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McGuinness puts case for investment in Lough Neagh Eel stocks

20 July, 2005

Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MP Martin McGuinness has met David Hanson, the British
direct rule Minster responsible for inland fishing, to put the case for
direct aid to support the sustainable development of Elver Eel stocks in
Lough Neagh. Speaking after the meeting Mr McGuinness said:

"Lough Neagh is a natural habitat for the Elver Eel. Maintaining sustainable
stock levels is vital to providing for the long-term future of eel fishing
on Lough Neagh.

"The Lough Neagh Fisherman's Co-operative has played a vital role is
sustaining current stocks  in purchasing over 74 million Elver eels since
1985 at a cost of over £1.5 million to restock the Lough. However, the
reality is that it is generally accepted that the minimum annual recruitment
of Elver into Lough Neagh should be 8 million in order to protect the
indigenous local industry.

"The continued purchase of an adequate quantity of Elvers each year is
essential to ensure the continued viability of the industry. Without direct
aid it will be hard to sustain the required level of recruitment of wild eel
into Lough Neagh.

"Sinn Fein has highlighted the imbalance of investment in economic
development and assistance, particularly outside of Belfast and West of the
Bann, by Invest NI. Providing grant aid to stock Lough Neagh would be just
one way for direct rule ministers to provide evidence that the accept that
the anti-West of the Bann and pro-Belfast, pro-East Coast bias is damaging
to important economic sectors here.

"Across Europe the growth in eel farming has meant that there is now a major
decline in the natural recruitment of wild eels into the European water
systems and has resulted in most European eel fisheries being in terminal

"The management of both brown and silver eel stocks is of the highest
standard, far exceeding EU recommendations in many areas.

"Lough Neagh is now the major commercial wild ell fishery in Europe. Its
status is protected and production levels maintained through sustained local
investment. However, the concern is that failure to provide assistance would
undermine the local industry that would lead to lower stocking levels and a
vicious circle that would see both the decline in this economically
important local industry and to the Elver population in Lough Neagh.

"The government needs to give a firm commitment to support eel fishing on
Lough Neagh. It plays a vital role in the life of people living along the
banks of the Lough and is sustaining the local economy. The loss of the wild
eel fishing industry from Lough Neagh would have both serious consequences
for some of the most deprived areas in the North and for one of our natural
resources, the wild eel.

"Every year hundreds of tons of Elvers are exported from Europe to the Far
East yet this will cause long-term damage to the native European wild eel
fisheries unless action is taken. There are very serious concerns that the
course of action under consideration by the EU will destroy the industry
rather than ensure its long-term sustainability." ENDS

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