Byrne Looby Partners Water Services Ltd, Rivus Ltd, and Wills Bros Ltd, are being prosecuted by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) over an alleged incident on May 10, 2017, during work on the Bandon flood relief scheme in Co Cork.
All three companies face two charges under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 as amended, of injuring or disturbing a spawning bed, bank of shallow where the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or ells may be, and of injuring or disturbing the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or eels.
One IFI witness estimated the number of fish killed as being as high as 400, although a subsequent meeting shortly after the incident heard a lower estimate, including an estimated 30 salmon fry.
The three defendants are contesting the charges.
Bandon District Court heard that two IFI officers observed how a new haul road used for the project crossing the river had, on May 10 last, created at a spot called Rough Hoole a separate pool of water away from the main river, and that when they observed the scene at 3.30pm this area appeared to have been dewatered. Officers Sean Cremin and Dermot Long said fish had been killed, with Mr Cremin estimating as many as 400 and Mr Long telling the court it could have been 200, including salmon and trout.
Both, along with Michael McPartland, lead IFI investigator, suggested the area should have been electro-fished beforehand, stunning the fish present so they could be safely relocated.
However, legal representatives of the companies, in denying the charges, questioned the estimates as to the number of fish killed.
The court heard from a solicitor for Rivus that there had been little option but the build the haul road as it was because it had to obviate a fishing pier and Japanese knotweed, meaning it could not stay tightly adjacent to the river at all points.
Tom Power, defending Wills Bros, said the pooled area had experienced a sudden loss of water from 2.30pm. He said gravel had been excavated for the haul road, while dredging was also taking place 50m upstream. Water levels had been properly maintained and an assessment made that there was no immediate risk to fish, with a fish rescue operation due to take place. But, he said, the “upstream cut met the downstream dredge channel”, leading to a very sudden loss of water. He said a bank had eroded, which meant water draining from the pooled area into the river, leaving fish stranded.
The matter will be mentioned in court on March 2 at which point a day may be set for the hearing to continue.