Landowner fined for disturbing river spawning beds

A landowner has been convicted and fined for removing spawning gravels on the Munster Blackwater during the summer drought last year, it has been announced.

Inland Fisheries Ireland secured a conviction against Bryan O’Neill last week, the authority revealed.

Last Tuesday, July 16, judge John King convicted O’Neill at a special sitting of Mallow District Court under Section 173 1 (d) of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 for disturbing spawning beds at Gortmore, west of Mallow on the upper Blackwater.

The court heard evidence from senior fisheries environmental officer (SFEO) Andrew Gillespie that on or around July 1, 2018, large amounts of spawning gravels had been excavated from the river and deposited at a disused quarry adjacent to the river.

Evidence was heard concerning tracks leading from the river across O’Neill’s land to the quarry.

The scale of the extraction led SFEO Gillespie to believe the gravel was being removed for commercial reasons.

The court also heard of Inland Fisheries Ireland’s difficulties serving the court summons to O’Neill and that ultimately the assistance of local Gardaí was required to do so.

O’Neill denied the charges and claimed that it was his brother who farmed the land and that he himself had been unaware of the gravel extraction until contacted by Cork County Council in September that year.

Convicting O’Neill, judge King advised the defendant that his evidence was “not credible”, imposed a fine of €500 and awarded costs of €3,388 to Inland Fisheries Ireland.

Sean Long, director of the South Western River Basin District at Inland Fisheries Ireland, said:

“This is an important outcome for the Munster Blackwater and Inland Fisheries Ireland.

“Riparian owners cannot plead ignorance to avoid responsibility for illegal, damaging works carried out on their lands,” he added.

“The removal of so many tons of valuable spawning gravels for minor commercial reward demonstrates a callous disregard for the critically endangered indigenous salmonid and lamprey populations, as well as for the wider community that promotes and benefits from responsible angling practices the length of the Munster Blackwater.

The maintenance of this vulnerable aquatic habitat is vital if we are to sustain and enable wild fish populations to thrive.

“We are working to protect, conserve and develop our natural fisheries resource which is of significant recreational and economic value to communities in Munster and across the country.

“We encourage all landowners to contact their advisors or Inland Fisheries Ireland before carrying out and works that may inadvertently damage watercourses on or adjacent to their land,” he concluded.

Inland Fisheries Ireland has a 24-hour confidential hotline on: 1890-347424 to allow for the reporting of illegal fishing, water pollution or invasive species.