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Poignant lament for the drift netters 17.08.07

TELEVISION viewers got another chance this week to see a Quigley's Point fishermen poignantly describe the dying days of drift-net salmon fishing in Inishowen.
'The Drifters' documentary on BBC Northern Ireland told the story of 76-year Pat McDonald of Three Trees - one of the last of the drift-net fishermen on Lough Foyle. It described how he had handed down his love of the sea and fishing to his sons who, in turn, would return to Quigley's Point during their Summer holidays to help on the boat.
The hour-long programme described how Pat's family had fished the Foyle for generations but how the tradition would now end with him and his sons following the introduction of the Government's salmon drift-net ban.
The ban was introduced earlier in a bid to reverse a drastic reduction in salmon stocks.
'The Drifters', a Mind the Gap production for the BBC, was filmed last year in anticipation of the ban. Straight-talking Pat described how 2006 was the worst year on record for catching salmon. "I'm out there (fishing the Foyle) over 56 years and I never saw anything like it. It's the worst ever I seen or am likely to see if I was to live my life over again."
His son David outlined, laughing, how his first introduction to fishing included his brother throwing up all over him.
Pat McDonald, gets some help gathering his drift net for the last time. Photo courtesy BBC.
Pat and his fellow fishermen explained their own strong views on how pollution and over-development were the main culprits in the decline of stocks.
While they traditionally fished for three months of the summer, in the last days of the tradition, the boats would fish for only six weeks, albeit sometimes 12-hour days from dawn to dusk.
End of an era...Foyle drift netters haul their boats ashore. Photo courtesy BBC. “They worked from small 20ft boats, carrying almost a mile of nets and would leave on the first tide of the morning to take up their favoured position on the Lough.
The day's catch was usually best on a Monday, the first fishing day, but it was erratic, with some days nothing to show for 12 hours' work. Other days a shoal could come in and Pat might land 50 wild salmon for a good pay day at Greencastle Seafoods Ltd. The engaging story also showed how the McDonalds and other Foyle fishermen had to compete with hungry seals for their catch or be left with useless half-eaten salmon carcasses.
First broadcast last year, the Mind the Gap production
was an informative, humorous and engaging documentary that offered many insights into life as it was and is still lived on the Foyleside of Inishowen.
It was also a poignant commentary on the skill involved in the vilified but now defunct tradition of drift netting as a means of supplementing subsistence farming in Inishowen with much-needed seasonal income.
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