‘Catastrophic decline’ in numbers of wild salmon returning to Ireland

Inland Fisheries Ireland to spend €110m on removing barriers to fish

There has been a “catastrophic” collapse in the numbers of wild salmon in Irish rivers and lakes, Inland Fisheries Ireland has told TDs and Senators.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), which has responsibility for the protection of inland fisheries and sea angling resources, said wild salmon numbers returning to Ireland dropped from 1.76 million in 1975 to just 171,700 in 2022.

Dr Cathal Gallagher, the deputy chief executive of the authority, told the Oireachtas Committee on Public Accounts that “this is catastrophic decline” in the time frame involved. He said European eel numbers had also declined dramatically.

Dr Gallagher said the organisation is to spend €110 million on removing barriers to migrating fish. The programme is to start this year and to run until 2027.


Barriers are anything that might stop a fish from migrating or slow it down on the way upriver. They include weirs, bridges, culverts, a build-up of debris and hydroelectricity generating stations.

Dr Gallagher said in June the organisation will, on behalf of the State, host a weeklong international event focused on the plight of salmon in partnership with the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation.

In addition, Dr Gallagher said the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland had recently approved the sale of Aasleagh cottages in Co Mayo, part of the Aasleagh Lodge and cottages complex which offered accommodation and training to fishers.

The organisation will retain Aasleagh Lodge for use as an international research hub for the National Salmonid Index Catchment and to provide a training and education centre for the organisation.

Dr Gallagher called for “a significant review” of the fines associated with wildlife, water quality, and habitat destruction to deter those involved and to promote sustainability. He also said serious consideration must be given to expanding the powers of authorised officers from various agencies to enforce environmental and wildlife legislation in a wider context.

Dr Gallagher acknowledged Inland Fisheries Ireland had “a very difficult time during the last few years” as reported to the committee by the Comptroller and Auditor General. He said “we are leading and managing extensive change to systematically reform IFI”.

In his report to the committee the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said he had previously drawn attention to a number of issues in his report for the year 2002, published in November 2023. Among the concerns highlighted by Mr McCarthy were the utilisation of Aasleagh Lodge and cottages in the period from August 2014 to July 2022; the withdrawal of prosecutions initiated by the authority on legal advice and a number of disclosures which were made in 2021 and 2022 to the Department of the Environment and to IFI.

Separately, he said “my office is further examining a number of control and value-for-money issues in IFI, and I expect to present a report on significant findings from that work in due course”.

Deputy Catherine Murphy said one of the withdrawn prosecutions had related to a fish kill in the Rye river in the Leixlip, Co Kildare, area. She said 500 wild trout stock and other fish were killed. She said when the fish kill happened people wanted “immediate consequences”, and it was very difficult for those who nurtured the fish stocks to have confidence in the authority. “It will take years for that river to recover,” she said.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist