A GROUP of anglers from across Northern Ireland have swapped fishing rods for laptop computers, using the power of social networking sites to successfully lobby Stormont for an end to salmon exploitation.
Last month the News Letter reported on the alarming decline in wild salmon stocks, which is threatening the very survival of the iconic fish once synonymous with these shores.
This week, the Stormont department [DCAL] responsible for the management of fish stocks indicated that they will not issue licences for commercial salmon nets operating off the north coast of Antrim this year.
Research has shown that the nets have been intercepting the adult salmon returning to the Foyle rivers which is a designated area of conservation.
If allowed to continue these nets could cost Ulster taxpayers millions in EU fines.
The DCAL minister Caral Ni Chullin told the News letter: “That decision is under serious consideration and has, ultimately, yet to be taken. But there is overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that to issue these licences will contravene European law.”
This statement has been welcomed by members of the NoSalmonNets campaign, a group of anglers who have used their Facebook site to attract thousands of supporters from around the world.
“This is brilliant news for everyone concerned with the survival of salmon,” said the group’s chairman Seamus Donnelly.
The campaign, which has also drawn support from many of the political parties in Northern Ireland, was borne out of frustration at the apparent lack of effort being made by the NI Executive to protect salmon.
“When we started this group, we only had one intention and that was to do everything we could to save the salmon from completely vanishing from our rivers,” Mr Donnelly said.
“As a result, many of the local angling clubs have this year banned the killing of salmon and with the likely removal of these nets, we are delighted that the fish will be given a better chance of survival.
“We are appreciate the efforts made by the many politicians from both sides of the community who have taken our campaign to Stormont.
“One of the keys to our success has to be Facebook. The internet has an unlimited reach and we took advantage of that.”
Mark Tierney who co-founded the group added: “This is not just about anglers or commercial netsmen, we have always stated that our intention was to save salmon from becoming extinct, we are primarily conservationists.
“This decision not to issue licences to the commercial nets along the north coast, along with the commitment from local angling clubs to adopt a catch and release policy, is a huge step forward in efforts to conserve this wonderful species which has been neglected here for far too long,”
North Antrim MLA Robin Swann who has worked with the NoSalmonNets group, welcomed the decision.
“It has taken some-time to get to this position and while the announcement is welcome it signals the beginning of a period of consultation on a wide range of issues in relation to the preservation of this iconic species,” said Mr Swann.
“Of course there is now even more of a requirement for anglers across Northern Ireland to accept that they too cannot kill salmon in the coming years.”
And he added: “The NoSalmonNets group deserve a lot of praise for the support which they gained for their campaign. They have shown a determination and a will to succeed in this matter, and that is evident in the thousands of people who have signed their petitions and written to the Department.”
Jim Haughey from the Ulster Angling Federation also paid tribute to the lobby group for their “pressure at Stormont”.