It’s a sad reflection on those that purport to have the best interests of the citizens of Greystones at heart that the ongoing saga of not allowing local fishermen to both ply their trade and berth within the new harbour continues well into 2021.
As I write a public consultation process on expanding Ireland’s marine protected area network is ongoing and open until Friday 30th July 2021. Local stakeholders and citizenry of Greystones have an opportunity to influence how County Wicklow’s marine resource is managed into the future, a key element of the information necessary to formulate a positive socio – economic marine strategy plan for Wicklow has to be derived from local fishers past and present.
Greystones possess a deep marine tradition, and I should know – I grew up with it. Grandfather Willie Redmond constructed wooden clinker boats in his shed behind Killian’s Hall. Uncle John Redmond rowed for Greystones, as did my uncle Osier Spurling and my father and his brother Johnny Hayden and Billy (Liam) Hayden respectively.
Dad and Uncle Liam, who both possessed an intimate knowledge of the inshore fishing grounds off Greystones, taught me how to row, boat lore, local tides and weather influences, long lining, bait digging, potting, trammel netting and most importantly the various fish species, where to find and catch them.
That was back in the late 1960s, early 1970s, when the seas off Greystones were chock a block with a huge variety of fish. Sadly, as Cllr Mitchell pointed out in his published letter re the ongoing berthing dispute, the inshore waters off Greystones today are a shadow of what they were when I was introduced to them as a ten-year-old in 1970.
Government marine fisheries policy by successive administrations through my lifetime enabled the destruction of inshore mussel banks off County Wicklow, which were the foundation of the great mixed fishery off Greystones. In principal, no mussel banks, no fish. The fishers at the centre of the current berthing dispute were not responsible for that catastrophe because it had occurred before they ever commenced fishing as a career. When they chose their profession, whelk was one of the few species still abundant enough to have a commercial economic value.
Greystonians today are bereft because they have limited physical connections with a very recent heritage which, if revisited and developed, would transform the everyday experience of so many within the town. Fresh fish and shellfish available direct from the harbour, observing what catches the commercial fishers and sea anglers bring in, observing a busy vibrant harbour area, local fish sold in the local fishmongers, chip shops and restaurants, sea angling from boat and shore, international and national sea angling events, scuba diving and snorkelling in a restored bio-diverse marine environment. All the above occurred within my lifetime; little or none survives today or if it does is severely diminished.
Since Autumn of last year 2020 I have spoken with TD Jennifer Whitmore along with Councillors Derek Mitchell and Mags Crean, where I have broached the subject of setting up a Community Managed Marine Conservation Zone off County Wicklow and within the discussions the berthing issue at the harbour has arisen. Clear to me in the conversations with all three representatives was that decisions were and have been made re Wicklow’s marine management and infrastructure plans based on insufficient data.
In my opinion, the eventual harbour usage design is a case in point. Not only were commercial fishermen’s needs not considered properly, neither were the needs of the sea angling fraternity – in particular, those that trail boats for slipway launch. That said, we are where we are and the new harbour is big enough and flexible enough to accommodate change even at this late stage. So, to all concerned, ditch the egos and sort it out because…
If managed properly the inshore waters off north County Wicklow will transform, as will the social and cultural lives of Greystones – and by extension Wicklow itself – within ten years of implementation if a Community Managed Marine Conservation Zone is created due to the biodiversity lost within half my lifetime returning the result of habitat restoration. As I have said many times it will be the cheapest infrastructural project Wicklow County Council will have ever undertaken, with one of the biggest financial and cultural returns.
An important element of the above is to find a satisfactory solution to the current impasse which blocks local commercial fishers from plying their trade out of Greystones harbour. From where I sit, subjectivity is trumping objectivity, the long term losers being Greystones townsfolk and the wider Irish citizenry.
Disallowing people to legitimately ply their trade due to intransigence is a sin. The presence of these fishers and those who might follow in their footsteps, their input and socio-economic influence is vital not only to the current but also to the future daily experience of Greystones people. After all. who knows the inshore waters better…?
To quote the great Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon, “You can’t enjoy the fruits without the roots…”.
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