Fisheries Branch, Ministry of Agriculture
Belfast, Northern Ireland
There are approximately 300 fishermen using 150 boats fishing for eels in Lough Neagh (surface area: 388.5 km2) on a seasonal basis. The traditional method of fishing yellow eels is by use of long lines with up to 1 200 hooks per line baited with small fish (usually perch, Perca fluviatilis, or stickleback, Gasterosteus), worm and “plug” (pieces of Coregonus lavaraetus). Experimental fishing has demonstrated that “plug” bait gives the best all-round size of eel.
In 1960 some fishermen commenced trawling using one-boat otter trawls and by 1964 this method, although illegal, was well established on the lake. The Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland carried out an evaluation of the effect of trawling on the stocks in 1965 and 1966. The results confirmed that the method should not be legalised. However to give alternative methods, long lining experimental fishing with fyke nets was investigated. Each net had a leader with a length of 8 m and depth of 45 cm fitted with traps at each end. It was calculated that 25 such nets would give a catch of legal-sized eels (i.e. greater than 42 cm) comparable to a long line with 1 200 hooks.
As the fyke nets were not legalized, trawling continued with varying intensity. This resulted in overfishing and the catches are now declining rapidly as are those in eel weirs for the capture of silver eels located on the River Bann which discharges the water from Lough Neagh to the sea.