Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will respond to the issues raised in a consultants' report (details supplied) relating to current salmon conservation measures within the Waterford stock complex; the recommendation therein for a new and extended closed-season survey as suggested by the Waterford Estuary Fishermen’s Association; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Fergus O’Dowd: I can inform the Deputy that catch and release angling is being undertaken on the Suir in 2014 and the rod catch, combined with a rod exploitation rate and catch data over the previous four years will be used by the Standing Scientific Committee for Salmon (SSCS) to provide a salmon stock assessment for the Suir in 2014.
The Stillwaters Consultancy letter notes that higher proportions of multi sea winter salmon have an important effect on the Conservation Limiits (CL) required on each river and comments that it is vital to obtain information of the proportions of multi sea winter fish returning.
The SCSS reviewed the number of rivers designated at multi sea rivers (MSW) in 2012 and included the Barrow, Nore & Suir as MSW rivers. The size of rod caught salmon reported in the national tagging and logbook scheme was used to determine the percentage of the rod catch greater than 4kg (as representative of MSW fish). The proportion of MSW salmon used in the calculation of conservation limit was raised from 7.5% to 38% for the Suir in 2012. On the basis of a higher proportion of multi sea winter salmon, the conservation limit for the Suir decreased from 16,464 salmon in 2011 to 14,048 in 2012. The calculation of CL for individual rivers will not be examined again for a five year period.
The Stillwaters Consultancy letter states that a new survey in the closed season to bolster the catch figures of anglers and snap net fishermen from the Nore to give a picture of the proportions of salmon both 1SW and MSW destined for each river system is now vital.
As set out above, the proportions of 1SW and MSW salmon were revised for the Barrow, Nore and Suir in 2012 and will be used by the SSCS for a five year period. Therefore no new information of the proportions of 1SW:MSW is required. This revised split of 1SW:MSW salmon for these rivers undertaken in 2012 was based on the recorded salmon rod catch in each individual river over the full angling season over a five year period and would be more comprehensive than any estuary survey where the discrimination of fish from the Barrow, Nore and Suir would be difficult with a high degree of uncertainty.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) have been in contact with University College Cork, the authors of the Waterford Genetic Stock Identification Project (2011), in order to clarify the situation with regard the determination of the river of origin of Atlantic salmon caught as part of an experimental fishery prosecuted in Waterford Harbour in 2010. They confirm, using their then standard panel of genetic markers for stock discrimination in Atlantic salmon (16 microsatellites) and an additional analysis using small number of randomly selected 210 SNP markers (SNPs then being in the early methodological stages of development and application), that it was not possible to categorically assign genetically fish captured in a mixed fisheries situation in Waterford Harbour to their potential rivers of origin, namely the Nore, Barrow and Suir.
IFI are also informed by UCC that there have been substantial technological advancements in salmon genetic stock identification in the period since the investigation was undertaken in 2010 and 2011. As a result DNA SNP marker panels with up to 250K markers are available, such that it might now be possible to develop a panel of markers based on subset of these, which could be highly discriminatory and specific to the rivers entering Waterford Harbour. However IFI are also advised that the design and development of such a panel would require a substantial research effort and there is no absolute guarantee of success.
In conclusion, the recommendation for a new and extended closed-season survey as suggested by the Waterford Estuary Fishermen’s Association is not required with regard to assessment of salmon stocks on the Barrow, Nore or Suir as there is a stock assessment method (rod catch) already in place for all three rivers. Also proportions of 1SW and MSW salmon has been revised recently (2012) by the SSCS to determine salmon conservation limits for all three rivers. One of the objectives of the 2010 survey was to provide a qualitative assessment of salmon stock abundance on the Barrow as no assessment was available at that time. Since then the Barrow has been open for catch and release angling and a means of salmon stock assessment is therefore currently in place.
As set out above, the use of DNA SNP techniques is still at a developmental stage with no certainty of being able to discriminate salmon stocks from individual rivers in Waterford estuary. In fact, currently there is no requirement to discriminate individual stocks entering Waterford estuary as a stock assessment method is in place for all three rivers and the SSCS provide catch advice annually. One of the objectives of the 2010 survey was to determine the mixed stock nature of the estuarine catch but this is not a requirement in the current scientific assessment process.