Paul, nobody here (at least neither 'Willie Gunn' nor I) is defending the Irish drift nets. That will be clear if you reread what we have written. It is the small, local draft nets that I, at least, believe should be allowed to continue for now. These are not indiscriminate, and I don't believe that Irish draft nets, unlike the drift nets, take large numbers of fish destined for the West Country rivers or elsewhere. It is important to keep that distinction in mind in this debate.
Rod anglers have been at the forefront of pressure to remove or restrict high-seas netting, but we cannot simply argue for this from a position of self-interest. Conservation of the species is the only really justifiable argument. You must see that there is no sense in suggesting that someone should be prevented from exercising a legal right (netsmen are not, as you allege, poachers under another name), which may form part or all of their livelihood, just so that rod fishermen, who fish for pleasure and almost certainly don't need the money, can step in and take their share of the market. That would be morally bankrupt. I believe we only have a moral right to call for the cessation of netting if we are setting an example by going further than the netsmen in our conservation efforts. I therefore believe it is quite unacceptable for rod fishermen to sell any part of their catch, and am delighted that the Irish government has banned it. In this respect, at least, they are well ahead of England and Wales.
There is a fundamental difference between high-seas netting and netting in estuaries or rivers. The former is indiscriminate and is likely to take fish from places where stocks are endangered. The latter is quite closely targetted at individual runs of fish. Clearly, draft netting should only be carried out where numbers of fish are healthy and stocks are self-supporting. I don't know whether this is the case on those west country rivers that still have estuary or river nets, but there are certainly plenty of Irish rivers that can afford a harvest of fish to the local nets (which is where this thread started).
Topher, interesting point about your fish traps. I believe that draft nets could also be managed so as to favour certain runs of fish. The nets at the mouth of the Hampshire Avon have participated in salmon research for years. Fish taken in the nets have been radio-tagged and released, and monitored up to spawning. So it should certainly be possible to run some form of selective harvesting scheme to promote, say, MSW fish. This cannot be said for drift nets.
Indeed, one of the noticeable things in Ireland is the very small size of fish caught these days. Grilse of no more than 3-31/2lbs now dominate the catch in the rivers I know in Ireland. 30-40 years ago the grilse averaged 5-6lbs. The larger fish are 'sieved' out by the nets, while these runts can get through the mesh (albeit with much net-marking and frequent damage to fins). I fear that this is effectively operating a 'selective breeding' programme which will reduce their size permanently. In theory, I suppose a programme could be instigated in conjunction with the draft netters to reverse this trend, though I fear this will remain just a theory!