Angling Notes: Conference told Irish Salmon stocks resilient and well managed
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White (left) and Niall Greene, chair of Salmon Watch Ireland, at the annual salmon conference in Dublin.
Rights to salmon fishing were enshrined in the Brehon Laws – a uniquely Irish legal system that existed during medieval times. The ancient law allowed the taking of salmon from any place which were due equally to every person, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White, told a gathering of salmon enthusiasts, last weekend.
The Minister was speaking at the official opening of the annual Salmon Watch conference in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin 4. This year’s topic centered on “hatcheries and stocking – have they a role in restoring salmon stocks?”
Salmon Watch Ireland (Swirl) brought together some very eminent speakers to explore the pros and cons of stocking. These included Dr David Solomon, salmon consultant; Dr Michael Millane (IFI); Prof Carlos Garcia de Leaniz (University of Swansea); Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith, OBE (Wye and Usk) and Prof Ken Whelan (AST).
The fishermen were arrested after their boat was rammed by the patrol of the Erne Fishery Company, which owned the fishing rights. The purpose of this escapade was not to catch fish, but to create the conditions for a legal challenge over ownership of fishing rights.
In landmark judgments in the 1930s and 1940s, the Irish courts drew on the evidence of Brehon Law for their interpretation of fishing rights in Irish inland waters.
“This story demonstrates that Ireland was among the first countries in the world to enshrine rights to salmon in law,” the minister said.
Irish Government policy has moved towards careful consideration of proposals for stocking of hatchery fish. Scientific advice tells us there are significant genetic and ecological concerns when the progeny of wild salmon, reared in a hatchery environment, are released back into the wild.
Ireland applies the precautionary approach set out in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation guidelines on any proposed stocking of hatchery-reared Atlantic salmon in the wild.
Stocking introduces new genetic material into a river system and Ireland’s policy is based on best practice, and set within the priority that the protection of the diversity of native populations is paramount.
Stocking requests are, therefore, considered in the context of EU legislation, biodiversity considerations and best scientific advice.
More recent considerations include the fact that restocking of non-native salmonids can be detrimental to freshwater pearl mussel, which is a protected species included in Annex 2 and 5 of the EU Habitats Directive.
In his address, Dr Solomon said that many of the calls for restocking programmes are based on the perception that “things aren’t what they used to be”. There is a widespread feeling that stocks that remain are dwindling fast and incapable of recovering without help from hatcheries.
However, Dr Solomon maintains that stocks are resilient and in general are being well managed. It hasn’t always been the case, things like poor water quality, bad drainage practice did not help, but generally speaking things like that are not happening now and we are doing a good job to put things right.
The fact that the Irish government has closed down many fisheries and introduced catch and release shows good management and needs to be applauded. There are more salmon spawning in British Isles now than in the past 200 years, he said.
In this context, the concept to produce hatchery salmon “incapable of reproducing”, allays the fear of cross-breeding and a hybrid situation. The idea of releasing smolts from Delphi to sea, beyond the cages in Killary Bay, is also good practice.
More on Swirl seminar next week