Big thank you from

The eel fisherman's lot is a complicated one

The Rambler 11/10/2002

HAVING rubbed shoulders most of my life with Lough Neagh fishermen, and recorded reminiscences of the older generation who snatched a precarious reward from playing a cat-and-mouse game with the water bailiffs, I have succumbed to an urge to compare the new regime.

The saga goes back to pre-plantation days, which is too far for me to go in the space at my disposal.

In brief, very brief, the locals were deprived of what they claimed as their inalienable rights when ownership of the fishing rights on Lough Neagh was asserted by the planters. The locals steadfastly resisted the take-over, and for generations, actually for centuries, a cold war was fought. 'Poachers' v bailiffs.

Permits to fish Lough Neagh were only obtainable on conditions which the traditional fishermen regarded. as unacceptable. Probably not much different from those now enforced by the fishermen's co-operative society at the present time. The big difference is that the co-operative is owned by the fishermen.

Regulations governing fishing for eels enforced by the Co-op Society run to eight pages of print and only persons registered by the Society as Boat Owners and Boat Helpers may fish for brown eels. At all times the nominated helper must be with the Boat Owner.

Specifications covering the type of vessel, gear, etc., are in vogue and rigidly enforced. Gear includes lines, nets, size of hooks, number of hooks, etc., etc., "A line with not more than 1,600 hooks in any one day," is an example.

Imagine an 'auditor' (bailiff) checking that little detail! - And ensuring that each hook does not have a shank or gap of lesser size than a Mustad No 4 - Pattern 1521 D. Presumably slide rules are used or micrometers.

I was a departmental auditor in my time, seeing that statutory rules and orders were complied with in all the particular departments' offices in Ulster. That was onerous but the responsibilities of fishermen's Co-operative Society bailiffs 'beat banagher'.


The design of number plate on a registered boat must comply with regulations in regard to size, numbering, etc, a bit like motor vehicles. Happily no MOT tests seem to be in vogue - or are they?

Having got himself a boat and gear which complies with co-op regulations, the permit holder's headaches are only beginning. With space limitations crowding in, I'll have to make a precis and be ruthless.

There is little detail of bait - gut of polIan eg, is forbidden. Nets used to capture bait have to comply with regulations running to (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e) 1 2 3 in print. Nets have wings, tails, top and tongues, as well as rows of holes to the yard, and that is only the nets for bait capture.

From this point I'll have to confine myself to quoting headlines. Here goes! Bait net may only be used between 9am and 8pm. Gear to capture eels may not be used north of a certain line drawn on Lough Neagh.

There is a weekly close season - noon, Saturday till 4.30pm, Monday. A maximum catch per boat. a limit on the quantity of eels that a fisherman may have in his possession at anytime.

'Possession' includes in a storage tank. Lines may only be set at or after 1.30pm and not lifted before 4.30am.

There are penalties for offering for sale under-sized eels, ie, under the permitted size. There is a specified maximum permitted catch. All eels caught must be marketed through the Co-op.

The general requirements of the statutory 1966 Fisheries Act are cited in the preamble to the co-operatives printed regulations in which penalties feature prominently and generally speaking no appeals are admissible.

Thankfully there is not a word about areas outside the stipulated area of Lough Neagh. Don't brown eels travel world-wide overland from South America or someplace? I had better conclude.

Ulster Star