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Topical Issue Debate 'Concern regarding depletion of fishing stock and pollution of the River Barrow'

Check Against Delivery

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the State Agency statutorily responsible for the management and conservation of Ireland's Inland fisheries resources including wild Atlantic salmon. IFI manages salmon stocks on an individual river basis as each of Ireland's 141 salmon rivers (including river sections and estuaries) has its own genetically unique stock of salmon.

Each salmon river in Ireland has an individual conservation limit which can be considered as the number of adult salmon required to maintain a healthy population.  Rivers which sufficiently exceed their conservation limit may be opened for harvest fisheries (recreational and/or commercial). Rivers which meet 50% of their conservation limit may be opened for catch and release (C&R) angling; which permits enjoyment of angling and provides information for the stock assessment, while having a negligible impact of vulnerable fish stocks and encouraging the shared responsibility to contribute to conservation and the potential rebuilding of these stocks.  For 2018, 78 rivers in Ireland were open to harvest or catch and release fishing.

Marine survival is considered to have the biggest influence on return, from far North Atlantic feeding grounds, of salmon to all rivers on Atlantic coasts.  Climate change in the ocean is considered to be a major factor.  There is also evidence that heavy sea-lice infestation from salmon farming has resulted in additional mortality in respect of migratory North Atlantic salmon generally.  In freshwater, water quality and a range of pressures such as afforestation, drainage, effluent discharge, siltation and agricultural enrichment can all have an impact on juvenile salmon production.

The primary index for evaluation of likely returning numbers is the recorded rod (harvest or catch and release) and commercial catch (if any) averaged over the previous 5 years.  The scientific committee applies a range of rod exploitation rates for recreational fishing activity and adds the commercial catch to calculate the total run of salmon. Fish counters are particularly useful in cases where rod or commercial data is not available.   In addition, information on juvenile abundance indices derived from electro-fishing surveys carried out annually by IFI is also evaluated as an indicator of stock status.

For the 2018 season, based on rod catch and exploitation rates, the Barrow was meeting 17% of its conservation limit (CL). Management advice is that rivers meeting >50% of the CL can be open for catch and release angling.

While the Barrow was deemed not to be meeting >50% of CL based on rod catch, the river is open for catch & release angling in 2018 based on salmon fry densities recorded in electro fishing surveys which were above the scientific committee's established threshold.

 

During the summer of 2015 IFI undertook a catchment wide fish stock survey in the River Barrow.  The study surveyed 35 sites on the River Barrow main channel and canal cuts and 118 sites in 21 sub-catchments.  Information collected during the course of this survey provided information (e.g. distribution and abundance) on the different life stages of brown trout, Atlantic salmon, coarse fish species and pike.  A total of 14 fish species and one hybrid were recorded in the River Barrow.

 

In general Good fish status, as defined by the Water Framework Directive (WFD) ecological classification tool, was recorded in the upper reaches of the River Barrow main channel above Mountmellick while downstream many ponded sites were assigned a status of moderate or worse (71% of sites).  High fish status was only assigned to five (6%) of the 83 sub-catchment sites surveyed, while 36% were assigned Good status.  Unfortunately 52% were assigned Moderate status or less across the sub-catchments.  The main reasons identified for less than good fish status were poor water quality, poor habitat, the presence of artificial barriers impeding migratory fish passage and possibly competition from the invasive dace. 

 

There are angling opportunities on the river Barrow, however the significant challenge is salmon. As I have said a lot of the challenges with salmon is survival at sea which is being dealt with internationally through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). Our officials and those of Inland Fisheries Ireland will attend the annual meeting in June and will be sensitive to the negotiations to protect our stock and other stocks in international feeding grounds via cooperation between all Atlantic coastal states, the Faros and Greenland.

 

This issue of salmon management can be complex therefore if the Deputies require more extensive briefing I will be happy to have IFI provide that.

 

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is responsible for the pollution aspect of the Topical Issue and I have been advised of the following:

Primary responsibility for the monitoring, management, protection and improvement of water quality is assigned to local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts 1977 and 1990 and related legislation which provide that nobody should discharge or cause or permit the discharge of any effluent or polluting matter to any waters except where licensed by a local authority. Any persons causing or permitting polluting matter to enter waters is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €15,000,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.

With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels for public water services, including the delivery of water services capital infrastructure, encompassing the management of urban waste water collection and treatment infrastructure. All discharges to the aquatic environment from sewerage systems owned, managed and operated by Irish Water require a waste water discharge licence or certificate of authorisation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The authorisation process provides for the EPA to place stringent conditions on the operation of such discharges to ensure that potential effects on the receiving water bodies are strictly limited and controlled, in line with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive which sets out requirements for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste water with the objective of protecting the environment from the adverse effects of waste water discharges.​


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