Slaney River Trust has a 27-point plan


Bray People - - OPINION -

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-look­­ing; 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.

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