Cork County Council could be facing fines from the EU, because salmon are unable to negotiate the weir in Fermoy town. As a result of natural changes in the flow of the river, the old fish pass that goes up through the weir has been blocked by a new island which formed across the top. No action has been taken to provide an alternative fish pass for the salmon, as the Council cannot afford projected costs of €2m to purchase land on the riverbank.
Councillor Noel McCarthy raised the issue at a meeting of the council's northern division in Mallow last month. The council says it does not have the money to pay for all the required works and is in negotiation with landowners and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, about releasing the €2m.
As a result of flood damage over the last few years the weir also needs structural repairs. An official told the Examiner, “the structure of the weir is compromised. Capping must be done and [there is] funding in place for that. This work could be progressed in the coming year.” Many would like to see all the required works carried out at the same time, but assistant county manager James Fogarty says this is not possible.
Cllr Frank O'Flynn said: “We were told at one stage that we could face fines from the EU if this work isn’t done. We were also told originally that Lagan (contractors) would do the work as part the flood relief scheme.”
Last year concerned locals were reduced to manually lifting exhausted salmon over the weir. Local fisherman Connie Corcoran reported what he saw on his facebook page: “It made me sick to the bottom of my stomach today when I made the journey to Fermoy to watch the salmon jump over the weir as I have done with the last 50 plus years. What I saw was exhausted fish, turning around and going back down stream, so tired from trying to jump a part of the weir that they have no hope of passing.” It is generally believed that any salmon who failed to cross the weir died.
Fisherman Edward Hallihan estimates that each salmon caught on the Blackwater is worth €2,500 to the local economy. He told the Corkman in 2015, "The lack of salmon in Blackwater is a real worry as it has the potential to seriously impact on the river's reputation as one of Ireland's top angling destinations."
Salmon are a key indicator species as well being important to the angling industry in Ireland. Their decline is affecting the numbers tourists who visit each year. In addition, numerous challenges to the salmon are having placing doubts on their long-term future.
An extract from a Salmon Watch Ireland report outlines the challenges facing this iconic species:
“Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon, including those of Ireland, continue to decline. The causes of this decline are multiple, some having an impact on all components of the salmon population, such as climate change and others, such as salmon farming, having a more local effect. There is general consensus among those concerned with salmon conservation that the impact of those factors over which man has some direct influence (eg the freshwater and inshore environments, water quality, exploitation, by catch at sea, the impact of salmon farms) need to be addressed with some urgency.”