Action sought to save Corrib fishery


LOUGH Corrib is in danger of losing its status as a first class location for brown trout and salmon, according to a report to be made public today.

The lake, renowned as one of Europe's leading game fishing venues, is said to be under severe environmental strain.

The report, commissioned by Lough Corrib Angling Federation and carried out by the London based environmental scientist, Dr Roderick O'Sullivan, rejects "the official consensus that the lake is in excellent condition."

A detailed survey was carried out at 31 sites around the lake over four months during 1995. Pollutants - 80 per cent of which are coming from agricultural sources and 20 per cent from poorly treated/untreated human sewage - are enriching the water and are responsible for most damage.

The report has serious implications for the public as the lake system is a major source of the water supply to Galway city and county, and parts of Mayo.

The damage is concentrated on the lakeshore and in tributaries. Leachate from Galway city dump and increased forestry in adjoining areas are compounding the problem.

"Unless legislative and administrative remedial action is taken with the utmost urgency," the report states, "this decline will continue to a stage when the lower lake may cease to provide either first class trout and salmon fishing or remain attractive to tourists."

Thirteen brown trout fisheries are classified as "of European importance" by the EU. Of those 12 are in Ireland, with Lough Corrib being the most important.

"While appreciating there will always be a greater demand for services than the budget available, Government environmental protection and monitoring programmes operating on the lake amount to little more than a policy of supervised neglect," the report says.

The Western Regional Fisheries Board began an EU funded development programme during 1996. This includes increased monitoring.

Previous investigations of the region's lakes yielded important recommendations which were not acted upon, Dr O'Sullivan concludes.

"In spite of having recourse to State fish biologists and, fishery specialists of the highest international calibre, most of these proposals were ignored." Remedial steps should have been taken to years ago, he says.

Many sites around the lake failed to comply with EU Salmonid Water Regulations although mid lake samples were very good". These breaches, notably relating to oxygen factors, need immediate attention, he warns.

On the upper lake, once popular fishing bays/inlets are often deserted during the fishing season. "Once prolific fishing stretches on the lower lake no longer appear to support trout populations while previously clean, rocky bottomed sections are covered in silt."

The Minister for the Environment has warned that a chemical balancing of waters by phosphate and nitrate wastes - and the resulting process known as eutrophication - is the greatest threat to Irish lakes. Despite this no overall State policy exists to counteract an unprecedented rise in the pollution of such waterways, the report claims.

It says much of the west of Ireland landscape has undergone dramatic changes within a short period. The most dramatic of these has been a multiplying of livestock numbers and wastes.

In addition the spreading of more slurry and fertilisers on land and massively increased silage production are all adding to the strain on its waters.

The overall level of sewage treatment throughout the catchment area is poor it notes Many communities use old communal septic tanks which are seldom inspected or serviced. Tanks used by hotels and small communities are regularly overloaded, resulting in increasing Corrib bound wastes.

Although local authorities are insufficiently funded, evidence suggests that treatment and disposal of sewage in the Corrib catchment area is of low priority for both Galway and Mayo County Councils, the report states.

"This lends further weight to the claim that the most consistent and persistent polluters of waterways in Ireland and Britain are the very municipal authorities whose specific remit is to prevent or at least ameliorate such pollution."

Among the report's recommendations are the installation of "phosphate stripping facilities" in sewage treatment plants the designation of tributaries as "EU Salmonid Waters"; and a major evaluation of agricultural waste disposal options in Ireland.

Lands adjoining important lakes in the region should be set aside in the interests of environmental protection. To ensure long term protection, the entire system should be assigned National Park status or designated and protected by "enforceable and enforced regulations".