Fish, eels and angling
The Lower Bann flows from Lough Neagh to the sea and the river channel is an important conduit for migrating eels and salmon. The river also has populations of roach (introduced in the 1970s) bream, roach/bream hybrids and pike. There are brown trout in parts of the main channel and all the tributary rivers. Sea trout and grey mullet occur in the Bann Estuary.
The scale fishing rights for both commercial netting and angling on the Lower Bann and the tributary rivers belong to The Honourable The Irish Society. For management purposes these rights are leased to Bann System Ltd for the time being. The eel fishing rights along the river belong to the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Limited as far downstream as the Cutts, and in the estuary they belong to The Honourable The Irish Society.
Elvers enter the estuary in the autumn having travelled with the Gulf Stream from the Sargasso Sea. In the spring many of them swim upstream aided by special elver ladders at sluices and weirs. To ensure that as many elvers as possible reach Lough Neagh to support the commercial fishery there the Fishermen’s Co-operative collect as many of these elvers as they can and transport them for direct release into Lough Neagh. Eels mature in Lough Neagh after 11-14 years after which they descend the river as silver eels to return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Silver eels migrate in autumn and will only move when the river is in flood and under conditions of dark side of the moon (low) moonlight. The Fishermen’s Co-operative harvest as many of these silver eels as possible using fixed eel traps at Toome, Portna and Movanagher. There is a ‘Queen’s gap’ at each eel trap to allow a proportion of eels to escape. Eels are a very important commercial resource in the Lough Neagh and Lower Bann system bringing an estimated annual income of four million pounds.
Salmon ascend the Lower Bann between May and October with a peak in June and July to reach spawning beds in the head waters of the tributary rivers of the Lower Bann and the feeder rivers of Lough Neagh. These salmon populations are subject to commercial fishing pressure along the North coast. Until very recently Bann System Limited operated commercial salmon traps at the Cutts. Although commercial trapping here has been suspended for the time being Bann System Limited have the right to restart. A small number of salmon draft nets are issued in Lough Neagh. Salmon fry spend two years or so feeding in nursery areas close to where they were spawned before descending the system and returning to the sea as smolts. Angling for game fish is especially popular on the Lower Bann, with Carnroe, Portna and Culiff Rock attracting premium prices for permits from tourists as well as local anglers. Salmon are also caught in the tributary rivers and these provide an additional angling potential for local clubs and tourists.
At Newferry, Portglenone, Kilrea and Movanagher coarse anglers can catch remarkably good weights of roach, bream and roach/bream hybrids. These venues are becoming increasingly popular as match venues and represent an important tourism resource. Little is known regarding the movements and feeding habits of the coarse fish population in the river. It is believed that Lough Beg is an important factor in this context and this could be a reason why the coarse fish resource in an area such as Newferry/Portglenone seems so much better than that in an impounded area such as Kilrea. More information on game and coarse angling can be obtained from Bann System Limited and Magherafelt District Council.
There are two fish farms on the river. Department of Culture Arts and Leisure, Inland Fisheries operate a fish farm at Movanagher and there is another privately owned one at Portna. Because of their sensitivity to water quality these act as good monitoring and early warning systems.