The chair of Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative has confirmed that eel licenses are given to non-shareholders, while shareholders go without.
The Mail visited Pat Close in relation to a 15-year-old row between Toome Eel Fishery [which is owned by the Co-op] and United Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Association - a group of people who say they have been refused their families’ historical eel fishing licences.
Some said brothers or fathers passed away and the licence wasn’t passed to them, while others reported taking time out to patrol the lough, only to have their re-application refused.
All of them said they have applied every year for the past 10 only to be told they don’t meet the criteria, which they refute.
But Mr Close has defended his stance, saying he can’t comment on individual cases, but they didn’t meet the gauge.
He said Toome Eel Fishery had been before the High Court over this - “when all procedures and policies were examined and scrutinised” and that its “position was upheld”.
Pat went on to say he can only give out so many licenses  in order to retain sustainability under the eel management plan and that he couldn’t take boat owner licenses from those who have fished for 30 years or reduce their quotas to make way for these men.
But “if they were to apply for boat helpers licenses... there is no reason they couldn’t get them”.
United Lough Neagh Fishermen said: “They [our families] bought the shares so they would have a right to fish in Lough Neagh.”
A sentiment supported by clause six of the 1963 Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Association rules, now the Co-op.
It states: “The Association shall protect the interest of its members at all times and shall protect their fishing rights on Lough Neagh.”
Pat Close responded: “We continue to look after the interests of the fishing community, but it is a finite resource and that doesn’t mean that anyone who wants to fish Lough Neagh can do it.”