The agency, which is responsible for the conservation, protection and management of Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources, confirmed yesterday that 65 farmed salmon have been caught in rivers in Galway and Mayo in recent weeks, despite no escapes being reported by salmon farm owners to the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, the licensing authority.
Salmon farm operators are obliged, as one of the conditions of their license to operate, to report all escapes to the department.
IFI said the farmed salmon were caught in the rivers Delphi, Erriff, Kylemore/Dawros, Newport, and Bunowen. However, the agency, which has been monitoring the situation in the river systems since August, said the department confirmed it has received no reports of escapes in the region.
The IFI said its scientists are still assessing the risk posed by the presence of farmed salmon in the rivers to their wild salmon stocks which are already under pressure due to significant decreases in salmon runs over the last 20-years.
The IFI board called yesterday for improved compliance and enforcement, and for a full audit of existing salmon farm licence holders.
“IFI have been charged with the protection of wild Atlantic salmon and continue to have concerns regarding the impacts of fish farms on Ireland’s precious wild fish,” said the IFI.
“The licensing regime and best management practice should provide assurance to the State that controls are in place that safeguard our heritage. This does not appear to be the case in this instance. IFI supports sustainable fish farming but cautions against the renewal and/or award of licences where conditions are not being adhered to.”
The 65 farmed salmon identified were caught by anglers who generally only encounter a small number of salmon in a river. As a result, the scale of the escape has not yet fully determined.
Scientists are still analysing the captured fish in an effort to identify their history and maturity status.
Of those examined so far, three of six males were mature on capture and had the potential to spawn in the wild and impact the genetic integrity of native salmon stock.
All fish entering the Erriff are monitored in an upstream trap which allows for the removal of farmed fish but there are no trapping facilities on the Delphi, Kylemore, Newport, and Bunowen systems.
IFI said despite the lack of information on salmon farm escapes, its staff will continue to monitor the affected river systems.
Meanwhile, a delegation of trout anglers from the west of Ireland is due to meet top EU officials in Brussels tomorrow to discuss pike control in western fisheries.
They say the eco-systems of Irish wild brown trout fisheries at Loughs Corrib and Rea in Galway, Mask, Carra, Conn and Cullin in Mayo, Arrow in Sligo/Roscommon, and Sheelin in Westmeath, Meath, Cavan and Longford are under serious threat from predator pike. Martin Kinneavy, chairman of the Connacht Angling Council, said they want an immediate pike cull.