Wild Atlantic salmon are an iconic species for Northern Ireland that binds culture to conservation and science to artistic inspiration. Atlantic salmon have strong cultural and economic ties to Northern Ireland, from salmon feeding the first known settlement near the Bann Estuary some 10,000 years ago to the mythic ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ that is represented in the ‘Big Fish’ sculpture in Belfast. Into more recent times there were important net fisheries around the Antrim coast from Carnlough to Portstewart (including the famous Carrick-a-rede rope bridge site near Ballintoy) and also in Lough Foyle; while Northern Ireland is also known for its important salmon rivers for recreational angling such as the River Foyle tributaries, River Bush and the Lower Bann (to name but a few). However, salmon are far more than their iconic and traditional image, or the sum of their economic and recreational value, they are a vital indicator of healthy aquatic environments and their epic migration over thousands of miles is one of nature’s wonders.
Salmon have been a well-known and relatively abundant fish however salmon populations over the whole North East Atlantic have declined significantly in the past couple of decades, and they now need our help. Legislation has been introduced in Northern Ireland to help halt the decline of salmon especially in the freshwater environment where we can have a direct impact. In Northern Ireland these measures are showing signs of improving the runs of fish back to our rivers but Atlantic salmon are still in a perilous state in both their marine and freshwater environments, due to both environmental change and human activities. The International Year of the Salmon aims to bring people together to share and develop knowledge more effectively, raise public awareness and take appropriate action to protect salmon from extinction. We have an opportunity not just to save salmon and their environments for future generations, but also the communities and cultures that depend on them and cherish their presence.
In line with its commitment to ‘a living, working, active landscape valued by everyone’ the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for Northern Ireland (DAERA) has affirmed and committed its support for IYS 2019 through a programme of scientific research, public events and outreach that will continue until at least 2022. You can see some of the salmon conservation measures and research being carried out in Northern Ireland on the DAERA, AFBI and Lough’s Agency websites. More detailed information on the status of salmon in Northern Ireland’s rivers can be found in the DAERA published ‘Digest of Statistics for Salmon and Inland Fisheries in the DAERA jurisdiction 2018’.
Please support IYS actions and events that seek to improve the abundance of this iconic fish species. You can organise your own events or get involved in other events in your area (https://www.yearofthesalmon.org). The decline of salmon is an issue across the Northern Hemisphere, but if we all act locally, our combined efforts will make a big difference.