Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (750)

Imelda Munster


750. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the details of the Inland Fisheries Ireland-OPW instream enhancement programme for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24191/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is the statutory body responsible for Drainage Maintenance and Flood Risk Management in the State while Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the statutory body responsible for the protection and conservation of the inland fisheries resource.

IFI and OPW signed a shared service agreement in July 2018 which will see continued collaboration over the five year period 2018-2022 in the protection of fishery requirements while flood risk management investment activities are being undertaken by OPW. The agreement involves both parties working closely together to help ensure the country’s statutory drainage objectives are achieved with an appropriate focus on the protection of fishery habitats and resources.

The agreement has been secured at a time when Government investment in flood risk management operations is significant and follows the recent publication of the Government’s Flood Risk Management Plans. This new partnership formalises the historical working relationship between the two organisations and commits them to continuing their positive engagement for the benefit of Ireland’s fishery habitats and resources.

Under the agreement, both parties will work across the Environmental River Enhancement Programme (EREP) and will focus on:

- A series of scientific investigations to further understand environmental impacts of river maintenance works.

- Development of best practice to minimise environmental impacts and maximise environmental gain of river maintenance and flood relief activities.

- Work programme to identify barriers to fish passage on arterially drained rivers that have potential for improvements works.

- Work elements to assist in all waters attaining ‘Good’ ecological status by a specified date, as per the EU

- Water Framework Directive.

The full agreement is available on the IFI website www.fisheriesireland.ie and includes, inter alia, the provision of dedicated staff within IFI, the agreed need to generate fish and hydro-morphology Environment Quality Ratio scores in advance of any proposed works to identify actual need for works and to specify works, if required, that would be appropriate to the hydro-morphological character of the channel. This is particularly relevant to any IFI or local community initiatives regarding instream and riparian works.

IFI and OPW have agreed that the matching of enhancement measures to the relevant channel is to be undertaken in a holistic manner, and must be dependent on the character and needs of the catchment and on the channel’s hydro-morphological characteristics.

The programme is driven by the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive, particularly that the status of all water bodies should be at least “Good”. Overall status is assessed by a series of ecological indicators e.g. fish community and by habitat or hydro-morphology status. River enhancement, within the requirements of the Directive, goes beyond a narrow fisheries enhancement focus. The emphasis is on restoration of natural river processes and this type of approach should also broadly benefit fisheries.

The EREP is undertaken by IFI and is an applied scientific study. OPW maintain approximately 2,000 km of channel each year and uses environmental guidance developed with IFI. The guidance is aimed at conservation and/or adding value for habitat creation and river enhancement.

A significant outcome from the Water Framework Directive and its impact on EREP is that OPW and IFI have agreed that any proposed 'enhancement' measure should be tested in advance to assess current status of fish and habitat. Four such enhancement proposals are to be so tested in 2019 with surveys of fish and habitat status scheduled.

For the Deputy’s information, the 2017 annual report of EREP is available online on both OPW and IFI websites. The draft 2018 report is currently being jointly reviewed.