Fisheries modifications on the Old River Shannon – time to get them removed?

Extensive instream works and modifications have been placed along the Old River Shannon with the apparent aim of recreating salmon pools and to accommodate the reduced flows in this part of the river since the Shannon scheme. These wsorks commenced after the Shannon scheme, but most of the work was completed in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Extensive modifications at beat 6 and the end of the fishery.
Extensive modifications at beat 6 and the end of the fishery.

These structures, comprising of hundreds of tonnes of rock and other materials, were placed in the river on an ad hoc basis by ESB Fisheries in the absence of any formal plan or Environment Impact Assessment. Many of these works were constructed in the river during the salmonid and lamprey spawning seasons causing severe ecological impacts at the time. Removal of extensive areas of priority Annex 1 alluvial woodland was also a significant feature of these instream construction works. These invasive structures remain as permanent features in the river today, and have significantly degraded the natural aesthetic character of the river and have reduced its ecological status.

Rather than enhancing the river’s ecology, many of these intrusive modifications are working against the rivers natural hydro geomorphological and ecological processes, increasing encroachment of vegetation, and therefore reducing the channel’s conveyance capacity

These ‘fisheries development works’ are designed for the 10 cumec compensation flow only and therefore render the fishery unfishable, and in many places inaccessible, at higher flows. These structures are therefore, in many cases, incompatible with the inevitable requirement to increase and vary the discharge in the river in the future. They also leave Castleconnell being perhaps the only fishery in the western Europe which becomes unfishable when there is even a slight water rise.

Highly modified section of the river at beat 5
Highly modified section of the river at beat 5

Rather than enhancing the river’s ecology, many of these intrusive modifications are working against the rivers natural hydro-geomorphological and ecological processes, increasing encroachment of vegetation, and therefore reducing the channel’s conveyance capacity. They have increased flood risk on the river, and are probably contributing to the high water levels in the river during flood events (e.g. November 2009) as the river channel can no longer cope with increased flows (as a result of direct and indirect effects of placing these structures in the river).

It is also noteworthy that many of these structures have also not been successful in their original purpose of improving the fishery. In some respects these have created a ‘runway’ for salmon with salmon now quickly passing through the fishery to end up below Parteen weir. Many of the pools created no longer hold salmon, even at the peak of the summer runs.

Wall running down the middle of the river channel on beat 5
Wall running down the middle of the river channel on beat 5

The ORSRG is campaigning to get many of these structures removed or realigned in the river to restore a more naturalised river character which is more appropriate for a Special Area of Conservation and the management of the river within the requirements of the Habitats and Water Framework Directives.

The photos above of the ‘wall’ that was built along the middle of the river channel in beat 5 in the 1990’s is one of the more extreme examples of these modifications. We will be campaigning to have these and other structures removed, breached or realigned to restore a more natural looking and functioning river.

The photo below shows the car park at the entrance to Beat 6 at the Castleconnell Fishery under water during early January 2014. The flooded entrance to a recently constructed house, arguably built too close to the river, is also apparent. The flows (discharge) in the river at that time would be considered just average flow volumes prior to the Shannon scheme. The water levels are higher than they should be due to channel encroachment by trees and other vegetation, siltation and also due to the presence of numerous instream ‘fisheries development’ structures. The conveyance capacity of the river channel has been significantly reduced due to these effects, flood risk has been increased, and the ecological status of the river has been diminished.

Flooding at the car park and entrance to beat 6, January 2014
Flooding at the car park and entrance to beat 6, January 2014

The encroachment of silt and vegetation has mainly occurred as a result of the long term severe reduction of discharge in the river (compensation flow is equivalent to a 1 in 50 year drought flow only) which has reduced the ability of the river to maintain itself through natural hydro-geomorphological processes. However, the effects of encroachment have been exacerbated by the numerous ‘fisheries development’ structures in the river.

For further information please see these posts:

The ORSRG is campaigning for the provision of increased and variable flows in the Old River Shannon to be delivered within the context of a sustainable management plan for the river and SAC. We will also be campaigning for the removal of many of the fisheries weirs and angling structures in the river, to facilitate the restoration of a physically more naturalised river corridor in the interests of complying with the requirements of the Water Framework and Habitats Directives.

6 Thoughts

  1. Just a pointer for that “wall” along the centre of beat 5 – this is the weir that fed the mill beside Clareville waterworks, and has been in the river since the 1700s or so. The smaller features perpendicular to the flow are the additions by the Fisheries, creating the pools that allow fishing at compensation flows.

  2. I’m a frenchman fishing castelconnel and Meelick for 35 years. Campaining against walls in the shannon in the fishery could be understood … as the very last thing to be done. If the stocks of springfish are increasing ( last seson only) due to have stopped the driftnets, the river is dying of cancer from castelconnel up. roach have replaced trout, Even Bream have desapeared and pike are in dangerous reduction. mutant algee invade all the tributaries on the systeme shannon and the river itself, destroying nymphs flyes crayfish covering clean shalk beds in an horrible thick rotten cover of muck. Thanks to farmers nitrates silage.. etc.
    Thank s god almighty there are flods to clean this river.
    I agree doctor Connors this big house built recentilly by the parking of beat 6 is a scandal. I confirm the effluents are discharging directilly in the river. I do not feel myself beiing against your opinion even if I like the pools created years ago by Mike Murtha, but this question to restaure the ancient shannon is simply totaly unadapted to the actual problems a small minute thing… The big bluebacks of 50 LBS have desapeared for ever from those watters thanks to modernity and nobody fishes anymore with a castelconnel rod model 20 foot in greenhart. Those days are gone.
    The Shannon realy needs our energy, but this local microwar does not appears very efficient to the passionate fisherman and countryman i m at 55 years old.

    1. I agree that pollution is a major issue, but don’t agree that salmon runs can’t be restored to the Shannon. Have a look at the results from Scottish and US rivers and you can see what is possible. This is only one post from a very wide campaign to bring the old Shannon back to good ecological status. Getting new fish passes, water management for fish passage, and a sustainable compensation flow are the key issues of my campaign. One of the biggest polluters on the Old River Shannon is Parteen Hatchery by the way!

  3. Thank your for you answer William.
    The slow and deep degradation of the water conditions along the shannon system has accelerated for the 5 last years. It is pollution indeed but of the worst kind.indirecte.
    I ll be hapy to meet you one day on the hedge of the river. but if you can make stopping the discharging of effluents between beat 5 and 6 it will be a major achievement.

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