City slickers should not be charged with running our fisheries

The threat to the future of the North Western Regional Fisheries Board is real and one which should be campaigned vigourously against. Politicians in Mayo, especially those with influence at a national level, must step up to the plate now before decisions are made to scrap the Ballina office.

Angling is at the heart of the tourism industry in Ballina and surrounding areas and there is no doubt that this sector would be badly affected were the town to lose its fisheries office.

It was in June of last year that Mary Coughlan announced that Ballina was to be named the Salmon Capital of Ireland due to the prolific run of salmon through the town, and Ballina has certainly lived up to this title.

Of the North Western Regional Fisheries Board’s €4 million annual budget, €2 million is spent in the north Mayo capital yielding a fantastic €15 million return to the local tourism economy. That’s a huge return on investment and must be protected.

The move to amalgamate all of the fisheries boards into one national entity, to be based in Dublin, is in direct contravention of the Government’s policy of decentralisation. The west and north west are renowned for their angling superiority and removing the local board, who have at their disposal generations of expertise and information regarding the local fishing scene, would be detrimental to the sector as a whole.

Ballina needs its angling tourism to continue to thrive and flourish. It is one of the biggest industries in the area and has certainly put Ballina and Mayo on the map in terms of fishing hotspots.

This is in no small part due to local input and years of maintaining the rivers and their banks by local angling clubs.

Surely the Salmon Capital of Ireland should retain its fisheries board office. There could be no merit in amalgamating the western and northern western boards and moving the headquarters to Galway. But that is the fear.

Almost a third of the country’s salmon catches are caught in the north western board’s catchment area, and the fight to see this industry grow and prosper must be supported by local politicians.

While there is no immediate threat to the Ballina office, a change in government or a change in minister could see that undermined at the stroke of a pen. That’s why fisheries board boss Vincent Roache wants the promise to retain the two boards in the west written into legislation. Come the end of this year all boards will be abolished and one national body set up, based in Dublin, with the potential loss of years of local experience built up from the formation of strong relationships between the board and local angling groups.

Ballina has been described as an unemployment blackspot — a title that doesn’t sit comfortably with locals but one which the CSO Live Register figures support. By taking the running of the local fisheries board away from the town, the Government would achieve nothing positive, except possibly adding to the dole queues due to the knock on affect on tourism, while the presence of the headquarters in Ballina remains a positive boost to the area.

The running and management of the country’s fisheries is not something that can be achieved efficiently from a city centre office manned by townie clerical officers. This role must remain at the heart of where the best fishing in the country takes place and Ballina must not lose out in this regard.

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