All the salmon counters at all the ESB dams were down again for all of 2021

No salmon counts are available again for 2021 for any of the ESB dams on the Rivers Shannon, Lee, Erne, Liffey, and Claddy. I had previously exposed that all the salmon counters at all the ESB dams were down for all of 2020.

The fact that the counters at all the ESB dams were down again for all of 2021 has been confirmed by ESB in a response that I received in relation to a request under the Environment (AIE) Regulations 2007-2018.

My AIE request to provide salmon counts for all the ESB dams was “refused” by ESB as the counts were not available. In the “refusal” they state that “during 2021 fish counters were not operational at the sites referenced in your request. Therefore ESB does not hold the information you have requested and this AIE request is refused under article 7(5) of the AIE Regulations“. The response to my AIE request can be found here.

It is incredible that the salmon counters at all the ESB dams were down again for all of 2021. There are also no counts from any of the dams in 2020. The ESB claimed last year that all their fish counters at all their dams “malfunctioned” in 2020.

The salmon counters used at the ESB dams sites are standalone units and are not connected in any way to each other. It is not credible that the counters at 8 different dams located in Co Donegal, Co Tipperary, Co Clare, Co Cork, and Co Kildare could all malfunction and not be fixed for two full years. This is either incompetence – or an effort by ESB to cover up the collapse of salmon runs on rivers they manage.

Inland Fisheries Ireland and Loughs Agency continue to maintain a fish counter programme at all their sites.

Salmon runs had been drastically declining in all of these rivers in recent years. On the River Shannon, it was previously reported that runs had collapsed due to the impact of the hydroelectric scheme. The number of salmon passing the ESB’s dams in the Lower River Shannon in recent years (for which data is available) has been <5% of the conservation limit (CL) escapement target (i.e. a collapse).

Parteen Regulating Weir on the Lower River Shannon, March 2022. No upstream salmon counts from this site for all of 2020 and 2021.
Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Station, March 2022. No upstream salmon counts from this site for all of 2020 and 2021.
Inniscarra dam, River Lee, September 2021. No upstream salmon counts from this site either for all of 2020 and 2021.

Knowing the numbers of salmon that pass through these dams is essential to allow these rivers to be managed properly. This is especially important at the Shannon dams as this is the Lower River Shannon SAC and salmon are a Qualifying Interest of this Natura 2000 site. This is a breach of the statutory obligation placed on ESB under the Shannon Fisheries Act 1935 to maintain the “fisheries” of the River Shannon, in my opinion. Archaic legislation of course – but the ESB have not maintained the fisheries of the River Shannon. There are no longer any salmon or eel fisheries upstream of the dams. The way the Shannon is being managed is also breaching the legal requirements of the EU Habitats and Water Framework Directives (in my opinion).

But having this data for all the ESB rivers is essential for managing salmon. Drainage from approximately 20% of the island of Ireland lies upstream of these schemes. Not having any salmon counts from these major rivers covering such a vast catchment area is of serious concern. There should be counts available for other species also – for example lampreys – so that the impact of the way these dams continue to be managed can be fully appreciated.

It is totally unacceptable that there are no upstream salmon counts available for any of the ESB dams for two full years – and indeed far longer at some of these sites (e.g. Leixlip). This is either gross incompetence or is a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that salmon runs in these rivers have collapsed.

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