Over 33,000 patrols undertaken by IFI officers in 2020, as illegal fishing activity rose during Covid-19 last year
Patrol drones and surveillance equipment become increasingly important to detect illegal fishing in hard-to-reach areas.
Inland Fisheries Ireland, the state agency with responsibility for the protection and conservation of freshwater fish and habitats, recorded an increase in illegal fishing activity last year.
As a result, the agency initiated 119 prosecutions for fisheries-related offences in 2020, compared with 67 prosecutions in 2019. It also seized 1,287 illegal fishing items last year, up from 788 items the year before. Officers issued 240 fixed charge penalty notices last year, compared with 158 in 2019 and gave 756 cautions, up from 425 cautions in 2019.
The way in which Inland Fisheries Ireland patrols the country’s rivers and lakes also changed during Covid-19, with unmanned drone patrols becoming increasingly important, especially for difficult-to-reach terrains.
Dr. Greg Forde, Head of Operations with Inland Fisheries Ireland said: “Safeguarding Ireland’s fisheries resources is a round-the-clock job, involving planned day patrols, covert night patrols and intelligence-led surveillance operations. Despite the fact that there was a global pandemic and travel restrictions in place for the public for much of the year, our teams all over the country recorded a higher level of illegal fishing activity last year, compared with 2019.”
In total, officers from Inland Fisheries Ireland undertook 33,051 different types of patrols last year, a substantial increase on the previous year (28,276) despite Covid-19 related work challenges faced by Officers. The agency also credits higher detection rates with the use of advanced surveillance equipment, such as night vision scopes, infra-red sensing scopes and enhanced optical surveillance scopes.
Francis O’ Donnell, the Chief Executive Officer of Inland Fisheries Ireland, said its protection programme plays a key role in tackling serious ecological issues. He said: “Ireland’s freshwater fish, the habitats that they live in and the water that they swim in are all under threat. So, the aim of our protection programme is to help protect stocks of vulnerable fish species, such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout, as well as promoting biodiversity and sustainable angling, which can bring important social and economic benefits to urban, rural and coastal communities.”
The most common methods for patrolling riverbanks, rivers, lakes and coastlines in 2020 were:
- Vehicle and foot patrols (30,882 patrols)
- Bicycle patrols (1,227 patrols)
- Boat patrols (573 patrols)
- Drone patrols (136 patrols)
- Kayak patrols (129 patrols)
- Personal watercraft patrols (56 patrols)
- Quad patrols (46 patrols)
The number of drone patrols more than doubled in 2020, according to Dr. Forde. He said: “Drones help us patrol greater distances over shorter periods of time. We increased the number of drones in our fleet last year and more of our officers were trained as drone pilots to the standard required by the Irish Aviation Authority, which has significantly increased our capacity to patrol certain types of terrain. Together with heat-detecting and surveillance equipment, drones are vital in the fight against illegal fishing here in Ireland.”