Collaborating for the common good; Saving Ireland’s Salmon: Channels and Challenges.(November 2006)



There has been much discussion about rapidly disappearing salmon stocks in Ireland, her seas, and in the Atlantic Ocean. Traditional nets men and anglers have had to answer difficult questions about their role in conserving stocks for a better future and their responsibility for that future. Some think the stocks are healthy and that they are being unfairly targeted. However there is much evidence, pointing to an acute crisis for wild Atlantic Salmon.  

Anglers and traditional nets men have one thing in common. A desire to catch salmon in future years.  

What can we do?

Rivers are all unique, and will have greater or less spawning and nursery habitat available. The Central Fisheries board published a report in 2003 “Quantification of the Freshwater Salmon Habitat Asset in Ireland”. This gives the total river (Fluvial) habitat and lake (Lucastrine) habitat available to salmon in freshwater. It is an excellent survey and showed that 50 % of the total freshwater river habitat potentially available to salmon in Ireland comes from only 9 rivers. These are the  Suir, Blackwater, Moy, Nore, Boyne, Barrow, Slaney,Corrib ,Shannon. Catch returns indicate the angling catch on these once great rivers are severely compromised. There are hardly any salmon running these rivers and the runs into smaller rivers that make up the other 50% are also diminished. Salmon which do manage to run are often net marked or too small to be caught by net. Only two anglers in 2005 received awards from the “The Irish Specimen Fish Committee”, for salmon over 20 pounds, one caught in the Boyne and the other in the Lee. In the 2003 season the above mentioned rivers excluding the Moy  produced 5233 salmon to rods. On a brighter note the Moy alone produced more than all the other eight added together 6908.  However,  Ballina netting district caught  3 times that (21429); 13% of the National Irish net catch in 2003. In 2004 Ballina district caught 15 % of the nation al net catch.

Therefore, good river management contributes hugely to an excellent net catch. Additionally many of our smaller rivers which make up the other 50% of the total river habitat could be further developed to accommodate improved runs. Many of the smaller rivers have great capacity due to their unique characteristics and many can be exceptionally productive. There are many Angling Clubs dedicated to see that this happens.

Anglers, their associations and clubs, can and are, taking steps to encourage conservative exploitation and catch and release. Many anglers love their sport and give up huge amounts of time and energy to develop their sport. Supporting excellent angling practice can only be good for salmon stocks. Traditional nets men have benefited from the efforts of dedicated anglers who have a major role to play in developing the river habitat. Habitat enhancement, clear access for fish to spawning grounds, parr and smolt nursery areas, protection in rivers and estuaries, identifying and rectifying problems at sea all need to be managed and provide exciting and lucrative challenges.

Can we hear what plans the traditional netting industry can suggest to restore stocks towards a greater future abundance for wild Atlantic Salmon?

As Carol Gilbert suggested in the September edition, Salmon management should not be about transferring the resource from one sector to the other. This may be true.

Anglers,  Traditional Irish nets men, fisheries in Greenland, Faeroes and Iceland all desire a share of a once great now diminished Irish salmon resource.

Rather than fighting for resource transfer, there is more to be gained by protecting the integrity of individual salmon runs in individual river catchments. Many rivers throughout Ireland could be improved to produce more salmon for anglers and licensed nets men. However it is clear that if those who catch salmon whether by rod and line or by net do not exercise restraint and good sense there will be no resource left.

Carol Gilbert also raised the point about poachers devastating stocks of fish waiting to run on up the river. Gangs of poachers, who do not have the common good at heart, flout the common sense to plunder and destroy salmon stocks for all. Enforcement of anti poaching policies supported through collaboration from anglers licensed nets men, and the fisheries boards to prevent poaching, could go a long way to improving stocks in the short term and help secure a stronger brighter future.  

The Central Fishery Board has produced an excellent book describing how to improve the freshwater habitat for salmon and is well worth reading and may also provide some answers. “Channels and Challenges” by Dr Martin O’Grady.

We all need to recognise that by reducing our catch today we are investing in a brighter future with more abundant healthy runs of Wild Atlantic Salmon.

Yours sincerely

Brendan Kerr

19 Swanston Gardens


EH10 7DJ

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