The closing date for submissions regarding the proposed closure for the River Feale and, obviously, the Galey and Brick as well was 13 December. This affects 50 to 60 fishermen who are actively involved in that fishing sector. There are 27 licences currently operating on that river, down from over 50 licences in 2011.
Many of those involved are generational fishermen. Their fathers before them, and in some cases their grandfathers, fished that section of the river. Currently, I know of one man who is almost 90 years of age who was even fishing this year. It is a tradition. It is part of their heritage. It is part of what they are.
The reason for the proposed closure for the 2019 season is down to conservation purposes. The fishermen themselves, who have been fishing from 1997 up until this year, have consistently played their part in conservation. They are reduced to a tagging system that started in 1997. It reduced their fishing period by six weeks from that year. Now they fish approximately 36 days a year, approximately five hours a day. That is the total fishing that they do there. As I stated, there were 51 licences in 2011. There are now 27.
The total number of fish that was taken this year by the fishermen, based on their quota through a tagging system, was 400 for the fishermen and 360 for those involved in the angling.
There is a counter system on the river, which is monitored and run by Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI. This year that counter system recorded 3,487 fish that went upriver. With 3,487 fish, it was determined they were 46 fish short of being allowed to fish in the coming season.
The counter system is 6 ft. to 8 ft. wide - I will show the Minister a picture of it. That counter system is what determines the fish that go upriver. According to the IFI, it is likely 15% more than that went upriver.
Where that counter system is, the river is approximately 100 yd. wide.
There is no doubt that far more than 3,487 fish passed up the river this year during which there was a terrible drought and subsequent flooding at high tide and other times. The river is 100 yd wide at the relevant point, with three fish passes, at only one of which there is a counter. I totally dispute the argument made by IFI that draft net fishing must end based on data from the counter system. It is a traditional way of life which the fishermen have worked tirelessly to conserve. They have behaved impeccably in that regard and done everything requested of them. The closure will create further terrible difficulties in that part of rural Ireland. The nearby post office in Ballylongford has closed, as has the creamery in Ballyduff and a business in Clashmealcon. Draft net fishing is probably one of the few industries left in the area. Although it is only permitted for 36 days per year, it would be a terrible mistake to end it. I hope the Minister of State will look favourably on the submissions and arguments made by the fishermen, the community and me.