I propose to take Questions Nos. 497 and 499 together.
Since 2007, Ireland manages salmon stocks on an individual river basis as each of Ireland’s 147 salmon rivers (including river sections and estuaries) has its own genetically unique stock of salmon. Juvenile salmon from each river migrate to sea as juveniles and return to their natal river to spawn and create the next generation of fish unique to that river. The origin of all wild Atlantic salmon is the river in which they were born.
Management is carried out by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). IFI is supported in its management role by scientific advice from Ireland’s independent Standing Scientific Committee (SSC), comprising scientists from a range of organisations. IFI also has to have regard EU legislation, particularly the Habitats Directive under which salmon habitats are protected.
Scientific and management assessments of each of the distinct stocks are carried out every year with IFI engaged in extensive stock monitoring which feeds into the Scientific Group's annual reviews. An average of the 5 years data is used to estimate expected returns for the coming year to ensure that a good or bad year does not have a disproportionate impact on the assessment in any single year.
I will provide a copy of the most recent Wild Salmon and Seatrout Statistics report compiled by IFI which includes commercial and angling catch statistics from 2001 to 2017. This statistics are indicative of wild salmon abundance in this period.
It is estimated by IFI that 200,000 Atlantic salmon returned to Irish shores last year. Populations are widely distributed throughout Irish fresh waters. This level of return as part of natural migration represents a comparatively healthy condition for Irish stocks relative to international levels. However, returns to Irish and other shores has decreased significantly in recent decades. It is considered that if Ireland had not adopted its management measures, including ending indiscriminate mixed stock fishing at sea, since 2007 the decline would be considerably more pronounced.
The management of wild Atlantic salmon is a shared international issue manifesting in rivers in all countries around the North Atlantic. Scientific analysis from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) estimates that marine survival of migrating salmon has been at or below 5% in the North Atlantic for more than a decade.
The protection and conservation of salmon internationally is managed through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) with which Ireland is aligned through the European Union. Concerted international co-operation has ensured that restrictions in distant waters, to where salmon migrate, are in place via NASCO agreement. The majority stock component of salmon migrating from European, including Irish, waters migrates to Faroese waters. In 2018, my officials and those of IFI joined delegates from the EU, USA, Canada, Norway, the Russian Federation, Greenland and the Faroes in negotiating a multi-annual ban on all commercial salmon fishing in Faroese waters so that stocks migrating there are protected. These international discussions were chaired by Ireland.
As regards the issue of salmon hatcheries, there are significant genetic and ecological concerns when salmon reared in a hatchery environment are released into the wild and national policy in Ireland follows the guidelines prepared by NASCO with regard to applying the precautionary approach to any proposed stocking of hatchery reared Atlantic salmon into the wild.
There are many possible causes for decline of Atlantic salmon populations including climate change and sea-lice infestation from Aquaculture which impact marine survival. Stocking is not considered an appropriate solution. IFI’s advice for enhancement of salmon stocks nationally is to continue with single stock salmon management to achieve individual river spawning targets while also supporting habitat enhancement and removal of artificial barriers to migration rather than artificial stock enhancements which have potentially detrimental genetic impacts.
2019 commences the International Year of the Salmon which aims to bring people together to share knowledge, raise awareness and take action on how we can ensure the resilience of salmon in Ireland and in the Northern Hemisphere. I am leading Ireland’s participation in this international initiative.