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ESB and Fishery Operations

ESB has the capacity to produce 220MW of clean energy by harnessing the power of five rivers enough to power 180,000 homes. As this activity impacts on fish movements and migration, we have statutory responsibility to manage, conduct and preserve the fisheries throughout the Shannon, Erne, Liffey, Lee, and Clady catchments.
We are committed to putting significant resources into the conservation of the fisheries to assist with their accessibility and enhancing their amenity value. ESB Fisheries’ role is part of our organisation’s larger, strategic goal: our commitment to Ireland’s environment and natural landscape; and engaging sustainability as our core value; with particular focus on waterways and fish stocks.

We operate various fisheries conservation programmes on the rivers Shannon, Erne, Liffey, Lee and Clady/Crolly. On the Shannon for instance, we protect fish habitats and enable migration through the addition of spawning gravels, rock, and boulders, along the operation of fish passes to assist fish passing through man-made structures such as the dams. Fencing to protect livestock access to the rivers, along with improvements to public access to the fisheries have also been added.

We operate a trap and transport (T+T) for migrating silver eel. Juvenile eel coming from the Atlantic are captured in elver boxes at the dams and released into freshwater habitats upstream of the hydro stations. When fully grown the adult eel (referred to as silver eels) migrate downstream and are captured in large river nets by contractors working on behalf of ESB. They are then safely transported and released downstream of the stations where they continue their ocean migration.

This activity is undertaken each year for elvers (March-September) and for adult eel from September to February. This programme operates under the Irish National Eel Management Plan (NEMP). This NEMP came about as a result of the 2009 EU Eel Regulation which specified that all Irish large-scale hydro stations undertake T+T on each of the catchments affected.

Approximately 7.5 million elvers are captured and safely released on an annual basis.
Work is regularly carried out to keep the traps clean during the elver monitoring season, but some growth can appear in between maintenance periods when they are not in service. ESB strongly urges members of the public to always keep a safe distance from the elver traps at the hydro stations and weirs as the area can be dangerous where sudden discharges of water through the station can occur at any stage.
ESB has heavily invested resources into the trapping and transport programme and protocols for both juvenile and adult eels with Ireland now at the forefront in Europe in this regard. Details of these activities may be found at the Inland Fisheries Ireland website (under the National Eel Management Plan), with whom ESB work in partnership with, along with the Marine Institute.

We maintain and operate fish passes at all of the hydro catchments which include fish passes located upon the Shannon (Ardnacrusha and Parteen Weir); the Erne (Cathaleen’s Fall and Cliff), the Lee (Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid), the Liffey (Lexilip) and the Clady (Gweedore weir). Salmon smolt (juvenile salmon) migration protocols are also operated each year at all of the above sites.

This means that there is a site-specific generation regime in place which assists the downstream movement of juvenile salmon for the period mid-March to June.
Salmon stocks on most European and Irish rivers have declined dramatically in recent decades – primarily due to declining stocks and marine survival rates of less than 5% - so it’s essential that we continue to support the salmon population where we can.

All the work completed by ESB is detailed in the Annual Reports of the ESB Fisheries Conservation unit. This report which is for the relevant government minister is also published on the ESB website. The work is largely overseen by Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Insititute with whom ESB often liaise with.
Also, a large proportion of our work also utilises a partnership style approach. These partnerships are usually with local angling clubs and development associations but also include third level institutions such as University College Cork and the National University of Ireland, Galway.