Lough Neagh eels on a slippery slope?

EUROPEAN UNION proposals to ban eel fishing on Lough Neagh and close the Toome eel fishery have produced an angry response from Mid-Ulster MLA Francie Molloy.

Two European countries, Ireland and Norway, have already banned all eel fisheries, but not Northern Ireland, where the Lough Neagh eel industry is seen as a valuable part of the Mid-Ulster economy.

Local eels were granted protected geographical indication status in 2011; and the Toome eel fishery is reportedly the largest in Europe – netting between 400 to 600 tonnes per year.

Mid-Ulster MLA Francie Molloy branded the proposal as “damaging, counter-productive and illogical.”

The Sinn Fein representative organised an emergency meeting on Thursday with Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, Agriculture Minister Micelle O’Neill and representatives of the Lough Neagh eel fishermen.

“I have secured a strenuous rebuttal of this proposal from the two ministers”, said Mr Molloy, speaking to the Tyrone Times after the meeting.

“We will fight this proposed closure of the eel fishery all the way. There is no justification whatsoever in a ban on eel fishing in Lough Neagh. Not only is it extremely damaging to the local economy and the lough-shore community, it totally disregards the conservation and restocking work already undertaken by the eel fishery.

“Such is the extent of the restocking, we are probably supplying most of Europe’s eels at the moment.”

The MLA said the meeting had been convened to ensure that all sectors were working together to preserve the fishing industry and protect the rights of local fishermen.

“In addition, we want to further develop the lough as a resource rather than curtail it, and I have received strong reassurance from the ministers that this will happen.”

Minister Ní Chuilín has written to DEFRA in London stating that she will not consider any ban without:

• additional independent scientific evidence;

• a full Equality Impact Assessment under s.75(1) of the NI Act 1998;

• full consultation with all stakeholders; and,

•appropriate compensation packages for all those affected in the event of any suspension.

“I have also agreed to urgently meet with a delegation from the Lough Neagh Eel-Fisheries Co-operative to discuss this issue, as I make a statement to the Assembly next week”, said Minister Ní Chuilín.

“I will be asking officials to make the necessary arrangements immediately.”