Fears have been expressed that one of the country’s best known angling rivers could soon be devoid of salmon and cost the economy millions of euro in lost revenue.
The concern was expressed after a government department refused to fund work to repair important weirs and fish paths.
The upstream and downstream weirs adjacent to the bridge crossing the River Blackwater in Fermoy town centre have been described as dysfunctional by politicians, anglers, and rowers.
The county council has said such repairs will cost in the region of €2.2m to address the upgrade of the two weirs and to put in a proper ‘fish pass’ so salmon in particular can swim upstream to the traditional spawning grounds.
The local authority can’t afford to fix the problems. Repeated calls for aid from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment have fallen on deaf ears.
Fermoy-based Fianna Fáil councillor Frank O’Flynn described the department’s response as “very disappointing” and warned the work must be carried out to meet fisheries and environmental obligations and EU habitats directives.
“Neither the county council or local municipal district have this money,” said Mr O’Flynn.
“The impact is long-term salmon fish stocks are under threat in the river if these works do not go ahead and the council is at risk of being fined for contravening fisheries and environmental obligations and EU habitats directives.”
However, temporary repairs costing around €40,000 are to be carried out to the weir downstream of the bridge between mid- August and September, which are being funded by the cash-strapped municipal authority.
Tommy Lawton, a spokesman for Fermoy Game Fishing Association, said the absence of a fish pass during what is becoming an increasingly low river is a huge issue.
“During the flood works a couple of years ago, piles were driven at the side of the existing fish pass so that the salmon had some chance of getting up the river, but this was only always to be a temporary fix until a new fish pass was constructed,” he said.
“There is an additional problem with the weir down river by the garda station, and where it has been breached is at least 20 feet long by 18 inches deep, as the top of the weir has been broken off. The weir itself is in danger of total collapse and probably will if left much longer.
“The problem now is with all the water coming down the weir at this breach. The fish pass itself is as good as dry. This is leaving all the salmon trapped in a small pool under the weir where the breach is, as they cannot move up river here or move up the fish pass because it is almost dry.”
John Murphy, a former mayor of the town and vice life-president of the local rowing club, said he had never seen the river so low in more than 50 years.
Salmon are virtually trapped in a pool on the eastern side of the bridge.
“Salmon cannot get up over the weir as a result of this,” said Mr Murphy. “If they can’t get upriver to spawn, it will be the deathknell for salmon angling on the River Blackwater.
“The river has gone so low as a result that we [in the rowing club] had to purchase two floating pontoons because there was too steep a drop and this was damaging our boats.”
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