NORTHERN IRELAND'S agri-minister, Edwin Poots, has officially launched the province's 2020 angling season.

Under the guidance of Professional angler Joe Stitt at Shaws Bridge, Belfast, Minister Poots tried his hand at fly fishing and highlighted the positive effects of angling on mental health and well-being.

“Fishing is one of the top 10 sports in Northern Ireland, enjoyed by more than 20,000 people all year round," he said. "One of the most important social impacts identified is the benefit to personal health.

“There is clear evidence that a wide range of physical and mental health benefits can be accrued from participation in this sport. Angling appeals to individuals who are not necessarily attracted to more formal sport and can offer opportunities for life long participation.

“With high levels of participation and involvement across a range of age and income groups, angling can contribute towards building social cohesion and building united communities," he said. "It can bring people of different ages and income groups together and facilitates interaction and relationships. Angling is also regarded as a popular and relatively accessible sport among people with disabilities. The sport is unique in offering opportunities for competition alongside able bodied participants.”

The Minister also praised the work of DAERA in supporting local anglers throughout the season. He added: “My departmental staff work extremely hard throughout the year, in all weather conditions, to work with and support local anglers. In 2019 they stocked 30 Public Angling Estate waterways with 122,000 fish, consisting of 42,250 rainbow trout and 79,750 brown trout. In advance of the 2020 angling season my staff have stocked 15,000 fish.

“My department is working on a number of new initiatives to increase angling participation by underrepresented groups such as disabled, females, young people and minority groups," he added. "By keeping the price of licences and permits down, I am committed to providing accessible and affordable angling, particularly in areas of social need and I wish all anglers tight lines for 2020 and enjoy the season.”

NI's angling licence and permit fees have been frozen for 2020. An annual angling licence costs £17. There is a reduced rate for senior citizens of £5 and for under 18s only £2. Permits cost £77 for an annual general season game permit, with other local permits on offer and reduced rates for senior citizens and under 18s.