Newly-capped international angler, Pauline McCleneghan, from the Waterside, says she’s witnessed sea trout stocks decline substantially in the River Faughan over the past two decades.
Mrs McCleneghan, who recently competed for Ireland at Trawsfynydd lake in Wales, says the species was far more abundant when she started fishing the river twenty years ago.
She told the Sentinel: “When my father started fishing first, he’d always say: ‘If we don’t get a salmon we’ll get a couple of trout.’
“Because the Faughan used to be full of sea trout, really good sized.
“There are still sea trout coming in but it’s not nearly the same, not nearly as prolific as it was years ago.
“When my mother was a girl she said she lived on salmon and sea trout all summer because there was so much of them. In fact, they were fed up with salmon at the end of the summer.”
Mrs McCleneghan says stocks are now much lower than before and that in parts of Ireland they have completely disappeared.
She says she believes a variety of factors are at play and that fish farming on an industrial scale is something that certainly impacts.
“Fish have to pass through the areas where these farms are,” she says.
“The farmed fish are full of anti-biotics but because sea lice all gather around those farms the wild fish aren’t protected.
“Often there are escapes from these big fish farms and those fish, they don’t have the genetic ingrained experiences that wild trout have.
“They don’t know anything about migration. When they then breed with wild fish they are reducing the quality or the species. They do a lot of damage.”
Whilst Mrs McCleneghan believes lice infestations at salmon farms and damage to the wild fish gene pool brought about by interbreeding are having an impact, she also suspects the warming of the oceans is also having an effect.
“The other thing is, the oceans are warming up. Salmon are moving further north. My theory is, as our oceans warm up, even by a fraction of a degree, it affects the movement of fish,” she explains.
“With the sea trout, they are trying everything to conserve them and reestablish them,” she says.
The species is currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered species but is described as being of ‘lower risk.’