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Sea Trout Settlement

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Fish Legal has obtained a £4,000 settlement for the Shimna Angling Club in compensation for the repeated pollution of one of Northern Ireland’s most significant sea trout fisheries, the River Shimna.

Source: Fish Legal

The pollution events, in 2010 and 2011, were the latest in a series of raw sewage spills from the Burren pumping station in the seaside resort town of Newcastle, County Down. A previous major spill from the same source, and with a similar cause (failure of the ‘telemetry’ alarm system to warn of a mechanical failure and imminent overflow), was successfully settled by Fish Legal on behalf of the Shimna Angling Club in 2008.

The sea trout has been the subject of intensive study on the Shimna, which is a Northern Ireland ‘index river’ for monitoring the health of salmon and sea trout populations and at the 2015 Sea Trout Symposium in Dundalk, research from the Shimna revealed that most sea trout eggs are contributed by fish that have spent at least one winter at sea, indicating that these older and larger fish should be carefully protected. Another paper plotted the likely migration paths of sea trout smolts leaving the Shimna across the Irish Sea into the Solway Firth and up to the Western Isles of Scotland.

Although raw sewage spills caused by mechanical failure (rather than ‘storm’ overflows which are diluted by surface water) are typically devastating to aquatic life, the recorded fish kills in 2010 and 2011 of trout and a lower number of salmon juveniles were relatively modest. The operator, Northern Ireland Water (NIW), effectively accepted however that compensation should be by reference to what the population should be in its fully healthy state – its carrying capacity – rather than basing it on a less-than-reliable ‘body count’ from a population already depleted by previous pollutions.

The angling club, which has itself reported most of the pollutions, is fully aware of the Shimna’s importance as an index river and continues to contribute actively to the scientific research. The club intends to use the settlement money for sensitive habitat improvements following recommendations by the Wild Trout Trust.

Andrew Kelton, Fish Legal solicitor, said:

“The level of criminal fines for pollution offences in Northern Ireland is still modest – typically in the low thousands of pounds – whereas in England & Wales the possible fines have recently become very substantial. We hope the present settlement, which is additional to the fine, will help incentivise NIW to be more careful with how it operates this and other municipal sewerage systems affecting fisheries.”

Ian Watts, chairman of the Shimna Angling Club, said:

“The situation came to a head following the 2011 spill, which was the worst in a long sequence from the Burren pumping station. We and others put pressure on NIW to upgrade its whole system, not least to protect the bathing waters along Newcastle beach which are important for tourism.

We understand that investments have now been made to increase storage capacity, and not only has the beach returned to Blue Flag status (the highest water quality level) but we hope that the river and its sea trout stocks will now be protected in perpetuity.”

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