Zebra Mussels and impact on fish stocking in the Public Angling Estate

Date published: 03 November 2023

Below are responses to frequently asked questions regarding Zebra Mussels and impact on fish stocking in the Public Angling Estate.

Why did DAERA stop stocking fish into the Public Angling Estate (PAE)?

Invasive alien Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) have been identified in Lough Neagh since 2003 and the Erne system from the 1990’s, however recent surveys show their numbers and the sites where they are found have increased significantly, which now includes the Lower Bann. The species can have significant environmental and infrastructure impacts. 

Any person who releases or allows Zebra mussels to escape will be in contravention of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. The movement of live fish from aquaculture establishments where Zebra mussels exist to other water bodies is identified as a potential vector for this invasive alien species in the Northern Ireland Zebra Mussel Management Strategy.

Zebra mussels were discovered at the Department’s Movanagher fish farm in June 2023. Consequently, the Department has taken a precautionary approach and suspended movements of live fish from Movanagher fish farm for stocking to other fisheries to ensure compliance with the 1985 Wildlife Order. The Department is currently considering Agri Foods and Biosciences Institute’s scientific advice to inform the way forward.

When were you aware of this issue and why was it not communicated to the public sooner?

Zebra mussels were detected at Movanagher fish farm in June 2023. There is no scheduled stocking over the summer due to the warmer weather conditions. In addition, a temporary suspension of stocking into the PAE was put in place on the 19th July.  DAERA used the time during the summer to consider additional information to fully assess the Zebra mussel issue and its impact on the fish farm and the Department’s stocking program.

Has DAERA transferred zebra mussels to other sites?

There are several vectors that risk the transfer of Zebra Mussels. The Northern Ireland Zebra Mussel Management Strategy states, “The high-risk vectors are recreational boating, intentional introductions, and the re-opening of the Ulster Canal. Medium-risk vectors include angling activities, fisheries and aquaculture activities, illegal eel fishing and scientific research and conservation work.”

Once Zebra Mussels were identified within Movanagher Fish Farm, suspension of stocking to the Public Angling Estate took place in order to remove the risk of transfer and to comply with the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. No scheduled stocking also takes place during the summer period from Movanagher.

Is Movanagher Fish farm closed?

Movanagher fish farm remains open. The Department is currently considering options in relation to it and the stocking of fish into the PAE waters.

When will PAE stocking recommence?

The Department is currently considering Agri Foods and Biosciences Institute’s scientific advice to inform the way forward and to inform any future stocking programme. At this stage its unclear when stocking can recommence but its unlikely that any stocking will take place into any of the DAERA managed PAE waters for the remainder of 2023. A full list of waters affected is below:

Water Species
Achork   BT
Ballykeel Lougherne  BT
Bellanaleck (Mill Lough)  BT & RT
Binevenagh  RT
Brantry  BT
Castlewellan  BT & RT
Corranny  RT
Corry   BT
Craigavon (North Lake)  RT
Glencrewan  BT & RT
Hillsborough  RT
Keenaghan  BT
Lough Brickland  BT & RT
Meenameen  BT
Moor Lough  BT & RT
White Lough  RT
Altnahinch  BT & RT
Killylane  BT
Lough Money  RT
Lough Mourne BT
Lower South Woodburn BT & RT
Marshallstown (Copeland) BT & RT
Middle South Woodburn  BT & RT
North Woodburn  RT
Stoneyford BT & RT
Lough Braden  BT
Lough Cowey  BT

Will this impact on private fisheries stocking their waters?

Movement of live fish from fish farms on the Lower Bann will not be authorised by DAERA, regardless of where they are being stocked, where there is a risk of invasive species being transferred in order to comply with the legislation.

What happens to the fish at Movanagher Fish Farm if they can’t be stocked out?

The rearing of fish to a size that they can be stocked into the PAE takes place over a 2–3-year cycle. As fish grow, they need more space and the only way to achieve this is to reduce the number of fish in a single tank or raceway and to keep similar sized fish together. This depends on raceways / tanks becoming free, as fish are moved off the farm and stocked into the PAE.  Fish stocks on the farm have now reached a critical point that unless these fish are moved off the farm then the health of a significant number of fish on the farm will become affected and many will ultimately die due to overcrowding, cannibalism and the outbreak of diseases. Given these fish cannot be stocked out elsewhere to comply with the Wildlife Order 1985, the Department has conducted a limited cull of 22,100 fish between the 6th and 8th November 2023, overseen and authorised by a veterinarian surgeon, for fish welfare reasons. This will give time for DAERA to consider future options for the fish remaining at Movanagher.

What action is being taken to enable stocking to commence?

The Department is currently considering Agri Foods and Biosciences Institute’s scientific advice to inform the way forward and to ensure compliance with the Wildlife Order 1985. A range of options will be considered as to how to address the current impasse. Any decision on the future of Movanagher fish farm and stocking DAERA “put and take” fisheries in the PAE will be considered by DAERA in due course.

What will happen to the currently stocked fisheries in the PAE if they can’t be stocked?

DAERA is responsible for the management of fishing rights of Northern Ireland’s PAE, which currently has 89 waters, including both lakes and rivers, where it owns or leases the fishing rights. Only 27of these waters are stocked from Movanagher Fish Farm. These waters also contain wild fish for angling and these fisheries will remain open but will not be stocked.

Will DAERA refund anglers for their DAERA permit or rod licence fees paid this year?

Unfortunately, DAERA is not able to refund your fishing licence/permit, please see below link to the refund policy for more information:

Conditions of sale for fishing licences and permits | nidirect

The PAE has a variety of fisheries, please see link below for details of fisheries where your licence and permit are valid:

Where you can fish in Northern Ireland | nidirect 

Will DAERA reduce rod licence or DAERA permit fees in 2024 season if no stocking takes place in the PAE waters in 2024?

Rod licence prices have not increased for well over a decade.

DAERA permit prices have only increased by inflation and would require Ministerial approval to change this policy.

A permit gives permission from the fishery owner for the angler to fish a water. It does not guarantee the stocking of fish into a water or the level of fish stocks within a water.

A review of permit and licences is currently underway by DAERA which will be subject to a public consultation in due course followed by Ministerial approval.

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