TWO brothers from Cork City have been convicted and fined for ‘stroke hauling’ a salmon on the Argideen River on August 1st 2016.
Niall Fitzpatrick, 7 Corrin Close, The Glen and his brother Lawrence Fitzpatrick, 34 Ballincurrig Court, Douglas, Cork were each fined €750 as well €500 in costs at a recent sitting of Clonakilty District Court in a case taken by Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Michael O’Donovan, a Fisheries Officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland told the court that while on a routine patrol near the Argideen River, Carrig, Ballinscarthy on August 1st 2016, he saw a car parked by the river and presumed someone was fishing there. Mr O’Donovan said that he used binoculars and saw two men – one that was known to him – with fishing rods at the Goosepond.
‘They were scanning the water looking to see if there was salmon there and they were wearing polaroids, ’ said Mr O’Donovan.
‘I waited until they came towards me and I saw that Niall Fitzpatrick had a rucksack with a fish in a white bag attached to it. I radioed my colleague Tom O’Riordan that they were coming up to their car and he stopped them and confiscated their two fishing rods and the salmon.’
Mr O’Donovan said there was a ‘stroke haul’ mark on the salmon, which is an illegal appliance used to catch salmon which was signified by a tear in the stomach and there were no markings on the fish except for the underbelly.
Junior counsel for the co-accused, Paula McCarthy, said that Mr O’Donovan didn’t see her client actually fishing.
‘You only observed them for three minutes despite you being there for over four hours. For four hours they weren’t being observed by you,’ said Paula McCarthy.
‘Is there any chance a fish could get a mark from something else?’
Mr O’Donovan replied that it’s a tear and he had never seen fish with those marks.
Paula McCarthy then asked if a mark like that can happen if a fish swallows the fly? Mr O’Donovan said maybe but pointed out that there would have been blood inside the mouth of the fish.
Fisheries Officer Tom O’Riordan told the court that he was present with Michael O’Donovan on the day and that he rang the gardaí for assistance.
‘We were parked a bit up from the defendants’ car and it was about 4pm by the time they came back up. I stopped them and identified myself and asked Lawrence Fitzpatrick, who was the driver, to open the boot of his car. Niall Fitzpatrick said the bag was his and inside was a white plastic bag with a salmon in it. There was nothing in the mouth and it was a sign of a stroke haul mark,’ said Mr O’Riordan.
‘No other thing could cause that and if it was an animal there would at least be a bite. I then seized their two light rods which are used for salmon and I found no bait, only weights and triple hooks.’
Miss McCarthy asked Mr O’Riordan if he inspected the licences of her clients. Mr O’Riordan said he asked Lawrence for his, as he had already seen Niall’s licence.
‘When they purchase tags there are procedures to be put in place. You said the tag on the fish wasn’t closed at all,’ said Paula McCarthy.
Mr O’Riordan said the tag wasn’t closed and Paula McCarthy said Niall said it was closed and that Mr O’Riordan had pulled it.
‘Isn’t there a fixed penalty offence for tags not being fixed properly?’ asked Ms McCarthy.
Mr O’Riordan said that would be the job for an inspector, not him.
‘You were on the south side of the river and when you searched the vehicle, it was only two rods you found. There is no question of them being un-cooperative and if they had been fishing illegally, would they have been so co-operative?’ ‘Why did you ring the gardaí?’ she asked.
“It’s policy to contact them and people aren’t usually as co-operative and the presence of gardaí helps in that situation,’ said Mr O’Riordan.
Paula McCarthy said that her client Niall Fitzpatrick did put on the tag correctly and both he and Lawrence said they had nothing to hide as they were fishing lawfully. However, Mr O’Riordan said that was not true.
Fisheries officer, Dermot Long took to the witness stand and said he received a call from Tom O’Riordan to say he was at the Argideen River and asked for assistance.
‘I came to the southside of the river around 12pm and my job was to follow the two defendants at a distance. Niall Fitzpatrick appeared to be scanning and I observed them for a number of hours and they had two fishing rods,’ said Mr Long.
‘After Tom O’Riordan had seized their fishing rods, I saw the classic stroke haul mark on the salmon that they had caught. There was no sign of it being caught in the mouth,’ said Mr Long.
Paula McCarthy said there seems to be an allegation of a stroke haul method being used and that Mr Long did not see them fishing, that they had their licences and the only offence committed was that the tag on the fish was not locked properly.
‘I’m saying the evidence falls short,’ said Paula McCarthy.
Judge David Waters said the main evidence looks like a stroke haul mark.
‘The salmon was seized from your client and the only way it was caught was using the ‘stroke haul’ method. Two fisheries officers have said it appeared to have a stroke haul mark on the fish,’ said Judge Waters.
Giving evidence, Niall Fitzpatrick said on the day in question they were drenched as ‘it was one of worst days ever.’
‘The water was gone off colour and I caught a peel and a small salmon, who swallowed the hook, so I didn’t put it back. I’ve caught fish with cuts all over them before and I did not put that mark on the fish,’ said Niall Fitzpatrick.
‘I caught it with the hook and I didn’t seen any blood but I washed it after and the only reason I kept it, was because it swallowed a hook.’
Niall Fitzpatrick said that the tag he put on the salmon didn’t go in full way and pointed out that if he was illegally fishing why would he have put a tag on it.
‘I did not use a stroke haul on that day,’ he said.
Solicitor Vincent Coakley for Inland Fisheries Ireland questioned Niall Fitzpatrick.
‘You’re making this up as you go along as Tom O’Riordan found no bait and only weights and triple hooks in your car,’ said Mr Coakley.
Mr Coakley asked the defendant to explain the mark on the belly of the salmon and Niall said he has seen fish with lots of marks on them before.
Neil Fitzpatrick told the court that he thought he was being cautioned by the fisheries officers because of the tag not being locked properly.
Giving evidence Lawrence Fitzpatrick also said the weather was shocking on the day and said they only caught one fish on the day.
‘I’ve seen salmon with lots of marks and you can’t say what it was, as it could have been anything,’ said Lawrence Fitzpatrick.
When asked if he was fishing illegally, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, who has been fishing for 25 years, said he was not.
Solicitor Vincent Coakley put it to Lawrence Fitzpatrick that it was a fresh mark on the fish and that Tom O’Riordan found no tackle when they were cautioned.
‘He’s lying 100%’, said Lawrence Fitzpatrick.
However, Judge Waters said he was satisfied in both cases that the fish had been strokehauled and was told that Niall Fitzpatrick had a previous conviction for the use of a stroke haul while fishing.
‘They chose to fight the case and they gave evidence that the Fisheries officers were lying,’ said Judge Waters.
Recognisances were fixed in the event of an appeal and Judge Waters adjourned a second case taken by Inland Fisheries Ireland against Niall and Lawrence Fitzpatrick until March 7th.