North Overview

North Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum Overview

The North RIFF covers the inshore waters of County Donegal. The fishing fleet in the North RIFF area represents approximately 17.5% of the national fleet according to the national fleet register in July 2014. There are approximately 374 vessels included in the polyvalent general, specific, potting, aquaculture and pelagic sectors. Fourteen of these vessels were between 12 and 18m in length with 40 vessels between 18m and 40m and two vessels over 40 m. Just under half of those larger vessels were from pelagic sector with the remainder being aquaculture and polyvalent potting. Approximately 85% of the 374 vessels were less than 12m mainly in the polyvalent general, polyvalent potting and specific sector.

The three main harbours along the coast are Killybegs in Donegal Bay, Greencastle on the Inishowen Peninsula at the entrance to Lough Foyle, and Burtonport which is east of Aranmore Island. Killybegs is the largest fishing port in Ireland, and is a major centre for pelagic species and whitefish. In recent years Killybegs has expanded and the offshore renewable sector use the port as a base for marine exploration and the importation of wind turbines. Greencastle is the largest whitefish port in Donegal and second largest nationally after Castletownbere in County Cork. It is also the base for a significant mussel dredge fleet as Lough Foyle is a productive mussel growing area. Burtonport has experienced a significant decline in recent years as it was a major centre for whitefish, pelagic, lobster, crayfish, and crab. It is now dependant on landings of crab, lobster, shrimp and velvet crab by small inshore vessels from a large geographical region which stretches from Rosbeg to Bunbeg. There are now no landings of pelagic species or whitefish in Burtonport and the once vibrant infrastructure which supported those landings has fallen into dereliction.

Elsewhere there are significant fishing and tourism activities at a number of smaller harbours and piers; a number are of strategic importance with significant landings of lobster, brown crab and whelk. Piers and harbours of significance include Bruckless, Teelin, and Malin Mor, in the Donegal Bay Area; Rosbeg, Aphort (Aranmore Island), Leabgarrow (Aranmore Island), Kincasslagh, Bunbeg, Magherourty and Tory in the west of the County; Downings, Ballyhoorisky, Rathmullen, Leenan, Malin Head, Portaleen (Glengad), Bunnagee (Culdaff) and Greencastle on the north coast of Donegal.

The catches from these smaller ports are primarily crab and lobster due to the cod recovery plan for ICES Area VIa. This recovery plan has had a devastating effect on small trawlers, gillnetters and inshore vessels dependant on whitefish, as the restrictions of the plan have essentially made it impossible to carry out any whitefish fishing activity.

The inshore fisheries in the North RIFF area include:

  • Brown crab is the major most significant inshore fishery in the county and as a result there are a number of processors in the North RIFF area. The inshore fishery is part o the Malin Shelf stock and is also fished by an offshore fleet of vivier vessels 15-24m in length. The main landings ports are Downings, Malin Head and Burtonport. The stock is also fished by a large fleet from north Mayo which operates as far north as Aranmore Island.
  • Greencastle has a very large fleet of inshore vessels, 60 approximately, which since the cessation of mixed salmon fishing have become heavily reliant on a wild flat oyster fishery in Lough Foyle. The fishery has a short season and limited access.
  • Outside the oyster season vessels in the Greencastle area are particularly reliant on the brown crab and whelk fisheries, both of which support dedicated fleets on the Inishowen Peninsula.
  • There are significant scallop and queen scallop beds to the northeast of Greencastle and there have large landings by UK vessels in Greencastle in recent years.
  • In order of importance brown crab, lobster, velvet crab, shrimp and whelk are landed from small inshore vessels along the entire coast of Donegal.

Aquaculture activity in RIFF North

Donegal has a large number of aquaculture activities of note.

  • There are large salmon farms in Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay
  • Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly produce large volumes of Pacific oysters as well as the native species. There is also significant bottom culture mussel production in both Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly and there are a number of large mussel dredgers locally.
  • Mulroy Bay is a centre for king scallop production.
  • There are many bays and inlets where oyster production occurs, the area around Donegal Town being particularly significant.

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