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Ranching The Salmon of Knowledge

The first salmon of the 2010 season was caught on The River Moy on  the last weekend in February and in the Delphi valley in the other  corner of the county the day before. Almost 30% of Ireland’s total  salmon catch is taken in the Mayo / West Sligo region and aptly  enough, the region creates most of the quality, up to date knowledge  on salmon, not just for Ireland, but for the entire North Atlantic.

Midway between these two locations, The Burrishoole fishery at  Lough Furnace outside Newport has been quietly establishing itself as  an internationally recognised salmon research centre since the 1950s,  also becoming the world’s longest running salmon trapping facility.

The scale of research they have undertaken in that time is impressive including salmon genetics, stock enhancement with salmonoids and climate change studies.

One of the activities which Burrishoole pioneered is a most terrestrial sounding pursuit; salmon ranching. Ranching is the rearing of smolts (salmon ready for salt water) which are derived from grilse (salmon which return after one year at sea).  A fish farm must provide all the food necessary in a fish’s life cycle; however ranching entails the fish living where and how nature intended once released.

Ranching, as it protects the juvenile salmon until the smolt stage produces much more fish than the river otherwise would. When the mature fish return to the river of spawning, as many as possible are caught and the eggs and milt (male gamete) harvested to spawn the next generation in the ranch’s line. Experiments on the Delphi fishery have shown good returns, matching or outdoing the native stocks’ returns from the Atlantic.

Micro-tagging and tag retrieval initiatives directed by the Marine Institute mean that Burrishoole does not just have a healthy stocky, they have a useful informative ‘herd’ of ranched fish. Data from the fish are used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas to determine the state of Irish stocks and according to the Irish Marine Institute, the Burishoole fishery system is one of the key index systems for salmon in the North Atlantic. This and other recent  research utilising Burishoole salmon as indicators of global climate change means Mayo’s salmon are doing quite well in living up to their Salmon of Knowledge legend.

This article appeared in The Mayo News edition 16/3/2010

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