Salmon Leaping For Their Survival
February 1, 2005
Release from: Diarmaid Fleming
BBC Northern Ireland
The salmon is now one of Ireland's
rarest fish, but in one of the Republic's rivers they could become
rarer still. Salmon on the River Nore in County Kilkenny have
been prevented from swimming upstream to spawning grounds, blocked by
a new weir, built as part of a flood prevention scheme.
It is called a "fish pass", but for the salmon supposed to
use it in one of Ireland's most famous rivers, it is been more of a
barrier. The sight of salmon leaping in the River Nore usually
brings delight to the people of Kilkenny. They are proud of the rich
environmental jewel running through their city, but also the sporting
heritage it bestows, bringing anglers like leading golfer Tiger Woods
in search of the prized salmon who swim through its waters. But
this year, the sight of hundreds of fish leaping at the new weir has
brought dismay. Hurtling in vain against the weir at the
beginning of January, fish tried desperately to leap the weir,
returning home to their native river to spawn after thousands of miles
For some, it was to be the end of their journey - for having survived
predators, trawlers, drift-nets, poachers and anglers - a man-made
weir was to prove their end. Fish who did not make it were found dead
downstream. Installed as part of a £33m flood protection scheme
in a new weir in Kilkenny city, the new fish pass on the River Nore
only appears to work when the river level is unusually high. The
pass is like a channel in the weir, with a shallower slope and
designed to slow the current to help the fish swim upstream.
Brian Sheerin, chief executive of the Southern Regional Fisheries
Board, said as part of the flood protection scheme, the weir was taken
out and replaced with a fish pass designed into it. "But
unfortunately the bottom rungs of the fish pass don't extend into the
water at low level or average low level," he said. "So
therefore, it's like the stairs in your house - the two bottom rungs
are missing and you have to step up. That's what the salmon have to do
and they have a difficulty doing that." Fish can pass
through when water levels are high - but this also means that repair
works to add new rungs to the bottom of the pass cannot be done as it
is too dangerous to work.
'Disastrous for salmon stocks'
Anglers are furious. Local salmon fly-fisherman Jim Brown - who moved
from Scotland to Kilkenny almost 20 years ago because the fishing on
the Nore was even better than home - said he would never forget the
sight of the fish leaping in futile desperation at the pass.
"I was sick to see those beautiful creatures that swim 3,000
miles down past the west cost of Scotland all the way round to Ireland
to come up our river, stuck at a man-made dam, bashing their heads
against the rocks. "It's a sickening sight to see those
beautiful creatures struggling, I really feel gutted about it."
Other fisheries experts say impeding the fish could be disastrous for
the salmon stocks. Bob Wemyss of the South East Salmon
Federation said: "The scientists have told us that less then 30%
of the fish needed to maintain salmon stocks are coming to the river
Nore. "Now that they have found this impassable barrier, it
can only make things worse."
It's become a hot local political issue too. Kilkenny mayor Martin
Brett said: "We in Kilkennny have a very good tourist industry
here based on fishing and we need the situation alleviated as soon as
possible. "I'm not interested in who fixes it - all I know
is that it has to be fixed."
Who is to blame for the debacle has yet to be determined. The
state's Office of Public Works carried out the project and
investigations are ongoing to see if the design was at fault, or if
the pass was not installed or built correctly.
Irish mythology tells the story of Fionn MacCumhaill who was bestowed
with superhuman wisdom having tasted the Salmon of Knowledge, a fish
giving anyone who caught and ate it such powers. The people of
Kilkenny may feel a few portions could come in handy in the sandwiches
of those responsible for the pass the fish could not pass.