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Significant Increase in Number of Fish Kills in 2018 with More Predicted in Years to Come

10th December 2019
A sample of dead fish found downstream of Ballina Waste Water Treatment Plant discharge pipe this summer A sample of dead fish found downstream of Ballina Waste Water Treatment Plant discharge pipe this summer

Inland Fisheries Ireland has noted with concern the latest findings from the Water Quality in Ireland Report for the period 2013-2018, published today by the EPA. The report shows a decline in river quality and a further loss of pristine river water bodies. It also highlights that the number of fish kills increased to 40 in 2018 after a historic low of 14 in 2017. 

Commenting on the report, Dr Ciaran Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland said: “The decline in water quality and in particular in river quality since 2015 shows an increase in pressures coming from human activities. These activities such as agriculture, wastewater issues, forestry and hydromorphology (man-made changes to the physical form of the river) are all putting pressure on the aquatic environment, which in turn can have long term impacts on our fisheries resource. 

It is extremely disappointing that the percentage of high-quality biological river sites with undisturbed natural conditions has decreased from 31.6% in 1987-1990 to 17.2% of sites in 2016-2018. These high-quality sites are important for supporting sensitive fish species such as juvenile salmon and trout so any decline in this regard is worrying. Fortunately, the picture for lakes is more stable with a small number showing improvement since the last assessment.” 

The EPA report also gives details of fish kills which occurred during 2018, as supplied by Inland Fisheries Ireland. While there was a significant increase in fish mortalities last year, it is likely that the hot weather and low flow conditions experienced in the summer of 2018 may have caused fish to be more vulnerable to pollution events. Of the 40 fish kills in 2018, 15 were caused by disease or natural causes, seven by agricultural practice, eight by municipal works, two by industrial operations and a further eight fish kills had unknown causes. 

Dr Byrne continued: “During periods of low water levels and warm water temperatures, there are additional pressures on Ireland’s watercourses as a result of reduced oxygen in the water. Any poor quality discharges to rivers and lakes, such as silage effluent or sewage discharges can put extra demands on the oxygen levels, resulting in pollution incidents and fish kills. 

In the context of climate change, we anticipate that the number of fish kills will continue to increase. This issue is even more critical when we consider that rivers with poor water quality do not have the resilience to deal with pollution events during periods of stress. Radical change is needed if we are to ensure the sustainability of our valuable fisheries resource into the future.” 

Published in Inland Waterways Team

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