The sight of hundreds of dead fish, killed by pollution, has always angered us. Caused by human activity, it shows contempt for water, wildlife, and amenities used by the public, writes Donal Hickey.
Fish were regularly poisoned by toxic substances which were discharged to water by industry; slurry and fertiliser from farms; sewage from council works, runoff from forestry and other sources. The situation had improved since the 1990s, so one of the many worrying aspects of the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water-quality report is an increase in fishkills.
The report for the years 2010-2015 — which highlights a lack of progress in meeting EU water-quality targets — reveals 97 kills were reported in the five years, up by 27 from the previous period. Anglers, in particular, will recall a time in the late 1980s when fishkills reached epidemic proportions. However, there was a big improvement in subsequent decades, due to better industrial practices, effluent treatment systems and farm regulations on waste disposal.
The EPA now says there could be many reasons for the increase in kills, including
extended dry spells and floods, with agriculture being the cause of 23% of incidents, industry 11%, and local authorities 10%.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has expressed its disappointment at the findings, but its chief executive Ciaran Byrne cautioned against singling out any particular sector for blame and agreed with the EPA’s findings that multiple factors are at play.
Of the 31 fishkills last year, in four instances the exact cause of the kill was not found, while 16 incidents were as a result of disease and natural causes. The IFI carried out over 22,000 environmental inspections, in 2016, in industrial, forestry, engineering, water treatment, farmyards and windfarms sites to help identify any risks and prevent damage to the local water habitat.
As well as being a popular recreation for tens of thousands of people, who also regard themselves as conservationists, angling is luring more tourists and supports up to 12,000 jobs. However, angling depends on good water to support stocks. Most rivers and lakes in Europe are stocked with adult fish and Ireland is one of the few countries with wild brown trout angling is available. And anglers are prepared to come here for the thrill of landing such fish in their natural environment.
Much is made of our clean, green image and its importance to the food and tourism industries, especially, but this could be undermined unless our water quality improves.
Meanwhile, farm and domestic sewage discharges are the main reasons why Ireland will not meet its objectives under the EU Water Framework Directive, says the EPA.
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