Pair trawling for Sprat

22nd Nov 2018

The IWDG recently posted on Facebook about two trawlers fishing in the mouth of the Shannon Estuary:

"Two pair trawlers seen entering the Shannon Estuary today. They were also observed in Galway Bay over the last week and landed an estimated 400-500 tonnes of sprat (later clarified as 120 tonnes) to be ground into fishmeal in Killybegs. The Shannon Estuary is a protected site for bottlenose dolphins. The IWDG consider removing tonnes of sprat, a potentially important food source for these dolphins, to be in contravention of proper conservation management. The risk assessment carried out by the Marine Institute on commercial fishing in marine SACs was recently reviewed by the IWDG who considered it not fit for purpose regarding the Shannon Estuary and pair trawling. We would hope that Ireland will soon take a more enlightened approach to the management of sprat, which are one of the most important prey species left in our inshore waters; and that grinding them up for fishmeal will soon be banned".Posted on 22 November at 19:45.  

Pair trawlers in the mouth of the Shannon Estuary, Photos by Seán O'Callaghan/IWDG

The IWDG also need to make it clear that the fishermen are not breaking any laws. However under the EU Habitats Directive under which the estuary is designated, no activity should take place which could degrade or impact negatively on the dolphins (a qualifying interest). Removing large quantities of forage fish could impact negatively on the dolphins and the precautionary principle, which is enshrined in the Habitats Directive, states the "polluter" in this case fisheries, need to show there is no significant impact. IWDG doesn't believe this has been shown despite the Marine Institute Risk Assessment (see  and thus the boats should not be allowed to fish inside the SAC.

Our issue is not with the fishers who are allowed to fish sprat, but with fisheries management, as IWDG does not think unrestricted fishing of a non-quota species is good practice, especially on important forage fish.

IWDG have spoken to the skipper of the Fiona K, one of the boats in the Shannon Estuary who informed us that he is looking for herring not sprat and deliberately avoided searching for both species up the estuary due to sensitivities regarding the marine protected area of the SAC. IWDG acknowldege and appreciate this action. 

IWDG feel there is a high level of mis-information regarding this fishery and management which only leads to antaganism and not co-operation, resulting in even less chance of a resolution. The IWDG are looking to host a one day seminar to bring all the players together from the fishing community, marine tourism, NGOs and government agencies and departments to inform ourselves of the current state of knowledge (or lack of) on sprat and look towards a more sustainable and appropriate use of this ecological keystone species. Maybe by realising marine conservation and coastal fisheries have more in common than conflict, we can chart a long term management plan for sprat in Irish coastal waters. 


Dr Simon Berrow

Chief Science Officer

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