History of fishing rights in Ireland

What is a fishing right?

Anywhere a fishery exists in freshwater there is a right to fish or a fishing right. This right is owned by someone, either a private individual or group such as an angling club or the State. The owner of the fishing rights can choose to make the fishing available for public use, either for the payment of a fee or free of charge of permit, this is sometimes referred to as ‘free fishing’ nonetheless it is still essentially ‘private property’.

What’s the story with fishing rights at sea?

There is a public right to fish in the sea with the exception of a number of areas that were privatised pre the Magna Carta (1215). The State can control the sea by regulation but it does not own it separate from its citizens. Any member of the public has the right to fish in the sea and tidal waters or estuaries, with the exception of certain private rights exclusive of the public rights existing in some tidal waters by virtue of ancient grants. In certain cases, where tidal fisheries were subject to court decisions, Special Tidal Waters Orders were made under Section 7 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act of 1959, enabling a licensing scheme for control of fishing in those waters.

Where do fishing rights come from?

The title to fisheries / fishing rights in Ireland derives from the confiscation of lands by the Crown under the Acts of Confiscation of the 17th century and the subsequent granting of estates by the Crown to its favoured subjects. The boundaries of these estates tend to correspond to townland boundaries and so the associated fishing rights are also mostly defined by townland boundaries. Townland boundaries and hence fishing rights generally extend to the half way mark of a river and to the centre point of a lake out from the adjoining land. However, for townlands adjoining a river below its tidal reaches (due to the public right on sea fisheries) the boundary is at the water’s edge rather than the centreline.

How can fishing rights change hands?

Fishing rights may be held by individuals or bodies in the same way as land may be held. In Ireland, there are no laws dictating that the ownership of fishing rights may not be severed from that of the bed and soil or the adjoining land, meaning that one person can own the bed and soil and another the fishing rights. Consequently, lands and fishing rights have changed hands sometimes together and sometimes separately. Quite often fishing rights are passed on from generation to generation in a family and consequently can be shared between multiple descendants spread across the globe. It is not uncommon for the owner of a fishing right be unaware that they even own the right. For this reason it can often be quite confusing to track down the current owner of a fishing right. However, that is not to say that the title to the fishery itself is confused.

What title research has been done on State fisheries in Ireland?

In the mid 1990’s, a significant amount of money was invested in Ireland’s angling infrastructure under the Tourism Angling Measure (T.A.M.), the aim of which was to improve the domestic and tourism angling product. One of the conditions of receiving aid under this measure was that title to a fishery had to be established. The Central Fisheries Board maintained a title research unit to provide this service. During this period a significant amount of work was done on establishing the title and ownership of a large number of fisheries including a number of State fisheries. The title research unit was disbanded in the late 1990’s at which point title research work had been completed on approximately 170 State fisheries. Many of these fisheries are now under licence to various angling clubs.

Does IFI have a list of all fishing rights in Ireland?

Inland Fisheries Ireland does not have a complete database of all fishing rights in Ireland. We only have information on those we ourselves own.

How can I find out who owns a particular fishing right?

If you are interested in researching a fishing right you could contract the services of a suitably experienced title researcher to carry this work out for you. Unfortunatley IFI no longer has the resources to carry out this work for private fishery owners.

The best place to start, however, would be to consult the Land Registry folio for the adjoining land as in some cases this may indicate the owner of the adjoining fishing rights. Please refer to www.landregistry.ie for further information.