PRESERVE, PROTECT, PROMOTE

13 July 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Last week’s presentation to Monaghan Co Council by two authoritative voices in the Irish angling sphere – Inland Fisheries Ireland Chief Executive Dr Ciaran Byrne, and Mr Peter Walsh, Secretary of the Irish Angling Development Alliance – was an illuminating one.
Dr Byrne took as his theme the perception and the reality of the health or otherwise of Co Monaghan’s traditionally strong angling tourism resource and it was clear that to some extent the factors responsible for its decline in recent years had been mis-assigned in much of the debate the subject has provoked.
The invasion of local watercourses by non-native botanical species, thus upsetting the ecological balance and impacting on the catch composition enjoyed by visiting as well as domestic fishermen, along with a certain laxity in responding to significant changes in the angling tourism marketplace, emerged as weightier considerations than the depletion of coarse fishing stocks by illegal practices.
Illegal fishing, often described as being carried out on a near-industrial scale, has been the popular scapegoat for the fall in the numbers of British and other overseas anglers who once came in their thousands to enjoy the pleasures offered by Monaghan’s multitude of lakes and rivers.
It was the expert view presented to Monaghan Co Council that this problem has been exaggerated in scale – and that the natural fecundity of the indigenous coarse fish populating our waterways ensures speedy replenishment and a natural defence against it.
Nonetheless, the anecdotal evidence of illegal fishing that is prevalent in the county has been backed up by regular court prosecutions.
If the scale of the problem has been excessively magnified, it is still a problem, and one that must continue to be addressed as, if it carries no major threat to stock levels at its current level, it has permeated into the consciousness of potential visiting anglers via the websites and magazines they peruse to form a major disincentive to the choice of Co Monaghan as the venue for a fishing holiday.
Perceptions, no matter how factually fallacious, can be difficult to dislodge once embedded, and that has implications not just for the angling tourism trade but also for harmony among the local users of our lakes and rivers, and for community accord and social integration.
The level of blame attributed to members of the foreign national communities living in Co Monaghan for the illegal depletion of fish stocks is excessive, in the experts’ view – and it was heartening to hear from Mr Walsh that his Alliance are taking active steps to engage with other nationalities to promote mutual understanding of the contrasting cultural approaches to angling among Irish anglers and those from abroad.
The lack of understanding prevailing between the Irish and the non-Irish angler can generate lakeshore tensions and make what should be a relaxing recreation an unpleasant experience for both when those cultural differences clash.
Repairing skewed perceptions is one element of the promotional task that Inland Fisheries Ireland is engaged in.
Another, equally if not more important, is to equip the tourist angling sector with the information needed to respond to shifts in the marketplace and what appears to be the radically changed profile of the potential fishing visitor.
The decline in the number of overseas anglers coming to Ireland has, ironically, the ring of a “one that got away” story.
Lulled into complacency by the pervasive purr of the Celtic Tiger, Irish angling tourism apparently allowed itself to grow uncompetitive, and a considerable concerted effort is now needed to get back the share of the marketplace that the Netherlands and other European countries have snatched for us.
It is also clear that the angler traditionally catered for in Co Monaghan and other parts of the country during the 1970s and 1980s has literally passed away – and been replaced by a modern counterpart with different tastes and habits.
Many modern UK anglers, for example, have grown accustomed to finding their sport on artificially created waterways copiously stocked with prize specimens – virtually guaranteeing a copious catch for those with even rudimentary skills, but lacking the allure of a naturally evolved fishing location with all its variety and distinctiveness of atmosphere.
Properly marketed, the waters of Co Monaghan can still exercise a potent magnetism for the visiting angler, but much preparatory work also needs to be done to ensure the experience they enjoy when they come here is a positive one.
Invasive weeds – “the greatest single threat to our resources without parallel” in the view of Peter Walsh – have to be controlled, and how the public and local authorities can assist in doing so should be the subject of a much more high profile information and awareness campaign than this problem has attracted to date.
The tourist accommodation sector needs to be encouraged – and funded – to make their facilities more angler-friendly by providing the sort of specialist services visiting fishermen require for storage of equipment and bait.
Availability in an area of transport facilities, local knowledge and guidance, and outlets supplying all the modern paraphernalia of angling activity must be first put in place and then have their ready access robustly communicated to the target market.
There are some obvious roles here for Monaghan Co Council’s recently formed sub-committee on tourism to assume – and we are sure those in accommodation and other tourism-related fields of commerce will find in both Inland Waterways Ireland and the Angling Development Alliance much assistance and advice in taking the steps needed to make the local angling environment a conducive one for potential overseas visitors.
To paraphrase Colr Sean Conlon, Co Monaghan does not have the richness of tourism attractions as some other locations, but in its lakes and rivers it still has a rich source of potential economic re-generation.
Towns such as Castleblayney and Ballybay, which have traditionally reaped a healthy dividend from angling visitors, could certainly benefit greatly from this form of tourism activity being regenerated.
“Preserve, protect, promote” was the mantra outlined to Monaghan Co Council by Mr Walsh as he spoke of the county’s “great potential to grow as a tourist angling venue”. Hopefully the coming months will see the mantra embraced and put into productive practice.

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