Northern Ireland

Hidden CCTV cameras target fish poachers

It is a sunny but fresh Sunday morning on Lough Egish in County Monaghan.

Dotted around the lake are up to 60 anglers, all vying to catch the biggest or most pike in a competition organised by Ballybay Angling Association.

But there is a problem.

The lake is just one of hundreds along the border area which locals claim is under threat because of poachers.

"The pike that have been caught are all very small," explained local angler David Warrington.

"They are in or around the 2lb mark or lower."

Newry man Thomas McCabe has reeled in six small pike so far but is not happy.

"My brother and I would have fished this lake on a boat a lot and over the years he has caught some 20lb fish but last year we fished it a few times and got nothing, no fish," he said.

The further side of the lake is less windy, where Steven Powell from Newtownhamilton is also waiting patiently for a pike to bite.

"Five years ago you would have been guaranteed a fish an hour or two hours but now you could be here all day and might not catch anything," he said.

Adrenaline rush

He said he is frustrated but not defeated.

"It is really enjoyable and there is an adrenalin rush if you do catch something or you are catching steady throughout the day, it is active, maybe not as much as football, but it is active if you are doing it right," he added.

Inland Fisheries Ireland said there was no scientific evidence that poaching was leading to a decline in stocks but Ronan O'Brien, an assistant inspector with the agency, conceded that illegal fishing was a problem.

"In the last five years it has become more significant and new legislation has led to more prosecutions and more on the spot fines being issued," he said.

Image caption Photographic evidence of material seized from poachers (provided by Inland Fisheries Ireland)

"Sometimes there are anglers who go out and just stretch it a little bit further than you should, maybe get a pike over 50cm and decide to keep it.

"Poaching is more organised, there are organised groups who net rivers and lakes using methods other than rods or lines such as bottles or floats with hooks attached, long lines, set lines."

The semi-state agency is taking the lead on poachers and has rolled out hidden CCTV cameras at a number of rivers.

"We will get instant messaging to say that the camera has been triggered and we can retrieve the footage across the phone to see what's going on," said Mr O'Brien.

The ecosystem needs protection from poachers but so too does Ireland's economy.

A recent report by Failte Ireland showed that dedicated angling tourism accounted for 73,000 visitors last year, spending 58m euros in the Republic's economy.

Back on Lough Egish in County Monaghan, Thomas McCabe explained the magic of fishing.

"It's the same kick that any man would get out of golf or motor car racing. You might catch that wee fish in one cast but the next could be the fish of a lifetime."