The Shannon is a wide and slow-flowing river with only a limited number of shallow stretches (as we all know). Indeed, from Battlebridge just south of Lough Allen to Killaloe at the southern end of Lough Derg – a distance of some 186km – it falls only about 12m as it meanders its way south. One of those few shallow stretches can be found downstream of Jamestown Weir, Co Leitrim. I visited here on Friday and it got me thinking again about salmon (or more precisely their absence) in the upper Shannon.
Having salmon runs restored to the upper River Shannon would be of significant economic value to residents all along the river
Jamestown weir is located in the upper Shannon, between Lough Boderg and Lough Corry; downstream of Carrick-on-Shannon. Upstream of Jamestown weir lies an extensive sub-catchment which includes high quality salmonid spawning and nursery areas in numerous tributaries. This area includes the Boyle River catchment (with its extensive Lung and Breedoge tributaries), along with the extensive Lough Allen sub-catchment which is fed by the Arigna, Owengar, and Owenayle Rivers, and of course the unregulated and unmodified high gradient upper Shannon above Dowra. With salmon runs restored to the upper Shannon it should be quite feasible for thousands of salmon to be passing Jamestown weir on their way to spawn in these areas each year. This fast water downstream of this weir is a potential salmon beat of the future, and would ideal for fly fishing in particular. Having salmon runs restored to the upper River Shannon would be of significant economic value to residents all along the river. There is no real reason why this cannot become a reality.
Salmon formerly passed through the Jamestown area in their thousands prior to the Shannon scheme and perhaps up until the 1960s when they became extinct. Did you know however that they briefly returned here in the 1990’s and it would be feasible to have them back here permanently?
With salmon runs restored to the upper Shannon it should be quite feasible for thousands of salmon to be passing Jamestown weir on their way to spawn in these areas each year
The ESB stocked millions of juvenile salmon (unfed fry) into the upper Shannon in the mid-1990’s – in a former genuine attempt of trying to do something regarding the national disgrace of having more salmon passing through Paris than through Killaloe. The salmon released by the ESB grew successfully, migrated to sea, and passed through the turbines which were being run at night to assist their journey. The salmon spent one winter at sea, returned as grilse, and spawned successfully for the first time in decades in the upper River Shannon in the winter of 1994/1995. Salmon returned and spawned in both the Boyle River, above Boyle, Co Roscommon and also the Feorish River at Ballyfarnan, Co Leitrim in that year. Salmon were also caught by anglers in the upper Shannon for the first time in decades.
The success in 1994 occurred as a result of genuine attempts by ESB management at the time and also as a result of a coincidence. In 1994 there was a significant flood during June which coincided with the grilse run of that year. Additional water was spilled into the Old River Shannon at this time encouraging fish to pass through the old river rather than enter the tail race (where there is no credible fish pass). It was a great year for angling at Castleconnell if anyone can remember? Fish passing though the Parteen fish pass continued their journey upstream and were seen for the first time in decades at Boyle and other locations in the upper Shannon by September 1994. Salmon were also seen downstream of Ballintra gates at the outflow of Lough Allen; however these fish never made it though into this lake and it was concluded that the fish pass here did not (and still does not) work.
Electrical fishing survey work the following year detected naturally spawned juvenile salmon in the Boyle and Feorish rivers. This was an exciting success and had happened against all the odds. Juvenile 1+ salmon were also recorded in the late summer of 1996; although it was clear that the majority of these fish had left as one year old smolts such was the productively and suitability of these rivers for producing salmon. Sadly this was a false dawn for salmon in the upper Shannon.
Staff pushing through these changes were made redundant and fisheries management practices became more cynical with the aim of being seen to be doing things rather than actually doing or achieving anything
The momentum of this result was lost and there was an apparent change in ESB management policy in the late 1990’s when they realised the consequences of what salmon in the upper Shannon would actually mean for their hydroelectricity generation operations. Staff pushing through these changes were made redundant and fisheries management practices became more cynical with the aim of being seen to be doing things rather than actually doing or achieving anything. Salmon again died out in the upper River Shannon. The return of salmon to the upper Shannon in the mid-1990’s was always going to be temporary unless problems of fish passage and turbine mortality on the Lower Shannon at Ardnacrusha and Parteen were addressed. The ESB knew this at the time, and quickly realised that it was not in their interests to have a restored run of salmon in the upper Shannon. The project was let go, and salmon died out for a second time and have never been rarely recorded since in these rivers.
Current initiatives from the ESB like the Bunowen PIT tag project are little more than Public Relations stunts. The state regulators Inland Fisheries Ireland seem to be asleep behind the wheel on the issue. It does not have to stay this way however.
There are many other River Shannon salmon restoration stories. The Rath River (an Inny tributary) and the Island River (a Suck River tributary) held naturally reproducing salmon populations up until the end of the 1990’s. These were probably the last of the residual stock of salmon in the upper Shannon; now lost. The genes of the Shannon salmon of old – despite years of hatchery inbreeding – are still there however, and the some of the deep double figure spring fish still seen at Castleconnell each year are clearly the descendants of the fish of old.
If we give them a chance they will come back and we will again have salmon in the upper Shannon. Some day perhaps and one of these fish will be caught again on the fly downstream of Jamestown weir, Co Leitrim. I think a cascade would do the job!