MLAs debate whether to issue new salmon licences

Whilst some of our local politicians are preparing to celebrate St. Patrick's Day by making their annual pilgrimage to the USA, Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín is fixated on 17 March for a different reason.

It is when the salmon fishing season is due to start, and it is down to Ms Ní Chuilín to decide whether to issue any new licences to those seeking to catch the fish.

Last week the consensus during an assembly debate was that the number of wild salmon in Northern Ireland's rivers is now dangerously low.

The minister told MLAs that "after careful consideration of all the available scientific research and data, it has been concluded that the continued commercial exploitation of wild Atlantic salmon and the killing of salmon caught by rod and line…is untenable".

Ms Ní Chuilín said she would make a decision within days which "may include not catching salmon at all".

On Tuesday, the culture minister had been due to make a further statement on salmon conservation, but she notified the speaker she was not able to go ahead.

Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who brought last week's debate, has accused the minister of "dithering" and getting drawn into a debate about whether anglers or nets fishermen are more responsible for the parlous state of the salmon population.

Ms Ní Chuilín rejects this, insisting that her discussions with both groups are making progress.

Her position is that a voluntary decision by all those involved not to catch salmon this season would be preferable to a Stormont imposed ban.

Unlike the mythical Salmon Fintan, I would not claim to possess all the knowledge in the world, especially when it comes to angling.

However it looks like Stormont needs to act, not only to preserve a treasured native species, but also to avoid the prospect of European fines.

So watch this space, although right now I am feeling distinctly guilty about the salmon and leeks I scoffed in the Stormont canteen this lunchtime.

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