The late English poet laureate Ted Hughes described salmon as “sensitive glands in the vast, dishevelled body of nature, as individual meteorological stations responding to rain, storm, and wind”. He also believed salmon-fishing heightened one’s awareness and consciousness.
Those of us who have spent a lifetime fishing salmon and sea trout on the Feale river can agree with those sentiments. The demise of wild Atlantic salmon is well-documented and the contributing factors are many and varied.
The latest threat to this magnificent fish, and this beautiful river, is the persistent level of the pesticide MCPA, which has been entering the river since at least 2013. MCPA, a toxic substance, poses a huge threat to the survival of juvenile salmon: ie, smolt and parr, in the Feale.
Wild Atlantic salmon are protected by EU habitat directive (92/43/EEC), but it is useless without enforcement. Mount Collins/Brosna Anglers’ Association has documentation that shows persistent pesticide failures at 15 sampling stations on the Feale, between Rockchapel and Abbeyfeale.
During the years 2015 to 2018, the Abbeyfeale public water supply (sourced from the Feale) had pesticide levels of .65mcg per litre, or six times higher than the EU-permitted parametric limit of .10mcg per litre. The European (drinking water) Regulations 2014 (S.I. 122 of 2014) (as amended) set out the parametric limits for pesticides in drinking water.
These regulations are now being breached regularly and enforcement is non-existent. Government agencies profess to care for the environment and yet they show, by their inaction, a disregard for salmonid fisheries, such as the Feale.
Why are the statutory bodies empowered to protect these habitats unable, or unwilling, to enforce these directives? Do special areas of conservation mean anything? We, as salmon anglers, are aware that pesticide contamination can destroy the food supply in a salmonid fishery where smolt and parr feed on stoneflies, caddis flies, and mayflies.
A paper published by The Centre for Environmental Research and The Department of Agronomy, at Cornell University, stated that the liver, kidney, brain, and gills of exposed fish are extremely vulnerable to chemicals.
It also states that causatively linking pesticides to harm to fish can be difficult, because fish are highly mobile and the effects may not show until much later in life.
As wild Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish, which live at sea and breed in fresh water, it will be difficult to uphold a scientific evaluation of the damage done to this magnificient fish, and this beautiful river, by the careless use of MCPA, which is deployed regularly by landowners to control weeds.
It would be a tragedy if it is allowed to continue to destroy the Feale, a wonderful natural resource that is also the source of public drinking water for west Limerick and north Kerry.
PRO Mountcollins/Brosna Anglers
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 22 June 2019.