23rd September

Restructuring of inland fisheries to be ‘fit for purpose’ for the 21st Century

The establishment of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) to replace the seventeen bodies – including the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards, the National Salmon Commission and the Fisheries Co-operative Societies - previously involved in the management of inland fisheries is the long-awaited signal that government is serious about protecting, conserving and developing this key resource.

Its CEO, Dr Ciaran Byrne, with his youthful energy, determination and vision - combined with a rare career skill set – is an assurance too that the revamped organisation is in capable hands and off to a good start.

6.4 interview

Byrne has a degree in zoology, a post graduate diploma in statistics and a Ph.D. in fisheries parasitology from Trinity College Dublin.

 Following his studies he went to the Marine Institute’s catchment research facility near Newport Co. Mayo where he worked with other research scientists on the biology of trout, salmon and eels, and authored several peer-reviewed papers for a range of fisheries and parasitological journals.

He then moved back to Dublin to work for a while in the private sector - along the way qualifying as a Chartered Management Accountant and picking up valuable practical business experience.

A stint with the Royal Dublin Society in the area of science development and promotion was followed by a move back to fisheries as the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of what was the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board.

Promotion followed quickly with senior roles in the Central Fisheries Board – first as Director of Field Services, then Director of Research & Development – and eventually to the hot seat role of CEO in 2008.

Speaking to Inshore Ireland, Ciaran Byrne outlined the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for him in motivating a staff of more than 400 and managing and conserving 70,000 kilometres of rivers and streams and nearly 145,000 hectares of lakes.

What are the core functions of Inland Fisheries Ireland?
These are set out in Section 7 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 which gives IFI its authority. They are not significantly different from the core functions of the Central (CFB) and Regional Fisheries Boards (RFBs) - namely to promote, support, facilitate, and advise the Minister on the conservation, protection, management, development and improvement of inland fisheries, including sea angling.

In addition, IFI will develop and advise the Minister on policy and national strategies relating to inland fisheries including sea angling.

What is the structure of IFI?
The senior management structure has changed significantly from the situation with the CFB and RFBs. We have moved from having eight CEOs and five functional Directors and an assistant CEO in each of the RBDs to having one CEO, six Heads of Function and a Regional Director in each RBD. In effect, we have moved from 20 senior management staff to 14.

What benefits will IFI bring to the inland fisheries sector?
It is very important to recognise the excellent work of the CFB and RFBs; however we now need a structure and organisation fit for purpose in the 21st Century. IFI will build on the achievements of the past, but with the strategic focus and organisation necessary to deal with the challenges facing the sector.

One of the core strengths of IFI will be the combination of a national management structure and focus, with a very strong regional presence.

The new organisation has a Board complement of nine. It comprises members from business; education and science; angling and agriculture, with three further members to be appointed by the Minister upon recommendation by the Oireachtas Committee and a staff representative.

Other areas of expertise will no doubt be added, on the appointment of the remaining members. This will ensure a business focus, the capacity to progress agreed national policy and rollout of that policy through a management structure that now reports to one Board only.

When compared to the previous structure of eight boards comprising 150+ members, this new set up is clearly more streamlined, cost effective and efficient. Business Development has been added to the remit of the organisation, and to this end will look at improving angling access for all while adding value to State-owned and privately-owned fisheries.

What are the main challenges facing IFI?
It is probably appropriate to break these down into two groups: organisational challenges and sectoral challenges. In terms of the first group, IFI is no different from any other public sector organisation in terms of significant budget reductions and a public sector recruitment embargo. We must also amalgamate eight separate agencies – with similar but separate cultures and values – into IFI.

In terms of the sectoral challenges, these are numerous and diverse, namely: water quality issues affecting fish stocks; increasing illegal fishing; the need to attract more overseas anglers and more young people to the sport of angling, and the new threat of aquatic invasive species

The only way we can address these and other challenges is through very clear strategies and policies that are supported by the IFI Board and our parent Department (Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) and are appropriately funded.

What part will policy have to play?
One of the criticisms of the old structure was that it was large and unwieldy and that no clear national policies had been developed. I disagree with this statement; the structure that was in place then did not lend itself to the development of national policies.

Thus, one of the core functions of IFI will be to develop a suite of national policies for all areas of the business that will identify the key goals and how we will achieve these goals while recognising resource constraints and the diversity of the various RBDs.

As CEO what is your biggest challenge?
In the short to medium term it is to ensure the smooth transition of all staff into IFI while continuing to deliver services to all stakeholders. Along with our parent department I will be very much involved in updating the 1959 Consolidated Fisheries Act, which is still the principle piece of fisheries legislation. This is going to be a huge job but it is long overdue.

Inland fisheries are not only a major natural resource but are also a very important sector in the Irish economy, and it is important that we have strong and relevant legislation, fit-for-purpose and which underpins the work we do.

What about illegal fishing?
This is a problem. Like many other criminal activities it appears to be more prevalent during recessionary times as people, for primarily economic reasons, are more likely to ‘give it a go’.

Unfortunately, society does appear to have become more violent, and fisheries offences are often seen as ‘soft offences’ which do not really hurt anyone especially when one compares them to the litany of offences that come before our district courts.

We consider illegal fishing as an environmental crime and will not be tolerated. It is an antisocial activity. The unfortunate reality is that it is not just ‘one or two fish in a bag’ or a ‘few coarse fish for the pot’, persistent, repeated illegal fishing can and unfortunately does damage our fisheries. IFI will be in a position to take a consistent strong national approach to enforcing fisheries legislation. Our inland fisheries resource is part of our natural heritage, part of the very fabric of our society evidenced by the fact that almost every town in the country has an angling club, and it is incumbent upon IFI that we do our best to protect this valuable resource.

What can anglers expect?
Anglers are one of the most important stakeholder groups for IFI. A core role will be to work with anglers, angling clubs and federations and small business providers, to improve and develop the inland fisheries resource.

To this end as part of the transition period, we are in the process of restructuring the former angling marketing division into a business development division. In addition to continuing a promotional role, this new division will also service the requirements of the sector in a much more structured and comprehensive way.

The key here is to add value to our inland fisheries resource; to ensure its sustainable development; increase and improved access to angling; and to raise awareness of the valuable contribution inland fisheries makes the economy.

What are the key biological challenges?
I guess the one dark cloud on the horizon is the conjoined issues of aquatic invasive species and biosecurity. I believe the management and control of aquatic invasive species is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing the fisheries sector.

As we have seen from the introduction of Zebra Mussels (Dreissenia polymoorpha) and Curly leaved water weed (Lagarisophon major), aquatic invasive species can have serious ecological implications for a water body and can fundamentally alter its characteristics.

What do you mean by biosecurity?
Biosecurity is effectively implementing a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, quarantined pests and invasive alien species. I am heartened by the fact that many angling clubs and commercial fishermen are taking the issue of biosecurity very seriously and are putting appropriate mitigation procedures in place, but we really must tackle this issue head on.

How do you see the future for the inland fisheries resource?
In my opinion the future is very bright. Despite the harsh economic realities of budget constraints and public sector recruitment embargo, the resource is in a healthy state. Yes, there are issues that we have to tackle; however in comparison to many other European countries we are in a very good place.

I am also very optimistic that with the transition to IFI there will be a single management structure looking after the inland fisheries resource and we will be in a position to provide a consistent structured approach.

I look forward to working with the angling clubs to ensure the resource is developed and exploited in a sustainable way for the benefit of Irish and visiting anglers - and most importantly, for future generations.

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