A war of words has erupted after large trawlers were seen fishing for sprat inside Glengarriff harbour in recent days, since the lifting of a controversial ban.
The High Court last week overturned the ban on fishing by vessels over 18m long, inside the six nautical mile limit, after a case was taken by a fisherman from Castletownbere.
The ban had been introduced by former minister Michael Creed to provide an ecosystem and protect inshore fishermen’s livelihoods, but the court said it had no legal effect.
A video posted on social media showed local trawlers fishing inside Glengarriff harbour with the Eccles Hotel visible in the background, prompting an angry online exchange between stakeholders.
Some comments claimed fishermen were just making ‘an honest living’, but others said their actions would decimate food stocks for whales and dolphins which are a major tourism draw to the area.
Local TD and Social Democrat agriculture spokesperson Holly Cairns said: ‘This is awful. I have started working on this issue and will do all I can to prevent this in the future. I have asked the Minister for Agriculture and the Marine to immediately address this issue in light of the court ruling.’
However, head of the Castletownbere-based Irish South & West Fish Producers’ Organisation Patrick Murphy hit back, and accused her of sending mixed messages to West Cork’s fishermen.
‘She claims to be working to protect them in the Dáil, but this is disgraceful. You are either for or against fishermen – you can’t be picking and choosing,’ he said.
Mr Murphy, whose organisation represents 490 families, said what was happening in Glengarriff harbour this week was ‘local boats trying to make a living’.
But he admitted fisherman had to look past what they were entitled to by law, and that scientific measures were needed to ensure in-shore fishing is sustainable.
His organisation has contacted the Marine Institute, the Dept of Agriculture and Marine and the Whale and Dolphin Group to find out more about the sprat stock.
‘Our industry is in peril as it is. All we want is for proper scientific evaluation to be done before people jump to conclusions. If we’re shown this is not the way to fish, we’ll change methods, the time of year we fish, etc.’
Referring to Deputy Cairns, he added: ‘Let’s not just have the populist opinion, but the right one.’
The videos were posted by Bantry Bay Charters who insist they are behind Irish fishermen, but said this activity was killing the industry.