A spike in illegal fishing and fisheries offences was detected during Covid-19 – with some 119 prosecutions initiated by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) in 2020 – almost double the previous year’s figures.

Over 33,000 patrols undertaken by Inland Fisheries Ireland officers last year, the agency said.

Patrol drones and surveillance equipment have become increasingly important to detect illegal fishing in hard-to-reach areas, IFI added.

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.

In total, officers from Inland Fisheries Ireland undertook 33,051 patrols of different types last year, a substantial increase on the 28,276 undertaken the previous year

The agency 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.

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).

Interestingly drone patrols more than doubled last year, with the agency’s fleet growing and the IFI’s capacity to patrol certain terrain “significantly increased”.

Francis O’ Donnell, IFI CEO, said its protection programme plays a key role in tackling serious ecological issues, adding:

“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.”