Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is appealing to the farming community to continue to be vigilant and to play their part in protecting waterways from the threat of agricultural pollution.
The call comes following the conviction of Corrib Farming Ltd, which permitted agricultural effluent to enter the Suileen River, a tributary of the Clare River in Co Galway.
While the advent of round bales has reduced the potential for pollution, Inland Fisheries Ireland is warning that the continued use of silage pits can put rivers at risk. Silage effluent is a highly toxic substance when it gets into rivers, starving the fish and invertebrate life of oxygen. When rivers are low in summertime, even a small leak can cause huge damage. Maintenance of silage pits and slurry storage facilities is essential to ensure that leaks or overflows are not permitted.
As highlighted in the Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, farm effluent and slurry should only be spread responsibly when heavy rain is not forecast and never close to a watercourse.
On Tuesday, 8th of June 2021 at a hearing in Tuam District Court, Corrib Farming Ltd., Tuam, Co. Galway, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Fisheries Acts, on Tuesday, 22nd of September 2020. David Harrington, Senior Fisheries Environmental Officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland, gave evidence in Tuam District Court of tracing the source of a significant pollution event on the Suileen River back to a pipe emanating from the company’s farm in Tuam.
The initial report was made by a member of the public to IFI and upon investigation, heavy algal growth was found in the river. These were indicators of nutrient enrichment of the waterbody, covering approximately 4km downstream of the discharge point, whereafter it enters the Clare River. Water samples taken as part of the investigation confirmed that the farm discharge had caused water pollution of the Suileen River.
Although the company had fully co-operated and undertaken to remedy the situation immediately, there was significant damage caused to the water quality of the Lough Corrib catchment. Judge James Faughnan convicted Corrib Farming Ltd. and directed that the company pay €1000, not by way of a fine but towards restorative works on the Lough Corrib catchment, as well as laboratory expenses of €349.32 and legal costs of €800.
Patrick Gorman, Galway Director in the Western River Basin District at Inland Fisheries Ireland said: “Having good water quality in our lakes and rivers is vital for healthy fish stocks and their habitats. We are appealing to farmers to take precautionary measures during the current silage season and when land-spreading to ensure watercourses are protected against harmful pollutants. Silage effluent is a major pollutant if it enters a watercourse and can have severe and long-term consequences. The increase in excessive nutrients drastically reduces the oxygen content in the water and can be the cause of major fish kills. To protect water quality within our fisheries, we are asking the farming community to continue to be vigilant and practise good farmyard management. Any member of the public can report suspected pollution directly to Inland Fisheries Ireland’s 24 hour Confidential Hotline on 1890 34 74 24.”
The Clare River is the largest tributary of Lough Corrib, a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which sees thousands of salmon and trout run the river to spawn every year. It provides a valuable angling facility for local and tourist anglers, with six different angling clubs located along the river. Patrick Gorman added: “Members of these angling clubs have invested heavily in recent years to improve spawning and nursery habitat for salmon and trout. They rely heavily on the environmental stewardship of local farmers to maintain the Clare River and ultimately Lough Corrib as top angling waterbodies for local and international anglers.”