No fishery at this weekend's Salmon and Whiskey Festival in Bushmills due to DAERA cuts
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For the first time, visitors to this year’s Salmon and Whiskey Festival in Bushmills will not have access to the local fishery, due to ‘significant’ budget cuts within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
Organised by the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, the three-day festival (running from October 6 to 8) celebrates the food, drink and local heritage of the area, with the main focus on salmon and whiskey, and attracts over 10,000 visitors from throughout the province and beyond.
Focusing on the locally produced food and drink, the event offers a variety of cooking demonstrations by celebrity chef Paula McIntrye, food tastings and tours, fishing activities as well as whiskey tastings and distillery tours of Bushmills Irish Whiskey.
One of the highlights of the festival is the popular tour around the The River Bush Salmon Station which allows visitors a rare chance to look around the International facility and learn about the life-cycles and challenges of wild Atlantic salmon on the River Bush.
However due to funding constraints within DAERA, the tours have been cancelled for the first time in the festival’s six year history.
A DAERA spokesperson confirmed: “The Department’s non-earmarked resource budget for 2023-24 has been reduced by 1.5% at a time when new statutory obligations and unprecedented inflationary pressures are adding significantly to our costs. In order to ensure the Department lives within the budget allocated to it, significant reductions have had to be made to all non-statutory expenditure. Regrettably, the Department cannot therefore afford to incur the additional costs involved in opening the station and participating in the festival.”
They continued: “The River Bush Salmon Station is operated as part of the DAERA estate and is managed by DAERA Fisheries Inspectorate. The cost to the DAERA budget for staff working over the period of the festival would have been in the region of £17,000.“This is the first time the River Bush Salmon Station has been closed for tours during the festival. DAERA provides staff as guides for tours of the site and to provide presentations on the work on the site and on broader inland fisheries work on conservation. DAERA also ensures that appropriate levels of staffing and health and safety measures are in place to allow visitors on the site.”
The festival is part funded by DAERA – NI Regional Food Programme, supported by the Bushmills Business Association.
In response, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, added: “DAERA has advised Council that, due to budget constraints, it is unable to open up the River Bush Salmon Station to the public as part of this year’s festival, as it had done in the past.”
Prior to 2016, the event was organised by the local community and held in September.