Fishermen willing to go to jail

Jason Steele and Adrian Weir pictured during the Foyle Fishermen's protest at Quigley's Point on Saturday morning. The local fishermen were making a stand against what they say is the destruction of public fishing over the last 13 years on the Foyle and are calling for a public inquiry. 2501JM03
Jason Steele and Adrian Weir pictured during the Foyle Fishermen's protest at Quigley's Point on Saturday morning. The local fishermen were making a stand against what they say is the destruction of public fishing over the last 13 years on the Foyle and are calling for a public inquiry. 2501JM03

Members of the Lough Foyle Oyster Sub-Committee have called on senior management of the Lough’s Agency to stand down and allow them to take control of the fishing in the river.

Spokesperson for the group Batty O’Connell has said he is willing to go to jail to and keep fighting against the Lough’s Agency in a bid to have policing of river passed back to the local fishermen.

“I don’t give a dam, I was arrested in September for fishing oysters on Lough Foyle, I am due in court soon and there are three of us willing to go to prison rather than pay any fines to the Lough’s Agency.

“We are claiming the river back. We have been fighting with the LA for a long time now and we intend on continuing to barrage them to keep the fight going.”

The oyster bed in Lough Foyle have decreased by over 60% in the past three years for a number of reasons including the arrival of the deadly bonamia parasite.

At an Inishowen Area council meeting in Carndonagh, delegates from the agency in charge of the Foyle said that oyster fishing insists they will be carefully managing the river to ensure the survival of Europe’s only remaining wild oyster areas.

“Stocks have exhibited signs of being over-fished and we must reduce the amount of oysters removed from the Foyle to safeguard the practice for future generations,” said Ciaran McGonagle, of the Loughs Agency.

“There are also a number of beds near Culmore where a significant number of oysters have been infected with bonamia. We have banned fishing in this area to see if reduced stress will allow the stock to recover.”

However Greencastle man O’Connell maintains the disease can be contained with the right management.

“Bonamia is like the plague, it will completely kill off the natural native oyster population in Lough Foyle, and without the proper management it will completely wipe out the wild oysters in two or three years time. The fishery can’t sustain it, we used to have 80 boats on the river and now we have just eight or nine, if we want to save the fishing for future generations, we need to act now.”

“The Loughs Agency has let us down time and time again and we have absolutely no confidence in their ability to manage and control the river properly. We have 200 years of expertise in this area while they are only insistence here in the past three years.”

The Lough Foyle Oyster Sub-Committee offered prior notice to the Loughs Agency that a number of oyster fishing vessels would be exercising their traditional oyster fishing rights last Saturday, January 22, 2011 between the hours of 9.30 am and 11.30 am.

“There was about ten boats out on the river on Saturday to keep up the traditional date for the oyster season. The €2 million Lough’s Agency boat was there keeping an eye, however there was no arrests made this time, they probably should have arrested us, but they just kept back.

“I have no problem with the men who work for them in the boats, it’s the senior management I believe should step down and allow us to stand up.”

Local councillor Martin Farren said it was imperative that the shellfish industry in the Foyle be protected.

“We depend on the shellfish industry to rear families in our area and it must be looked after. The men who fish for oysters and mussels must be looked after and listened to.”