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Farmed salmon found in Connemara river could spread disease to wild fish, state agency warns

Escaped farmed salmon discovered in the Dawros River are a “cause for concern”.

File photo. Leaping salmon
File photo. Leaping salmon
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

FARMED SALMON FOUND in a Connemara river could spread disease to wild Atlantic salmon in the waters, a state agency has warned.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), which is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish, is investigating the source of escaped farmed salmon found in the river.

The agency said the presence of the farmed salmon is a “serious cause for concern”.

Anglers fishing for wild Atlantic salmon on the Dawros River in Letterfrack, Co Galway (also known as the Kylemore River) alerted officers from the Western River Basin District after they noticed their catch had traits known to be seen in farmed salmon.

Fish that the anglers had captured had poorly-formed fins and “other distinguishing features that are associated with farmed salmon”.

IFI scientists inspected fish samples from the river and say they are of aquaculture (fish farm) origin and are not wild Atlantic salmon.

Head of Operations at IFI Dr Greg Forde said that the river is “designated a special area for conservation for wild Atlantic salmon and we are seriously concerned about the impact that farmed salmon could have on this native species”.

“For example, farmed salmon could potentially transfer disease or could interbreed with the indigenous wild salmon population of this river,” Dr Forde said.

“Salmon spawn during the month of December and each river has a genetically unique salmon stock,” he said.

“Early indications are that the farmed salmon, due to their size and development, could be capable of spawning this winter and interbreeding with wild fish thereby weakening the natural genetic pool unique to the Dawros River.”

The IFI has notified the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), which is responsible for the issuing of aquaculture licences.

Local campaign group Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages said it is “annoyed and frustrated” by the escape of the farmed salmon.

The group wants to see the DAFM introduce micro-tagging of young farmed salmon before they are transferred to open-sea cages to “make it easier for the relevant authority to track where they escaped from”.

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An investigation by Noteworthy recently found that 22 salmon farms in Ireland had expired licences and no environmental assessments in line with EU law.

Since 2001, multiple salmon farms have failed to send annual surveys for the monitoring of impacts on the marine environment.

Experts are concerned that farmed salmon along the Atlantic coast are negatively affecting the environment, including the risk from sea lice outbreaks.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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