Pollution rather than fish farms having greatest impact on wild salmon, report says

Marine Institute study finds rivers near fish farm cages have healthiest stocks

Pollution rather than fish farming is having the greatest impact on Irish wild salmon stocks, Marine Institute researchers have found. Photograph: Getty Images

Pollution rather than fish farming is having the greatest impact on Irish wild salmon stocks, Marine Institute researchers have found.

A Marine Institute-led paper says there is “no evidence of any negative impact of aquaculture” on wild salmon stocks here, and river catchments which have salmon cages close to their estuaries are performing “best” in meeting wild salmon conservation limits.

The findings, which record a "steady and sustained improvement in the overall status of Irish salmon stocks", have been published in the peer-reviewed international Agricultural Sciences scientific journal.

The research team, led by Marine Institute scientist David Jackson, analysed the reports of the Government's standing scientific committee on the status of Irish salmon stocks, submitted to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.


This data shows that conservation limits are being met on many Irish salmon rivers, and the rivers on the west coast are recovering better than elsewhere.

“There is no relationship between the presence of salmon farms and difficulties with rivers meeting their conservation limits,” the paper says, and it refers to previous studies which “point to the fact of sea lice not being a factor in declining marine survival of wild salmon”.

Fish farm escapees are also at a “low level” and “contribute little to spawning stocks” of the wild fish, the paper says.

It says that quality of the freshwater habitat may be a “key driver” in affecting wild salmon stock survival, with east coast rivers most seriously affected.

The study notes also that the controversial conservation measures introduced in 2007 are contributing to stock recovery in a period of “low marine survival”.

These measures included banning drift netting for salmon offshore, closing certain rivers and introduction of by-laws limiting catches and restricting angling for Spring salmon.

The Marine Institute has already undertaken a nine-year study of impact of sea lice on wild salmon, and has found that it was negligible in terms of overall marine mortality. The analysis involved 352,142 salmon studied at eight locations along the south and west coasts from 2001 to 2009. Similar findings were recorded in a 12-year study in Norway.

The Irish Farmers’ Association’s aquaculture division chief executive, Richie Flynn, said the new study showed it was “time to think of coastal communities” and called for “all sides in the divisive debate to work together to create badly needed jobs and economic activity in peripheral areas”.

A 15,000-tonne organic salmon farm proposed for Galway Bay is currently before Minister for Marine Simon Coveney.

However, environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) says it has lodged a request for "redress of maladministration" by Mr Coveney's department, claiming that his department "knowingly misled the European Commission in its investigation of sea lice and wild salmon".

This request is the first step in bringing a case for maladministration to the Ombudsman.

FIE says that a complaint lodged by Salmon Watch Ireland with the European Commission on the sea lice issue was dismissed in 2012.

It says that the European Commission made its decision without having received a report specifically requested from the agency responsible for game fisheries, the Department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources, as informed by Inland Fisheries Ireland.

'We are seeking to have the European Commission investigation reopened,"FIE director Tony Lowes said.

“ We are also asking that plans for expansion of the fish farm industry be postponed until a Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report is prepared of the 2014 - 2019 National Development Plans Seafood Operational Programe.”

“The document prepared for NDP 2007-2013 led to an agreement to postpone increased targets for farmed salmon until the sea lice issue was resolved,”Mr Lowes said.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

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