurturing fish and in turn, providing recreational angling with benefits for the local community, this is at once both a huge opportunity and a challenge.
The protection and conservation of freshwater fish species is at the heart of our work and the organisation is utilising a suite of modern technologies in the most efficient manner to protect this precious amenity. We have a clear vision, outlined in our Corporate Plan (available at www.fisheriesireland.ie ) of how to do this and we continue to implement this plan across the country.
At a local level to your readers, in the Western River Basin District, we have an operational plan in place, prioritising actions and various important initiatives such as stock management, invasive weed management, fisheries protection and habitat development. The management plan is devised by local personnel in the west who have the necessary expertise and knowledge to determine the required activities for the area.
Due to the expanse of the fisheries resource, there will always be a requirement for more staff on the ground to fulfil our duties. However, like many public sector agencies and local authorities our permanent head count was significantly reduced during the last recession, and it has not been restored to previous staffing levels despite requests for additional staff to undertake exactly the type of development work Cllr Burke is referencing.
Fisheries Officers are now equipped with the best available modern technology and equipment to enable them to perform their often dangerous and challenging duties in the most efficient way possible. As we work towards operating in a more cost effective and eco-friendly manner, we are also consolidating some of our properties where it no longer makes financial or environmental sense for us to operate an older building for a small number of staff. This issue has been brought to the fore with the increased focus on reducing carbon emissions, and the statutory targets public sector agencies have to achieve in this area.
It is true that our indigenous fish populations face many challenges today in an ever changing environment. The effects of climate change, poor water quality and other man-made impacts all put pressure on the aquatic habitat which have long term impacts on the fisheries resource. A significant focus of our work is to support populations as they grapple with these changes by developing fish habitats enabling fish to reproduce and thrive.
To date, we have not received any request from Cllr Michael Burke for a meeting with the CEO’s office. I received two letters of correspondence (on Thursday, September 19 2019 and Monday, October 14 ) and responded to both communications in writing. Our local Fisheries Inspector engaged with Cllr Burke on Monday, December 9, prior to the publication of his opinion article, with a view to organising a meeting to discuss the local fisheries resource. This meeting was scheduled and later postponed at the councillor’s request. It has been re-arranged to take place later this week and our team look forward to meeting the councillor to provide an update on our ongoing work to ensure the sustainability of the fisheries resource into the future.
Dr Ciaran Byrne
CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland