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Source of Ireland’s escaped farmed salmon remains a mystery

Rob Fletcher
Rob Fletcher
10 October 2017, at 12:37pm

Calls for stricter licencing laws governing the Irish salmon farming industry have been made after 65 farmed salmon have been caught by in Irish rivers in recent months.

The presence of escapees has been doubly troubling to Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) as no escapes of farm salmon have been reported to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (the licensing authority) by salmon farm owners, despite the fact that they have an obligation to report all escapes to the department. 

The Board of IFI has therefore issued the following statement: “Inland Fisheries Ireland has been charged with the protection of wild Atlantic salmon and continues to have concerns regarding the impacts of fish farms on Ireland’s precious wild fish. The licencing regime and best management practice should provide assurance to the State that controls are in place that safeguard our heritage. This does not appear to be the case in this instance. Inland Fisheries Ireland supports sustainable fish farming but cautions against the renewal and/or award of licences where conditions are not being adhered to. The Board recommends immediate strict enforcement and audit of existing licence conditions to ensure compliance and ultimately a sustainable resource for all."

To date, 65 farmed salmon escapees have turned up on the Delphi, Erriff, Kylemore/Dawros, Newport and Bunowen rivers. The scale of the escape is not fully understood at this time as the majority of fish were caught by anglers who generally only encounter a small proportion of salmon in a river.

IFI scientists are analysing captured fish in an attempt to identify the history and maturity status of the farmed salmon. The outcome from this analysis will assist in understanding the risks to the country’s wild salmon stocks.

Of those examined to date, three males (out of six examined) were mature on capture and had the potential to spawn in the wild and impact the genetic integrity of native salmon stock.

IFI is assessing the risk to wild salmon stocks associated with these escapes in the various catchments which are already under pressure due to significant decreases in salmon runs over the last twenty years.

All fish entering the Erriff are monitored in an upstream trap allowing for the removal of farmed fish. Unfortunately, there are no such trapping facilities available on the other systems (Delphi, Kylemore, Newport, Bunowen), resulting in free access to these catchments.

IFI staff will continue to monitor the situation, but warn it will be extremely difficult to assess the exact numbers of escapees potentially running the river systems without having appropriate information on escapes from any affected farms.