There were 31 separate fish kills across the country in 2016, with eight of these directly attributable to agricultural activities, three of which were in Co Cork alone. Other incidents occurred in Meath, Kilkenny, Kerry, Sligo, and Galway.
According to Inland Fisheries Ireland, fish killed in these incidents included brown trout, eel, Atlantic salmon, stone loach, and stickleback.
Two of the fish kills were as a result of municipal works and one by industrial works. In four instances, the exact cause of the fish kill could not be pinpointed, while 16 fish kills were as a result of disease and natural causes.
The warning comes at an extremely busy time of the year for farms, typically revolving around silage cutting and the spreading of manure and fertiliser.
Inland Fisheries Ireland said silage effluent had the potential to cause devastating pollution in streams and rivers, starving fish, and invertebrate life of oxygen, resulting in potentially massive fish kills if it enters a watercourse. It said that the problem was exacerbated by some rivers lying low during summer with little dilution capacity, increasing the damaging effects of even a small leak of effluent.
Inland Fisheries Ireland advised farmers to follow six steps to reduce the risk of polluting: Use round bales; in cases where a silage pit is being used, ensure it is properly sealed to prevent leakage; ensure slurry spreading is only done in dry weather and never when heavy rain is forecast; avoid slurry spreading close to a watercourse; no cleaning of tanks beside a watercourse, stream or a river; prevent effluent or washings to enter any rainwater gully.
Greg Forde, head of operations at Inland Fisheries Ireland, thanked the farming community for its continued consideration and vigilance, adding that good farmyard management can go a long way to preventing accidental runs of polluting substances.
However, the chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) environment committee, Thomas Cooney, called for State agencies, such as Inland Fisheries Ireland, to work with farmers in the ongoing efforts to safeguard the aquatic environment.
As the IFA prepared its submission for the Department of Local Government’s future water planning consultation, Mr Cooney said: “The plethora of agencies that duplicate the water monitoring and evaluation roles must end. Agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Local Government, local authorities, the EPA, and Inland Fisheries Ireland must work with farmers to develop a better balance between enforcement activities and supporting long-term compliance.
“Strong enforcement may make headlines, but the reality is it reduces farm incomes and fails to build community capacity to understand why the water quality issues arose firstly and then the corrective actions required to make long-term changes”.
He said Inland Fisheries Ireland could better advise farmers by publishing national maps of spawning grounds and ensure that farmers are aware of them.