A chairde go leir,
· Firstly congratulations to all of you who are receiving specimen awards today. It’s an honour for me to be here to present the awards on behalf of the Irish Specimen Fish Committee. It’s great to meet anglers, young and not so young, both from home and even a few from overseas and this event allows me to show support the good work of the ISFC.
· Our fisheries are one of the country’s greatest natural resources. Angling opportunities in Ireland are among the best in the world and this is reflected in the demand for the product. The development and promotion of our inland fisheries are core functions of Inland Fisheries Ireland and I and my Department is fully committed to supporting this national role.
· I have asked IFI to set out the principles of a National Development Strategy for Angling and to engage the Angling Community in consultation on this important issue
· The Government recognises that angling itself is hugely important to the tourist industry and to the economy as a whole. A recent survey commissioned by Inland Fisheries Ireland estimated that angling tourism spend in Ireland is €750m million per annum.
· Angling was found to directly support 10,000 existing Irish jobs, many of which are located in the most peripheral and rural parts of the Irish countryside and along our rural coastlines.
· Sea angling along with salmon and brown trout angling were the most popular categories where domestic anglers are concerned. The quality of the Irish angling product, the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish people and our outstanding scenery were cited amongst the principal attractions of Ireland as an international destination for recreational angling.
· Overseas tourism angling spend is estimated at approximately €280 million on an annual basis. The figures speak for themselves – angling is big business for this economy and I want to work closely with IFI to promote and develop a sustainable angling product for everyone.
· In the long run the continued support of inland fisheries by Government, along with the supports provided by IFI to the sector will help to ensure a sustainable angling resource, thus contributing to enhancing rural and local economies.
· In terms of immediate short-term funding, a number of funds have been announced to resource conservation and developments works in 2014. The 2014 Salmon Conservation Fund (SCF), the Midland Fisheries Fund (MFF) and the new Co-op Funds are now open for applications, In total €410,000 is ring-fenced and available through these Inland Fisheries Ireland schemes to facilitate clubs, fishery owners, commercial salmon fishers and other organisations to undertake works to improve habitat, stocks, access, invasive species management, angling etc. with the assistance of IFI.
· Today also allows anglers from all over the Island of Ireland to meet and exchange information and stories about a most enjoyable and thrilling sport. I know it’s said that anglers have a reputation for going overboard when swapping stories. If that’s the only time they go overboard. I think we will all be happy - but just between us I don’t believe a word of it!
· Seriously however, the specimen fish report is documentary evidence of the quality of our angling resource; the specimen fish awards scheme is unique to Ireland and we should be proud of it. Devised by far-seeing fisheries people in the 1950’s, it promotes Ireland’s world class angling resource in a unique and memorable way. The ISFC has a significant role in bringing unparalleled angling information to a wide audience through its annual report and it is internationally renowned for the wealth of its angling information.
· Today’s event salutes the skills of anglers from all over Ireland and reflects a significant effort that this voluntary Committee tirelessly puts into its work. I want to pay tribute for the efforts it continues to make in encouraging tourism, the sporting aspects of angling and the collection of valuable biological information. I wish continued success to the Committee and every congratulations to all those receiving awards today.
· Finally - tight lines, all of you, for 2014 and for many years to come!!!