Climate change demands ‘national effort’ to protect Atlantic wild salmon

‘River trust’ model an option as part of proposed ‘conservation commission’

Climate change impacts on Atlantic wild salmon are so severe that a "co-ordinated national effort" is required to protect the stock, according to Salmon Watch Ireland (SWIRL).

The non-governmental organisation, which is dedicated to conservation and “restoration to abundance” of wild salmon, has called on the Government to establish a national salmon conservation commission to deal with what it describes as a “crisis” in stock levels.

Changes in weather patterns including flash flooding and an increase in water temperatures is already affecting spawning areas, SWIRL chairman Niall Greene said at the organisation's conference in Galway at the weekend.

He acknowledged that river pollution and inadequate sewage treatment was also having a long term impact, but stated that poor siting and management of fish farms, inadequate nursery areas in rivers, river barriers such as weirs and dams and intensive forestry in upland areas were key factors contributing to rapid decline.


Only 57 of Ireland’s 146 salmon-bearing river systems were deemed sufficiently productive to be allocated quotas for exploitation this year, he said.

A salmon conservation commission would co-ordinate a national effort to protect the stock, responsibility for which is shared among several State departments and agencies, his organisation says.

“We can do nothing about what is happening with climate change at sea, but at least if we can improve management practices in rivers to ensure salmonids are robust it will be a positive step,”Mr Greene said.

This “may not be a question of money”, but about wise allocation of existing resources, he noted. The “river trust” model in Britain, also established on several systems here, could provide an opportunity for greater co-operation between agencies and communities, he said.

SWIRL, a limited company which previously campaigned for a ban on driftnetting of salmon, is opposed to Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s (BIM) plans for a 15,000 tonne organic fish farm in Galway Bay.

It was one of two groups which submitted a legal complaint to the European Commission in 2009 contending that salmon farms in Ireland were in breach of the EU Habitats Directive as currently regulated and operated due to the impact of sea lice from fish farms on migrating juvenile salmon.

The European Commission recently closed the file for a second time - a move welcomed by BIM.

However, Mr Greene said that BIM was “over the top” in its reaction, in stating that Ireland now had “no case to answer”.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times