A three month ban has been slapped on commercial fishing on Lough Neagh, it has been revealed.
It is understood this sudden decision is a bid to strengthen regulations on fishing in the Lough.
The decision was made by the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Operative Society, which owns the lough’s fishing rights.
Officials also revealed plans to introduce a permit system.
While the co-operative has held the scale fishing rights since 1992 it has never played a major role in regulation and management.
The three-month suspension will come into force during the lough’s pollan and trout season and will run from March 1 to May 31. However the ban will not impact on the lough’s lucrative eel fishing season which begins on May 1.
Co-operative officials say the decision coincides with the season for species such as perch, roach, pike and bream “in order to minimise the impact on legitimate fishing activity”. The Lough is also home to a large commercial eel and course fishery and is worth millions to the local economy.
However, scale fishing out of season is understood to be a persistent problem and there have been complaints about the use of illegal nets. Although the fishing rights are owned by the co-operative, the equipment used by fishermen is licensed by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Almost 90 scale fishing licenses have been issued by the department so far this year.
In recent years government officials have lobbied the co-operative to introduce a permit system.
Co-operative chairman Pat Close said the ban “had not been an easy decision” for the management team but they “felt it was the right move at this time”. “The suspension of authority to fish is regarded as an essential element of the co-operative’s longer term strategy for more effective management of the natural resource and conservation of stocks in order to secure a more sustainable future for the industry and the fishing community.”
The Lough Neagh Eel is currently recognised under EU law and Mr Close revealed that an application has been made to award the pollan similar status. Pollan first colonised the lough 12,000 years ago and are found in small numbers in just a handful of Irish lakes.
A DCAL spokesman said: “While DCAL is responsible for the conservation and protection of fish stocks and for enforcing fisheries legislation on Lough Neagh, the fishing rights on the Lough are owned by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-Operative Society and it is a matter for that organisation, as fishery owner, to manage the commercial taking of fish from the Lough.”