Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society’s (LNFCS) objectives since its foundation, has been to manage the eel industry on Lough Neagh in such a way as to provide a reasonable livelihood for the fishermen and to build a sustainable and viable future for succeeding generations of fishermen. In order to secure a future for the industry, the Co-operative have operated self-determined policies and measures aimed at conservation of eel stocks for almost 50 years, such as.
• the operation of a quota system
• a numerical limit on the number of eel fishing licences issued annually
• minimum size regulation
• voluntary shortening of the fishing season
• the operation of a 24/7 Protection Service funded exclusively by the Society
• substantial investment in a restocking programme
• participation in comprehensive scientific study and research
Historically, Lough Neagh had an average elver run of 11 – 12 million fish annually. Unfortunately this figure has fallen dramatically since 1983 and the present annual recruitment figure is around 2 – 3 million. It has only been by careful management of the fishery, through the control of fishing intensity and the strict application of a raft of conservation measures, together with significant investment in restocking, that it has been possible to maintain current levels of production from the lough.
Prompted by the decline in natural recruitment, the Co-operative embarked upon a programme of supplementary restocking of glass eels/elvers in 1984. Since then more than 100 million of these juvenile fish from sustainable sources elsewhere in Europe, mostly the Severn River, have been released into Lough Neagh. This approach has helped secure a viable and sustainable future for a large number of fishermen and others who make their living from the eel industry, while playing a vital role in the recovery of the stock levels of the European Eel.
The Eel Management Plan (EMP) for the Neagh Bann River Basin district forms the basis of the Society’s future management strategy. The approval of the EMP in 2010 was essentially an endorsement of the policies adopted by the Society over many decades.
In 2016, the Co-operative introduced measures to help regulate control of its fishing rights to the Scale (Coarse) Fish species found in Lough Neagh including perch, pollan and dollaghan (trout). The long term objective is for more effective management of the natural resource and the conservation of stocks in order to secure a more sustainable future for the industry and the fishing community. There is strict enforcement of regulations regarding aspects such as; net yardage, net construction, mesh size and closed seasons. In addition, there are restrictions on fishing in specified areas in the lead-up to and during the spawning season, for each of the species.