IWDG at the Irish Skipper show in UL

It’s been quite a while since IWDG attended an industry show, but with a little encouragement from Sandra O’ Donovan, we took the plunge at last weekend’s Irish Skipper Expo, where all roads lead to the University of Limerick sports complex. The only fly in the ointment was that the show was right in the middle of a settled spell of high pressure, which understandably produced a poor attendance on Day 1 (Fri. 25th) when it seemed there were more exhibitors than visitors, especially during the afternoon session; but that may have been no bad thing, as it gave us the time and space to get set up properly and hone our pitches.

Day II was busier with a higher attendance throughout, providing us with a great opportunity to reconnect with some old faces whilst meeting many new ones involved in both fishing and of course offshore renewables, a sector that seemed to occupy a significant number of the stands, reflecting “green” developments coming down the line.  So while IWDG’s mission hasn’t changed significantly and remains the promotion of our two recording schemes among fishers and mariners, it was also a good opportunity for IWDG to dip our toes into the world of advocacy by introducing the sector to the Fair Seas MPA campaign and no better person to help us with this Jack O’ Donovan, Fair Seas communications officer, who joined us on Friday to spread the message.

A standout moment was when two fishermen approached the stand on Saturday morning and immediately there was a sense that they were open to engagement. They told us they fished scallops off Portavogie, Co. Down. One of the two, Ferdinaand Kenney, of African origin, delighted in sharing a video clip of dolphins he had taken only the week earlier, while fishing in the North Irish Sea.  We showed him the options on our ID chart and after some thought he announced that they were common dolphins. He was thrilled when we told him he was right. We explained how we’d be interested to learn what they were seeing while out on the water, and that he could easily report sightings to us using the IWDG Reporting App. So, while at the stand, he downloaded the App, and within the hour he had reported the sighting effortlessly with video attached. He later said that meeting up with IWDG was the highlight of their day and they really appreciated what we do and was delighted to be able to help us.  It was a remarkable encounter as when you consider how relatively little “skin in the game” a migrant fisherman from Africa might have, yet he totally “got it” and wanted to help.  There were many such positive encounters during the two days.

Of course, not all interactions went as smoothly, with some fishers seemingly not than interested in engaging, whilst others were quite happy to approach the IWDG stand to discuss matters on which we fundamentally disagree, such as sprat fishing. The important thing however was to engage, as it is only by using these rare opportunities to air opinions and concerns that progress will ever be made.

Well done to Sharon Boyle and the team at the Irish Skipper for putting this year’s show together.  Should we attend the next one?  Yes…. but perhaps we’ll extend the budget to secure a bigger stand, as that killer whale skull just seems to get bigger every time, I see it!

By Pádraig Whooley

Irish Whale & Dolphin Group
Sightings Officer