Small Boat Festival offers a glimpse of Wexford’s marine life
As the world continues to grapple with the challenges of climate change, a small festival in Wexford is doing its part to monitor the changes in our marine life.
Returning after an enforced Covid-19 absence, the Rosslare Small Boats Festival was held at Kilmore Quay where it celebrated its 35th anniversary. With the aim of catching as many different species as possible, this angling competition serves as a barometer for how our waters are changing and this year’s event was no different.
In total, more than 40 different species of fish were counted during the competition, including smoothound, conger, dab, gurnard, mackerel, mullet, pout, sea bream, red mullet and numerous mini-fish. species such as whelps and gobies.
This year a saury, a species normally found in the Pacific Ocean, was recorded by the Irish ship ‘Shamrock’, while a brand new species, the butterfly blenny, was also identified.
Although hampered by the weather for part of the first week, event organizer John Belger said the ten-day festival proved to be as enjoyable as ever.
“Due to the bad weather at the beginning, we could only fish in the western part of the bay, we couldn’t go beyond the islands, it was too choppy there,” he said. “We had 31 boats from the UK and Ireland with over 90 anglers in total.”
And John and Josie Mahon of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) were keen to point out that all fish were subsequently released safe and sound. “Our role is to identify and record all species caught, it’s very exciting when we see something new, but conserving our fish is very important,” Josie said. “The festival gives everyone an idea of what’s going on under the waves and the ecological life there.”
The Liverpool-based boat, ‘Nirvana’, won the top prize by managing to catch 26 different species of fish in two days, with a combined weight of 8.84kg. Team members Richie Stead, Keith Pemberton and Mark Phillips are from the Wirral Boat Club outside Liverpool and 2022 is the fifth year ‘Nirvana’ have clinched the top spot.
‘Shamrock’ and ‘Katie B’, both representing Howth Sea Angling Club in Dublin, took second and third place respectively.
Four specimen fish were caught during the week, including a three-barbed rockling, two wrasse and a tope. The largest of these was a 0.60 kg wrasse captured by Sean Óg McShane of Cork, aboard the Irish vessel ‘Fin Chaser’. McShane thus won the “Best Specimen of the Festival” award.
The Conningbeg Trophy for the longest 59cm bass was won by Terry Wallworth of the boat ‘Life of Riley’. Meanwhile, the Ken Evason Memorial Trophy for the largest cod caught, which was 3.20 kilos, was won by the boat ‘Shamrock’.
Scott McShane won the competition’s best juvenile angler award aboard the ‘2JDs’ boat, which had 19 species with a combined weight of 8.82 kilos. Sue Tait on ‘Predator II’ caught 20 species and Joan Bimpson on ‘Silverback’ caught 12 species and both won prizes for the best anglers in the competition.
The awards ceremony took place at the Coast Rosslare Strand Hotel and the €30,000 prize included fishing tackle, cash prizes and engraved trophies.
Councilor Jim Moore was the special guest at the festival and said: “I would like to congratulate all of the competitors on their success at the 35th Rosslare Small Boats Festival. Thank you all for coming to Wexford and the community looks forward to seeing you all. Special thanks to your organizer – John Belger – who I believe is passing the baton after many years.
Inland Fisheries Ireland staff helped organizers launch the boats and identify fish species. The competition has also received much appreciated support from Kilmore Quay Harbor Master and Wexford County Council staff.