Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and member of the Stormont Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, has warned of “an angling catastrophe” if action is not urgently taken to protect certain threatened fish species.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also North Antrim UUP Chairman and Ulster Unionist Culture, Arts and Leisure Spokesman, issued his warning as he challenged the Executive Minister to “return the serve by doing something positive for the angling community”.
Assemblyman Swann has backed anglers’ calls for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to “do more for the sustainability of our indigenous fish species, including salmon, in the wake of massive support for the No To Salmon Nets Campaign” (NTSN).
Mr Swann added: “The campaign was started by 15 concerned anglers, chaired by angler Seamus Donnelly and from the initial 15, it has grown into a group which has standing room only at their meetings.
“The NTSN group is lobbying to have the last remaining nets removed from the North Coast of Antrim which are being fished in direct contravention of the European habitats directive and North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) protocols.
“I am also raising issues that are of concern in my own constituency as well as other areas that benefit from Lough Neagh. At this time, all fish species from eels to salmon are depreciating and unless action is taken quickly, the Lough will be adversely altered with catastrophic effects for the whole eco system.”
Mr Swann issued his warning after attending an information event in Stormont. Various angling groups and supporters were represented, including; NTSN, MEPs, UAF, FISSTA, FASTA, Disabled Anglers, and The Honourable Irish Society.
Around 40 MLAs from all the main parties heard what the different groups had to say and were impressed with the depth of knowledge and commitment shown by everyone they spoke to.
Mr Swann added: “Of particular interest to myself and my fellow MLAs was the amount of tourist revenue which was being lost through the neglect of DCAL to protect the fish stocks and the public needs to know how desperate the situation has become.”
Mr Swann has also proposed a motion for debate in the Assembly as his campaign shifts into top gear.
The motion is as follows: (Part 1) “That this Assembly notes that a number of indigenous species, including salmon, are being exploited by both legal and illegal fishing to the point where stocks are no longer sustainable;
(Part 2) “That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts, and Leisure, in partnership with other relevant Departments and following consultation with key stakeholders, to develop an action plan, which includes action required by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, to improve the sustainability of relevant fish stocks in the forthcoming and subsequent seasons;
(Part 3) “And further calls on the Minister to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to deliver the action plan”.
This motion is being co-sponsored by Mr Swann’s party colleagues - South Antrim’s Danny Kinahan MLA and Mid Ulster’s Sandra Overend MLA - and will hopefully come before the Assembly in late February, or early March.
Mr Swann said that in response to the intense lobbying and actions by the MLAs, the Minister Caral Ni Chuilin MLA has issued a letter.
It states “that the continued exploitation of Atlantic Salmon in the DCAL jurisdiction is currently untenable” and as a consequence the Department is asking for the netsmen not to apply licences and for anglers to go voluntary catch and release.
Mr Swann said the anglers of the Maine Enhancement Partnership have voted to support the letter and all clubs so far have put into place catch and release for 2012.
He added: “It is now up to the netsmen to reciprocate and follow the spirit of the letter. I hope all anglers will support the campaign by logging on to the No To Salmon Nets Facebook page and signing the online petition which so far has more than 1,000 signatures.”