A LEADING government department has been asked to do more to enhance fish stocks at the Quoile River in Downpatrick.
Anglers have expressed dismay at the worryingly low level of stocks which they attribute to seals which have been breeding in the Quoile for almost a decade, calling on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to address the issue.
Downpatrick angler Trevor Love and former Irish international fisherman Paul Hutchman — who is originally from the town — say not only do fish stocks need to be improved, more investment is required in the Quoile River to encourage more people to use it, helping boost local tourism.
“Fish stocks need to be improved as the seals are steadily eating their way through them,” said Mr Love. “The former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said ‘special circumstances’ apply to the Quoile due to the presence of the seals and we were told fish stocks would be increased regularly as a result.
“There is deep frustration at what is happening in Downpatrick with anglers arguing if this was Newry or Fermanagh where major regional and international fishing competitions are held, the seal problem would have been addressed.”
Mr Love explained seals gained access to the river via a fish pass at the Quoile Barrier, suggesting consideration needs to be given to closing it.
“The seals are eating everything before them and stocks have been decimated. The banks of the Quoile used to be lined with fishermen but now there are only a handful as there is virtually nothing left to catch,” he explained.
“The Quoile offers so much potential, but the fact stocks are so low is encouraging anglers to fish elsewhere. We need action to improve stocks and while the seals won’t go away, we need regular top ups of roach, rudd and pike. We have seen baby seals in the river which proves the animals are breeding which is worrying.”
Mr Love said given seals have been in the Downpatrick river for a decade, they have probably “ate thousands of fish.” He also suggested if “equality” is to mean anything, the government department needs to invest resources in the Quoile which match those spent in other parts of the Province.
Mr Hutchman, who for many years lived at Quoile Park on the banks of the river and has an intimate knowledge of the waterway, said when anglers see seals popping their heads up they go home.
He added: “It is frustrating for anglers to come here and catch fish at times. As someone who is from the area, I believe the Quoile offers massive potential and the powers-that-be need to do all they can to maximise that. A key first step is ensuring the river is properly stocked.”
South Down MP, Margaret Ritchie, who joined anglers for meetings with DCAL and Rivers Agency officials last year, said she was assured at the start of 2017 that inland fisheries staff did restock the Downpatrick river.
She revealed a letter from former DAERA minister, Michelle McIlveen, suggested that almost 100 pike were added to the waterway last September, with fish stocks increased in May 2014 and in November and December of the previous year.
Miss Ritchie added: “I share anglers’ concerns about fish stocks. Angling is very much part of the tourism offering in South Down. It is an important recreational sport and I hope the new government department’s commitment to the Quoile River will be greater than its predecessor. The Quoile offers an opportunity to allow angling to become an even greater recreational sport in the local area and this is something I would very much like to see happening.”