Slaney River Trust has a 27-point plan
ENDA’S FIVE-POINT PLAN IN HA’PENNY PLACE
THROUGHOUT the recent election campaign, Enda Kenny repeatedly referred to a five-point plan. Journalists, voters and pundits alike were all advised to put their faith in the five-point plan. If he reached for the five-point plan once, he must have done it a hundred times.
Our new leader would surely doff his cap to the Slaney River Trust and their advisers, for whom a five point plan would be the smallest of small beer. Instead, they have come up with a 27-point plan, no less, to revive the majestic stream which defines the landscape of so much of Wicklow, Carlow and Wexford.
Yes, the document drawn up by fisheries expert Paul Johnston (and his esteemed Associates) presents a bundle of 27 recommended measures. It appears that, if it takes five points to breathe fresh life into an economy flattened by a banking collapse, then a task as big as the correction of an ecological recession demands something five squared plus two.
The trust is particularly concerned about the well-being of salmon stocks on the river, which have failed to thrive for the past quarter century. The Slaney may look as spectacularly beautiful as ever on a sunny spring day, splashing over the weirs on its way down to the sea between banks largely protected by their ‘special area of conservation' status. But there are problems below the glittering surface.
The disheartening decline in stocks has continued despite a ban on all draft netting of the fish in force since 2007. Anglers have also been driven away by stern edict, except under occasional strict ‘catch and release' orders. The rods were out for one summer only in 2008 and they will return in May for another few months of pure sport, with no prospect of bringing home dinner. Despite the restrictions populations that used to be numbered in thousands now scarcely register in hundreds.
The salmon is an unbelievably complicated species to monitor. The same individual may be found out and about in the broadest Atlantic or cruising confines of Ballycarney. On the way to adulthood, it goes through phases of life every bit as convoluted as the Seven Ages of Man. Scientists attempt to keep track of fry, parr, kelts, redds and smolts and grilse, to name but some.
Certainly Paul Johnston admits freely that they have not got to the bottom of, first, what the problem is and, second, how to solve it. He has little doubt but that oxygen sapping run-off from farms and homes corrodes the quality of the water in the river. Planning permission may now be devilishly difficult to obtain for houses but the past practice of allowing clusters of homes to release water into streams has to affect the big river into which they drain.
Apparently, typical Wexford soil is poor at containing effluent. At least the Bunclody now has an up-to-date sewage treatment plant to remove some of the burden of background pollution that has eroded that standard of water that looks so beautiful but which is attracting fewer salmon than ever.
Paul Johnston points out that the demand for that precious water, to fill human teapots and toilet cisterns, can only increase in years ahead. Other reasons to be fearful for the silver scaled lovelies and their sea trout cousins include the activities of poachers, global warming and the voracious appetites of predators straying up the estuary from seaside haunts. The cormorants on the Slaney are capable of feasting themselves on 64 tonnes of precious salmonoid flesh in the three months from December to February alone. Seals may be fewer in number but each one has a mighty appetite.
The embattled eco-system of a river is probably even more complicated than the recession hit economy and a return to rude good health remains dim prospect. At least the experts have devised a formula for calculating the prospects of a return to catch-and-eat fishing: N=20,715,673/5,610=3692 adult fish to meet CL.
Maybe Michael Noonan should pack that in his briefcase for his next showdown with the European Central Bank. So far there is no bailout on offer for the Slaney though at least the 27 point plan is on the table with the following proposals, in no particular order: 1 - protect the habitat not only of the salmon but also of lamprey, shad and freshwater pearl mussel; 2-lookforE.U.funding; 3 - stick to the catch and release regime for anglers; 4-buyouttheremainingdraftnetmen; 5 - put a new fish counter on the river to assess numbersofsalmon; 6-maintaintheexistingfishcounteratClohamon; 7-tagfishtotracktheirmovement; 8 - restore spawning grounds where they have beenlost; 9-stabiliseriverbankswheretheyareindangerof collapse; 10 - grow plants on southerly banks to provide shade; 11-carryoutgeneticresearch; 12 - monitor 150-plus sites regularly for the presenceofsalmon; 13-collectfishscalestoallowanalysisoftheage ofthefish; 14-checktheriverforanybarrierstosalmonruns; 15 - monitor cormorant activity and control if necessary; 16-similarly,monitorseals; 17 - re-construct weirs at Clohamon, Tullow and Baltinglasstoallowfreerpassageoffish; 18 - install 'rotary screw traps' to collect data on youngsmolts; 19-examinethehabitatontributaryrivers; 20-prepareplansforamanmadehatcherytoprovidesalmonstockfortheriver; 21-examinetheknownpollutionblackspotsalong theriver; 22-supportinitiativestoencourageseatrout; 23-bringinaby-lawtobannettinginWexfordharbour; 24-coordinatetheactivitiesofInlandFisheriesIrelandandprivateinterests; 25-publiciseconservationactivities; 26 - encourage school children to take an interest intheSlaney; 27-conductmoreresearchonspawningareas.
It is a mighty undertaking, spread across three counties, but the conservation of the Slaney is a project worth pursuing.
A section of our beautiful River Slaney.