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Displaying items by tag: Loughs Agency

As part of the Loughs Agency’s annual redd counting on the River Roe and its tributaries in Northern Ireland, underwater cameras were successfully deployed and have captured footage of salmon spawning activity.

Mark McCauley, freshwater fisheries biologist with the agency, said the footage shows some of the “varied and complex” lifecycle of the salmon.

“A female salmon begins to deposit her eggs in a redd as an adult male moves alongside to fertilise them. A female salmon produces approximately 1,100 eggs per kilogram of body weight,” he said, describing the footage.

“The male has a very distinctive hooked lower jaw called a kype. This is a characteristic displayed by adult males at spawning time. It is assumed to establish hierarchy among males, with those displaying larger kypes thought to be more dominant.

“The female then uses her tail to cover the fertilised eggs with gravel.

“The footage shows a parr moving over the area quickly afterwards, probably hoping to eat any eggs that are not covered before being driven off by the larger male.

“There are some instances of precocious parr, sometimes referred to as sneaker males. These are sexually mature salmon parr who will try to fertilise some of the eggs in an attempt to pass on some of their genes.

“This is all part of the varied and complex life-history strategies of Atlantic salmon.”

Spawning is a sensitive time of year for returning salmon and any disturbance can take them off the redd. Redds can also be damaged if stepped on. Therefore, the Loughs Agency advises against members of the public entering the river to view this activity.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Between 2012 and 2014, each spring the Loughs Agency — in partnership with Woodland Trust and with the agreement of local landowners — planted 10,000 mixed-species native trees along both banks of the River Roe in Northern Ireland.

This section of the Roe, in the upper Glenshane area of Co Derry, holds good populations of salmon and trout and a varied mixture of habitat for fish of all ages, the Loughs Agency says.

However, surveys highlighted that the riparian zones on both banks were devoid of tree cover, with only small numbers of coniferous pine trees present.

Riparian tree planting undertaken by the Loughs Agency sought to address several issues:

  • reduce runoff from the surrounding hills, thus reducing in-stream sedimentation and the threat to salmonid redds;
  • stabilise the riverbanks; and
  • slow the flow in the upland area, thus helping to reduce the potential of flooding downstream

Given current trends for prolonged dry spells in summer, the trees will provide valuable shade along the riverbank and a much-needed cooling effect during these times.

The maturing trees strengthening the banks of the River Roe in Co Derry | Credit: Loughs Agency

Fallen leaf litter will help increase populations of in-stream bug life for fish to prey upon. In addition, the trees provide a much-needed biodiversity corridor in this upland area.

Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said: “In a climate of ever-increasing pressure upon the environment and natural resources, these schemes meet Loughs Agency's core responsibility of protecting and conserving freshwater fish stocks.

“They also help protect rivers, slow the flow, capture carbon. and provide an aesthetically pleasing biodiversity corridor adjacent to one of our most travelled routes.”

During planting, tree guards were put in place to protect young saplings from sheep, hares and deer. In this exposed environment, the guards also protect the trees from the elements.

Now that the trees are maturing, and the left-hand bank of the riparian zone has been fenced off since 2019, earlier this month the Loughs Agency completed the process of removing these plastic guards and over 3,000 were sent for recycling.

The works continue enhancements of the River Roe that have benefitted from an £80,000 investment since 2019, as previously reported on

Published in Angling

The Loughs Agency has completed river enhancement works on several rivers in the Omagh area in Northern Ireland in partnership with local landowners, the Omagh Anglers Association and Strule Tributaries and Rivers Trust.

Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said: “Since the major flood event in 2017, the agency has worked extensively to reduce silt in rivers, predominantly through working with farmers and landowners at a catchment level to protect riverbanks from excessive erosion.

“Siltation is less obvious than pollution events that are often reported, but it can significantly affect the sustainability of the fishery.

“This project demonstrates how partnership and using nature-based solutions can relieve some of the pressures on the fishery.”

One enhancement project was at a section of the Camowen River known as Bertie Anderson’s. The stretch had suffered bank slippage due to a combination of public and livestock access over the years. The subsidence resulted in silt entering the river and narrowing the channel.

Soft engineering works were completed by installing 60 metres of root wads to help stabilise the bank. The locally sourced wads will help to catch and reduce silt in the river and revegetate the bank.

Forty metres of vertical larch timber piles were also driven into the edge of the river along with horizontal poles to protect the base of the riverbank.

Salmon survival can be significantly affected by suspended solids entering the river due to bank erosion. This is due to salmon eggs becoming smothered by silt during the winter following soil erosion and run-off.

Downstream of this site, there is fantastic spawning habitat. However, bank erosion here has resulted in siltation which is impacting downstream spawning beds.

This soft engineering project will reduce erosion and act as a siltation trap, collecting suspended soils travelling down from upstream, the agency says.

Camowen River bank stability works before and after

Hard and soft engineering solutions were also used in other sites in the Foyle catchment. The Owenkillew, Quiggery, Glenelly, Cloughfin, Fintona, Altinagh, Routing, Granagh, Aghlisk and Glensawisk Rivers have also had habitat enhancement projects this year via local and stakeholder partnerships.

Terry Smithson of Omagh Anglers Association was delighted to work in tandem with other organisations to complete these works.

“We took the opportunity to work in conjunction with Loughs Agency and a local landowner on the Camowen project,” he said. “This work complements previous work undertaken by the club in the upper reaches of the Camowen on the spawning grounds and annual access works.

“It is great to see what can be achieved when we all work in a partnership to protect the holding pools, spawning beds and nursery streams."

Shane Colgan of the Strule Tributaries and Rivers Trust added: “We have been working with Loughs Agency in recent years on schemes to help create and reinstate habitat throughout the upper reaches of the Strule catchment.

“Works were carried out primarily to rehabilitate Atlantic salmon habitat but will benefit an array of riparian species, both flora and fauna. The schemes involved remedial bank revetment in helping alleviate the damage after several flooding incidents.”

For more information on the river enhancement projects, visit the Loughs Agency website HERE.

Published in Angling

The CatchmentCare project is nearing completion with the Elatagh instream habitat improvement works along a 3.4km stretch on the Elatagh River, Co. Donegal, and the benefits are already evident.

Sharon McMahon, Loughs Agency CEO said: "Loughs Agency is committed to working with partners, stakeholders and landowners in the Finn catchment to achieve the goals of the CatchmentCare project. These initial results indicate the immense and immediate benefits of the project and the advantages of using green engineering solutions to support biodiversity, particularly salmonids.”

The CatchmentCARE team has installed several habitat restoration measures along the Elatagh River. These measures include pinning of woody material, wetland installation, gravel regrading, installation of rubble mats, limestone deflectors and artificial pool creation. The instream works have transformed a section of the river that was narrow, fast-flowing, and in some places shallow into a stretch with a variety of flows and depths, increasing the microhabitat diversity.

Salmon redds in Elatagh RiverSalmon redds in Elatagh River

After conducting their annual redd count survey on the Elatagh River, Loughs Agency Fishery Officers reported on the benefits of the work for spawning salmonids. The survey recorded seven redds in an area that historically did not support any spawning. They also recorded that an area of the river that historically had a maximum of 12 redds now supports 30 redds.

These results are an early and positive indication that the works carried out by CatchmentCARE are having a positive effect on the areas targeted. Loughs Agency will continue to monitor and report the impacts of the implemented improvements through the annual freshwater fisheries monitoring programme.

Published in Angling

The Loughs Agency’s CatchmentCARE Team has been busy since the summer delivering and deploying passive samplers across the Finn catchment in the North West.

This passive sampler survey aims to detect the presence of herbicides and pesticides such as MCPA, Diazinon, Cypermethrin and Acetamiprid in the target areas.

The samplers have been placed strategically at five key locations in Co Donegal: a control site deployed in the Stranagoppoge; two sheep dip monitoring sites at the Reelan Bridge and Altnapaste; and forestry monitoring sites in the Upper Reelan and Cummirk which will monitor private and public forestry, respectively.

The sample survey aims to detect the presence of herbicides and pesticides such as those commonly uses as sheep dip | Credit: Loughs AgencyThe sample survey aims to detect the presence of herbicides and pesticides such as those commonly uses as sheep dip | Credit: Loughs Agency

Sites were chosen based on data collected by the CatchmentCARE Team on active dipping facilities and forestry locations in the Finn.

The samplers will be deployed for 12 months. The CatchmentCARE Team will visit the sites every two weeks to collect the samples, which will be sent to TE Laboratories for analysis.

The Loughs Agency says the team is hopeful the results from the passive sampler will highlight the extent to which herbicides and pesticides related to sheep dip and forestry activities are impacting the aquatic environment.

The CatchmentCARE samplers will be in place for 12 months | Credit: Loughs AgencyThe CatchmentCARE samplers will be in place for 12 months | Credit: Loughs Agency

The nature of the passive sampling equipment allows us to continuously monitor for the presence of these chemicals, which is not possible with traditional spot sampling of water and sediments.

The use of this type of equipment to monitor pesticides in Ireland is very novel, the agency adds, and expressions of interest in the results have been received by several environmental regulatory bodies on the island and academic researchers.

You can find out more about the CatchmentCARE project in its Autumn 2021 Newsletter.

Published in Environment

The Loughs Agency reminds anglers of the annual close season, which prohibits angling over the winter months to help protect salmon and sea trout from disturbance when spawning.

The Foyle Area and Carlingford Area (Close Seasons for Angling) Regulations prohibit fishing for salmon and sea trout over the winter, with fishing due to resume in early 2022.

The annual close season for salmon and sea trout began last Thursday 21 October in the Foyle catchment, and starts Monday 1 November in the Carlingford catchment.

As closing dates vary slightly across the catchments, Loughs Agency encourages anglers to check season dates for each river on the Loughs Agency website and social media platforms, as well as with fishery owners to ensure they are up to date on local restrictions.

The State of the Salmon report published recently by the international lead on salmon management, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), highlights the worrying and continuous decline in the populations of the Atlantic salmon.

NASCO states: “It now takes about double the number of eggs to produce one adult (compared to 1990s) that will return to that same river to spawn – an indication of the multiple pressures facing the species throughout its complex life cycle.”

Lough Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said: “The annual close season is an important time of year. Reducing disturbances on fish when they are spawning and at their most vulnerable helps protect stocks for the future.

“We recognise that angling is not the sole cause of stock decline, but by observing the close season, anglers are ‘playing their part’ in boosting the long-term resilience and sustainability of iconic fish species.”

John McCartney, director of conservation and protection at the Loughs Agency, added: “We all must take a forward-thinking approach based on the latest scientific guidance that balances responsible angling and sustainability.”

As the game fishing season ends for 2021, anglers are reminded to update their catch return and fishing effort on the Loughs Agency elicence website.

Anglers who wish to fish during the winter months are permitted to catch coarse fish such as perch, roach and bream, for which a valid coarse fishing licence is required.

During the close season, Loughs Agency fishery officers patrol riverbanks to prevent illegal fishing and protect fisheries. Anglers found fishing out of season will be prosecuted through the courts.

The Loughs Agency encourages members of the public to make direct and prompt illegal fishing reports either through the 24-hour response line at +44 28 7134 2100 or through the WaterWatch reporting tool.

Published in Angling

The Loughs Agency has welcomed the announcement of its new Board Chairperson, Heather Mackey, who is also the first female appointee in the role. The appointment was officially announced at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) held this week.

Loughs Agency’s Board is responsible for ensuring that the Agency’s statutory functions and strategic plans are implemented effectively and efficiently.

Ms Mackey, a native of Co. Galway, has served as an independent non-executive Board Member of Loughs Agency since 2016. Her appointment as Chairperson will take effect from 13th December 2021.

Loughs Agency CEO, Sharon McMahon congratulated Ms Mackey on her appointment as incoming Board Chairperson. “Heather has served on Loughs Agency’s Board for the past five years and is a dedicated ambassador on behalf of the Agency. She brings a wealth of expertise and guidance to the Board in setting the strategic direction for the Agency and is passionate about the work that we carry out in the Foyle and Carlingford areas.”

“I am delighted that Heather will also become the first female Chairperson of our Board and we all look forward to working with her in her new capacity, taking over the reins from our esteemed Chairperson Laurence Arbuckle.”

Commenting on her appointment, Heather Mackey said it was an honour and a privilege to be stepping into the role as Chair of Loughs Agency’s Board which reports to the NSMC and its government Sponsor Departments – Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) in Ireland.

Ms Mackey said: “I am delighted to have received the opportunity to serve on Loughs Agency’s Board as Chairperson. I am looking forward to further assisting and supporting the excellent work carried out by the Agency as part of their functions providing effective conservation, management, promotion and development of the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas in a key time for the organisation, particularly whilst we all help address the climate crisis.”

Laurence Arbuckle, outgoing Chairperson of Loughs Agency’s Board, also expressed his best wishes to the new incumbent following today’s announcement and thanked Ms Mackey for her valued contribution to date as an independent non-executive Member of the Board.

Heather Mackey is an experienced Communications Director with over 20 years’ experience in strategic communications and advises numerous boards providing governance, business and communications support. A seasoned traveller, Ms Mackey has visited over 40 countries.

Ms Mackey founded the Galway-based public relations company, Ace Media, in 2009. She currently works as a publicist for many arts organisations in Galway, including the Galway Film Fleadh, Irish Film and Television Academy, Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture and TULCA Festival of Visual Arts and Blue Teapot Theatre Company. She previously worked as a TV producer for Bloomberg Television in London. She also works as a media lecturer and holds a Masters in Journalism from NUI, Galway.

Published in News Update
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Field personnel from the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) based at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia are currently in the North West working with the team servicing critical animal tracking infrastructure in support of the SeaMonitor project.

Led by the Loughs Agency and supported by eight leading marine research institutions, SeaMonitor is delivering Europe’s largest fish monitoring array using advanced, large-scale technology, as previously reported on

The project aims to track the movements of some of the ocean’s most vulnerable species including Atlantic salmon, flapper skate, basking sharks, seals and cetaceans.

Data collected by researchers will be used to help inform marine policy and management frameworks and support conservation measures.

OTN field personnel Cassandra Hartery and Caitlin Bate have been carrying out expert field work coordinated alongside Diego del Villar, senior scientific officer for the SeaMonitor project at the Loughs Agency, using large-scale acoustic telemetry equipment.

“OTN has once again come up trumps for the agency and the SeaMonitor project by lending their expertise to help our team with the retrieval and redeployment of Europe’s largest array,” said Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon.

“The ocean is a massive, dynamic and challenging environment to work in. Our priority is to get the equipment safely out of the water and I am delighted at the excellent progress to deliver such significant and innovative marine research data that will ultimately help protect some of our most important and vulnerable marine species.

“The agency’s specialist team together with project partners are continuing to work hard to ensure project objectives are delivered whilst following COVID-19 protocols and the amazing work undertaken recently puts us well ahead of schedule.”

Funding for the SeaMonitor project has been provided under the environment objective of the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), to the tune of €4.7m.

Match-funding for this project has been provided by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in Ireland.

Key support and expertise was also provided by DEARA whose vessel, The Queen of Ulster, was used to take the project scientists out for the retrievals last week. Other vital field work was carried out at Loughs Agency headquarters in Derry and in Lough Foyle.

For more information about the project visit the Lough Agency’s SeaMonitor portal or follow the project on Twitter at @SeaMonitor1.

Published in Marine Science
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A section of riverbank in Co Tyrone which was eroded by flash flooding has been stabilised as part of a wider habitat enhancement project being progressed by the Loughs Agency.

Flood waters in the Owenkillew River had stripped the 160m riverbank area of vegetation, and trees became unstable resulting in subsidence and suspended solids entering the river at Beltrim Estate in Gortin.

Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said the site was identified as needing support to improve water quality for the benefit of downstream salmonid spawning sites.

“Managing and supporting a sustainable wild fishery is a careful balance of conservation, protection and letting nature take its course,” she explained.

The Loughs Agency engaged with the landowner who had recently installed fencing to protect the riverbank from livestock access.

Before the riverbank enhancement works on the Owenkillew River in Co Tyrone | Credit: Loughs AgencyDuring the riverbank enhancement works on the Owenkillew River in Co Tyrone | Credit: Loughs AgencyAfter the riverbank enhancement works on the Owenkillew River in Co Tyrone | Credit: Loughs AgencyFrom top: before, during and after the riverbank enhancement works on the Owenkillew River in Co Tyrone | Credit: Loughs Agency

Larch timber poles were then driven into the edge of the river to reinforce the bank, while layers of horizontal poles were fixed to protect the base of the riverbank. Brash was installed behind the poles to help catch silt and debris and naturalise the bank.

The area behind the revetment was planted with native broadleaf trees including hazel, oak and alder. Willow was also planted tight into the riverbank so that the root structure would help stabilise the bank, further reducing erosion.

While the riverbank has naturalised with trees and plants becoming established during the summer, the invasive Himalayan balsam plant has unfortunately also established itself. The agency says it hopes to reduce coverage on this non-native species by removing stems before it goes to seed next year.

Seamus Cullinan, fishery inspector at the Loughs Agency, said: “It is important to understand the cause of riverbank erosion and design the most appropriate solution to mitigate against it. This type of green engineering is sustainable and effective at providing long-term stabilisation and benefits for the fishery.”

Loughs Agency has used green engineering solutions in other sites in Northern Ireland's Foyle catchment, where persistent water flow and floods are responsible for removing bank material, causing erosion and subsidence.

The Owenkillew, Camowen, Glenelly and Finn rivers are among several river enhancement projects scheduled for this year.

Published in Angling
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The ability to track free-swimming salmon juveniles has been extended hundreds of kilometres into the open ocean using advanced robotic technology.

As part of the EU INTERREG VA-funded SeaMonitor project, Dr Ross O'Neill of the Marine Institute and Kieran Adlum, P&O Maritime, tested a remotely operated ocean glider along the steeply sloping area of the shelf edge some 130km north-west of the Scottish Hebrides.

The torpedo-shaped device, equipped with an acoustic tag detector, was deployed from the RV Celtic Explorer on 16 April during the 2021 Irish Anglerfish and Megrim Survey.

This is the first time such active tracking technology has been applied to Atlantic salmon in Europe.

During its two-month mission, the glider successfully detected four individual juvenile salmon smolts measuring only 15-19cm, nearly 600km from their home rivers in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

These fish had been tagged between four and six weeks previously with electronic acoustic transmitting tags along with hundreds of other juvenile salmon as part of the SeaMonitor project as well as the West Coast Tracking Project, a partnership between the Atlantic Salmon Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland and Marine Scotland, EU INTERREG VA-funded COMPASS project and Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI) research initiatives.

One of the main aims of these projects is to investigate the persistent low marine survival of Atlantic salmon in the early stages of their oceanic migration to feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.

The four fish originated from the River Burrishoole in Co Mayo, the River Bann in Northern Ireland and the rivers Clyde and Awe in Scotland.

Up to now, most tracking studies had been limited to estuarine or coastal areas due to technology limitations and the need for stationary receivers.

Map showing SeaMonitor Atlantic salmon smolt detection and release locations

According to Dr Niall Ó Maoiléidigh of the Marine Institute and principal investigator for the SeaMonitor project: “The detection of these fish confirms the importance of the shelf edge in this amazing journey, as the faster currents associated with the steep slopes most likely act as an aquatic transport system facilitating the northward migration of these tiny fish through a very harsh environment.”

Prof Colin Adams of the University of Glasgow and principal investigator for the SeaMonitor Project added: “This study shows that tracking salmon over considerable distances at sea can be achieved which is crucial for research into highly migratory marine species especially where mortality may be occurring far from the shore.”

Dr Ciaran Kelly, director of fisheries ecosystems and advisory services at the Marine Institute, said: “The use of the glider to track the movements of even very small fish has been clearly demonstrated and this will encourage the use of autonomous underwater vehicles to improve information on many marine species of animals which may be endangered or threatened without interfering with their natural migrations.”

The SeaMonitor project is “breaking the boundaries of research into the marine migration journey of the iconic Atlantic salmon”, said Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon.

“This innovative research will help to identify migratory routes and factors influencing salmon survival at sea, providing data to inform future research and decision making.”

The glider is part of the SeaMonitor integrated cross-jurisdiction major network of acoustic receivers, robotic underwater vehicles, satellite tracking and passive acoustic receivers in European waters and its use will be extended to track cetaceans, basking shark and skates as well as to collect physical oceanographic data.

When combined, the data will enable a holistic view of the regions mobile marine species and will prove invaluable to the regions managers, as well as establishing an integrated network of marine receivers for future applications and extended monitoring.

Match-funding for the project has been provided by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in Ireland.

For more information about the project visit the Lough Agency’s SeaMonitor portal or follow the project on Twitter at @SeaMonitor1.

Published in Marine Science
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