Fisheries and the Foyle

There had been extensive controls on inland fisheries since the middle of the 19th century. The legislation is designed to protect fish stocks in the broadest sense and includes protections on fish habitats.

The salmon fisheries of the River Foyle—an extremely valuable asset— which were declared forfeit to the British Crown following the Flight of the Earls were, along with certain lands in the then Counties of Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh and Coleraine, were entrusted to a body styled “The Society of the Governors and Assistants London of the new plantation in Ulster within the realm of Ireland” which in later years has come to be known simply as the “Irish Society.” This body, drawn from the merchant guilds of London, it has figured in many legal disputes concerning its claim to an exclusive right of fishery in the Lough and River Foyle.

In the early 1920s the fishermen of the Donegal shore commenced a vigorous campaign to establish their right to fish in the Foyle waters, both lough and river. The lessees from the Irish Society in possession at the time—the Foyle and Bann Fisheries Company—resisted the intrusion and serious scenes of violence were of frequent occurrence and local feeling ran high against the lessees.

Litigation about Foyle Fisheries

In the case of Foyle  and Bann Fisheries Ltd and others v the Attorney General 1949 the company held leases from a corporation created by a Royal Charter granted in 1662 following a Royal Charter in 1613 which the company. The corporation sought a declaration of its title to a several fishery in the waters and part of Foyle including lands in Ireland. The Irish state defended on the basis that the was title and a public right of fishing existed. It was shown that it  was not under the control of the Crown in 1169 the date after which Crown grant of fisheries were not possible, so a several fishery was impossible.

Claims to several fisheries in other parts of County Donegal were also challenged about the same time and in 1934 the Erne fishermen obtained a declaration from the High Court of the existence of a public right of fishery in the estuary of that river. Legislation passed in that year—the Fisheries (Tidal Waters) Act, 1934—provided the fishery authority with the necessary powers to administer in the public interest any fisheries so declared public. But the powers so provided could be invoked only where the courts declared that a several fishery no longer existed or where a voluntary surrender was made by the quondam claimants of exclusive rights.

With substantial increases in the market price of salmon, incursions on the Foyle fishery from the Donegal shores grew more intensive and by 1947 the Foyle and Bann Fisheries Company found itself powerless to preserve those waters for their own use. At length, that company, as lessees in possession, decided to join with the Irish Society claiming ownership in reversion in seeking a declaration by the High Court, Dublin, to establish exclusive title to a several fishery in that part of the River Foyle called the branch stream, which lies entirely in County Donegal. The Attorney-General and certain local fishermen were named as defendants in the action.

By judgment given in the High Court in October 1948, Judge Gavan Duffy found in favour of the defendants on all three grounds of claim. The plaintiffs in the action gave notice of intention to appeal to the Supreme Court, but it was already evident to both sides that a protracted legal battle could result only in barren victory for the contestants and that, while the courts deliberated, the fishery would be reduced to ruin.

It had to be admitted that such measures could have no more than partial success so long as the river remained in divided jurisdiction. An agreement was entered between both the Irish and NI  governments and the Irish Society by which over £100,000 was paid by the governments equally.

Foyle Fisheries Act

The Foyle Fisheries At 1952 and the Foyle  Fisheries Northern Ireland Act were  passed to implement an 1951 agreement between the government of Northern Ireland and Ireland relating to fisheries in Lough Foyle. The area is made up of the Moville and Derry fishery districts which were formerly a single district (the Londonderry District) designated under the early fisheries act in 1855. This was described as the Foyle area

The several fishery which had existed / had  been claimed on the basis of 17th-century title in the title portions of the Lough and River Foyle and Faughan and other rights were vested in the Minister/Department in the Republic of Ireland and in the Northern Ireland ministry.

The Foyle Fisheries Commission was established to manage, protect, conserve and  improve fisheries of the Foyle  area. The commission was given power to make regulations. It has power to prescribe the numbers of licences which may be issued for fishing by means other than rod and line in the tidal waters of the Foyle area. Regulations require the approval of both  governments. The  legislation seeks to adopt the provisions of the Fisheries Act to the areas concerned.

The powers of the Foyle Fisheries Commission passed to the Loughs Agency under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999.

Regulation by the Loughs Agency

The Loughs Agency is a cross-border body under the Belfast Agreement/British Irish Agreement. The Agency is  the successor of the Commission  has power with the approval of both governments to make regulations in relation to management conservation protection and appropriate treatment fisheries in the Foyle area including

  • the regulation of fishing and preservation of good order amongst persons fishing,
  • the times and seasons for the taking of fish or any kind of fish or for any mode of taking fish or any kind of fish and the conditions subject to which fish or any kind of fish may be taken,
  • prohibiting any mode of taking or destroying fish or any kind of fish,
  • the times and places or the mode at or in which any fishing engine may be used,
  • the description and form of nets to be used and the size of the meshes of those nets.
  • the prohibition, either absolutely or otherwise than under and in accordance with a licence issued by the Commission, of the use of any fishing engine (apparatus),
  • the making of applications for, and the issue, alteration, renewal, and revocation of licences, whether generally or in specified cases,
  • the protection of waters from poisoning and pollution by any deleterious or poisonous matter, or from any predatory fish or animals,
  • the prohibition of any practice whatsoever tending in the opinion of the Commission to impede the lawful capture of fish or to be in any manner detrimental to the fisheries,
  • defining, by reference to a map or otherwise, the mouth of any river in the Foyle Area, the mouth of any tributary river at its entrance into any other river therein, the boundary between the tidal and freshwater portions of any river therein, the point or points to or from which distances are to be measured under this Act, or the space within which it is prohibited by this Act or by regulations under this section to use or practise certain methods of fishing.

Foyle Fishing

The Foyle Fisheries Act 1961 adopted the then recent general fisheries legislation (in 1959) for the Foyle area. Significant parts of that legislation were applied.  This included regulations as to fixed engines and other obstructions to the passage of fish

These provisions contain detailed restrictions on use of certain type of apparatus obstructions dams. The provide rules and in relation to fishing weirs fishing mills et cetera

The Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Act 2007 made substantial amendments to the legislation.


A permit is required  for the movement of fish within and into the waters of Foyle and Carlingford. Whilst the Foyle Fisheries Acts originally applied this only to salmon and trout, the Foyle Area (Stocking of Rivers) Regulations 1967 extended that power to all other fish including all coarse fish and rainbow trout. Therefore, any physical movement of fish within and into the waters of the Foyle and Carlingford area require a permit to be issued by Loughs Agency.

A permit must also be sought for the purpose of artificial propagation of salmon or freshwater fish, scientific research or the improvement of fisheries. Anyone wishing to remove riverbed material from the freshwater portion of any river within the Loughs Agency’s (the Foyle) area must obtain a permit.

Sections 46 of the Foyle Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1952 and 47 of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 allow riverbed material to be removed from the freshwater stretch of any river in the Loughs Agency’s areas. It can only be done, though, by written permit, subject to any conditions.

A Section 46/47 permit authorises the holder to carry out activities which might otherwise be illegal. Before issuing a permit, Loughs Agency must be satisfied about why it is required. Applications for Survey Permits must be received by Loughs Agency 28 working days before the start date of the operation.


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