Project turns spotlight on sea trout

ANGLERS are being asked to take part in a project which aims to piece together the life story of the fascinating sea trout, a fish about which not that much is known.

The sea trout and the brown trout are very similar, except for one important difference: whilst the brown trout is largely a freshwater fish confined to rivers and lakes, the sea trout migrates to the ocean for much of its life and returns to freshwater only to spawn.

Because of research carried out over many years, much more is known, for example, about the salmon which can live for up to four years. However, it is believed a sea trout can survive for 12 years and might spawn six to eight times.

The Celtic Sea Trout Programme is a cross-border venture involving government agencies, international partners from Scotland, England, Wales and the Central Fisheries Board which are working with people on the grounds, especially anglers.

It’s all about understanding the sea trout and its life cycle on both sides of the Irish Sea, Dr Willie Roche, a senior research officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland, explained.

“’When dealing with the sea trout, you’re talking about something more complex than the salmon, which makes the project so interesting,” he said.

Nobody knows the exact sea trout population, but it is reckoned more than 20,000 are caught each year. What sea trout we have are all wild fish as there is no sea trout farming in this country.

Anglers are being asked to send in scales from each sea trout caught in the sea, or any river, between Strangford Lough, in Northern Ireland, and Waterville, Co Kerry. It is hoped to get 200 sets of scales from each of nine priority rivers over a two-year period. Those rivers include the Boyne, the Slaney, the Argideen and Bandon, both in Co Cork, the Colligan, in Co Waterford, and Lough Currane, in Waterville, to name some.

Waterville, for instance, is an internationally famous sea trout fishery, with celebrities such as top golfer Tiger Woods and the legendary silent movie star Charlie Chaplin taking on the challenge with rod and line.

Concerns have been raised about the effects of sea lice emanating from fish farms along the west coast on sea trout, amid reports that large numbers of sea trout have been wiped out over the years by sea lice infestation. This continues to be issue.

The aims of the project are to examine sea trout life history, stock structures, how it lives in the wild and relates to other creatures, distribution, marine ecology. Research could also show the sea trout as a useful barometer of climate change.

Sea trout stocks support important and valuable rod fisheries in rivers and are of significant conservation value. Little is known about the distribution and mixing of sea trout at sea. Very little is known about the environmental conditions sea trout experience at sea. or its response in terms of feeding, growth, survival, maturity and the impact of environmental change in fresh water and at sea in their habitats.

The Celtic Sea Trout Project aims to:

* To understand and describe sea trout stocks in the Irish Sea and to enhance the fishery.

* To explore sea trout life history variation as a tool to detect and understand the effects of climate change.

There are major unanswered questions in the understanding of sea trout, namely:

* Where do they go at sea and how are their stocks structured and interlinked?

* What is their pattern of feeding, growth, survival and life history variation?

* What environmental and other pressures are they exposed to?

* How do their life histories respond to environmental variation?

Sea trout fisheries in parts of western Britain, including the Irish Sea, are suffering decline, but the pattern is mixed and, in most cases, the causes of change and, thus, the solutions are poorly understood.

“’So we need answers to the question outlined above,” remarked Dr Roche. “The project intends to provide this missing knowledge and to translate it into fishery and conservation benefits for countries bordering the Irish Sea.”

The €2 million project was launched at Coillte’s Avondale House, in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and is mainly funded by the Wales – Ireland Interreg programme. The hope is that Inland Fisheries Ireland will work closely with anglers, fishery owners, netsmen, inshore and offshore marine fishermen and agencies on both sides of the Irish Sea to help ensuring sustainable sea trout fisheries. The overall project aims to further the conservation of sea trout and to have better management of sea trout stocks in their freshwater and marine environments.

* For further information on the project please log on to: www.celticseatrout.com.


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