Wild salmon at risk

Wild salmon at risk
File photo

Now cheap compared to prices once charged, salmon will be on many tables over Christmas. It will be almost all farmed salmon which is being produced internationally in vast quantities, while the endangered, wild salmon is available only in relatively tiny amounts because of its decline and protection measures in recent decades.

We’re constantly listening to warnings about the perilous state of the wild Atlantic salmon, so any glimmer of good news is always welcome. An estimated 240,000 Atlantic salmon returned to Irish shores last year, according to Inland Fisheries Ireland.

That was part of the salmon’s natural migration and we’re told represented the healthy condition of Irish river stocks.

Not everyone would agree: water quality in many rivers and lakes is still poor, as any angler can testify.

Putting the situation in perspective, there has been a 70% drop in the number of returning salmon. In the 1970s, numbers peaked at 1.8 million. In a bid to save stocks, drift-netting at sea was banned, in 2006, but that in itself has not been enough. Also, many traditional salmon fishermen took compensation in return for giving up what for many had been a way of life for generations.

A Salmon Watch conference in Galway last year, was told by Inland Fisheries Ireland chief executive Ciaran Byrne the species was in a “serious position” and various conservation measures did not seem to have worked.

Former Marine Institute scientist Ken Whelan has found climate change is contributing to an alarming increase in the numbers of wild salmon dying at sea and the stock is moving north in response to a warming ocean.

Then, there is unintended catching of salmon by trawlers; other wildlife such as seals and cormorants preying on salmon, water quality and fish farming, all cited as further reasons for the decline.

Mr Whelan has warned Ireland is among a group of southern countries where the wild salmon is threatened with extinction if high death rates at sea continue. More research is needed.

The Atlantic salmon populations in Irish waters were highlighted at the recent launch of the International Year of the Salmon, 2019.

Inland Fisheries Minister Sean Canney unveiled one of a new fleet of 12 inflatable boats for fisheries protection, especially during migration seasons along the coasts. We have over 140 freshwater systems designated as salmon rivers.

The International Year of the Salmon is a global initiative which aims to bring people together to share knowledge, raise awareness and take action on how we can ensure the survival of salmon in Ireland and the northern hemisphere.

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