POACHERS on Lough Neagh close to Lurgan are trying to dupe bailiffs probing plummeting stocks of trout sending them on wild goose chases with false tip-offs on illegal fishing.
According to the Ulster Angling Federation a number of illegal nets have been set in the Lurgan/Craigavon area of Lough Neagh, all of them monofilament, by fishermen trawling for bait fish and taking adults in the process.
The nets are being set in late afternoon and lifted at 3am. In July DCAL bailiffs carried out 24 boat patrols and seven shore patrols. Between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012 they seized 91 fyke and panel nets.
Anglers have warned that emergency measures may have to be introduced to protect the dwindling stocks of the world famous dollaghan trout, which is only found in the Lough Neagh system.
Despite an intensive breeding programme which introduces a million-and-a-half young dollaghan into the wild each year, the fall in numbers returning to spawn is massive.
It is widely believed the plunge in numbers is directly linked to the recession as people turn to illegal fishing to earn extra money.
The Ulster Angling Federation is warning that tighter curbs may have to be placed on the activities of legitimate commercial fishermen to give trout and salmon stocks a chance to recover to previous levels.
The restrictions come as it has been revealed poachers are duping bailiffs from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure by giving them false tip-offs.
The criminals are contacting Fisheries Protection Officers employed by the department to warn them of illegal fishing activities. Once the DCAL officers set off to investigate, the poachers attempt to carry out their illegal fishing at a different part of the lough, sometimes 30 miles away.
In July, Fisheries Protection Officers carried out 31 patrols on Lough Neagh, covering areas such as river mouths. They have also checked boats and fishing gear.
Between April 1 last year and the end of March this year, they seized 91 fyke and panel nets (used to catch eels), most of them on Lough Neagh. The panel nets totalled more than 48km in length.
Now DCAL is appealing to water users giving genuine tip-offs to do so directly to DCAL or through the Northern Ireland Environment Agency pollution hotline outside office hours (freephone 0800 80 70 60).
The Ulster Angling Federation is calling for emergency action as its members are reporting an increase in illegal fishing and net-marked fish being caught in rivers.
“It’s destroying the trout stocks and salmon stocks and we need to get it stopped. But how we do that is very difficult to know,” development officer Robbie Marshall said.
“DCAL has only 11 bailiffs on the ground to cover the whole of the DCAL area, which is not just Lough Neagh. They are spread too thin. I think the big change is that given the current economic conditions, quite a lot of people around Lough Neagh would have been in the building trades and because there are no jobs they turn to other things to get money.”
According to DCAL from January 1, 2012, until March 31, 2012, there were 43 convictions in the courts. This figure, an increase on the previous quarter, brought the yearly total for 2011/12 to 134.
The highest number of convictions this year have resulted from illegal activity at the River Blackwater, Lough Neagh and White Lough.