Inland Fisheries Ireland report confirms presence of Farmed Atlantic Salmon in a number of rivers in Galway and Mayo

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has published a report on February 16th into the occurrence of Farmed Atlantic Salmon in the Western River Basin District which confirms the presence of escaped farmed fish in a number of rivers in the Galway and Mayo region.

IFI has not been advised of any reports, by salmon farm owners, of escapes, coinciding with the detections, to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the licensing authority for aquaculture. The reporting of escapes to DAFM are a condition of aquaculture licences. The new report by Inland Fisheries Ireland says that ‘up to five hundred escaped farmed salmon may have entered western salmon rivers during the August/September period 2017’. Furthermore, it says ‘that the presence of sexually mature farmed salmon in rivers poses a potential threat to local wild salmon populations from interbreeding and other ecological effects’.

In October 2017, the Board of Inland Fisheries Ireland issued the following statement: ‘Inland Fisheries Ireland has been charged with the protection of wild Atlantic salmon and continues to have concerns regarding the impacts of fish farms on Ireland’s precious wild fish. The licencing regime and best management practice should provide assurance to the State that controls are in place that safeguard our heritage. This does not appear to be the case in this instance. Inland Fisheries Ireland supports sustainable fish farming but cautions against the renewal and/or award of licences where conditions are not being adhered to. The Board recommends immediate strict enforcement and audit of existing licence conditions to ensure compliance and ultimately a sustainable resource for all.’

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Speaking on the publication of the new report, Dr Cathal Gallagher, Head of Research and Development, said: “While a small number of farmed salmon spawning in a catchment may not have a detectable long term effect on the wild salmon population, repeated escapes of large numbers of farmed fish have the potential to cause serious damage to vulnerable wild salmon populations. The large number of escaped farmed salmon entering into these rivers, with a high proportion of males likely to be sexually mature, presents a potential threat to local wild salmon populations. IFI will continue to monitor the situation and may need to conduct longer-term genetic studies on the impact of the presence of these farmed salmon.”

The full report is available at this link.

FAQ is below.

Where were escaped farmed salmon detected?
Escapee farmed salmon were detected in the Delphi, Erriff, Kylemore/Dawros, Newport and Bunowen rivers in counties Galway and Mayo.

Are any other areas/regions likely to be affected? How do/would we know?
Escaped farmed salmon were detected by anglers in five western rivers. It is possible that escaped farmed salmon would have also entered other smaller rivers, not fished as frequently in the western region. It would be very difficult to know if escaped salmon had entered other rivers unless detailed genetic analysis of salmon fry was undertaken in those rivers in summer 2018.

The report says IFI will “take appropriate action to minimize their influence on wild populations”. What does that mean?
IFI staff have been monitoring the five affected rivers over the winter spawning period for the presence of escaped farmed salmon which can be identified by fin damage and external characteristics. High water levels have hampered optimal monitoring but no escaped farmed salmon have been observed to date.

Is the ‘damage done’ in the rivers mentioned? Will it be impossible to isolate and catch these farmed salmon in these rivers?
It is likely that any sexually mature escaped salmon have spawned or attempted to spawn at this stage in the spawning season. The success of escaped fish spawning with wild salmon is difficult to determine and may depend on the numbers of escaped salmon relative to the wild salmon stock. High water levels have prevented optimum monitoring of rivers and no farmed fish have been observed to date. Three escaped farmed salmon have been removed from the upstream trap on the Erriff river. This trap allows all upstream migrating salmon to be monitored and any escaped fish can be removed.

What is the likely long-term impact of these famed salmon in our rivers?
Some farmed salmon may have spawned over the winter period but the long-term effect will depend on the numbers of escaped fish spawning and the relative numbers of wild salmon present. A small number of farmed fish spawning may not have a detectable long-term effect. However, research in Norway has shown that the greatest effect of escaped farmed salmon in rivers is repeat escapes during a number of spawning seasons where the numbers of escaped salmon are high relative to the number of wild salmon present. Long-term genetic impacts on wild salmon have been demonstrated in such rivers due to interbreeding. Competition of escaped salmon progeny and hybrids with wild salmon is also a long-term negative effect. Research has shown that interaction of farm with wild salmon results in lowered fitness, with repeated escapes causing cumulative fitness depression and potentially an extinction vortex in vulnerable wild salmon populations.

IFI is “monitoring” the situation. What does that entail?
IFI staff have been conducting patrols on rivers during the salmon spawning season to look for the presence of escaped farmed salmon. The upstream trap on the Erriff river is monitored for the presence of escaped salmon. Fish counters and cameras on the Bunowen, Culfin and Dawros rivers are monitored for salmon run patterns and the presence of farmed salmon.

The report says IFI will “take appropriate action to minimize their influence on wild populations”. What does that mean? Can more be done?
Any farmed salmon encountered will be removed where possible to prevent interference / interbreeding with wild salmon stocks.

By Paul O’Mahony

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