Anglers call for tougher penalties against river pollution after almost 1,500 incidents

Anglers are calling for tougher penalties to stop agricultural water pollution incidents which have led to numerous fish kills.

Exclusive figures obtained by UTV reveal there has been 1,371 such incidents since 2018.

Despite so many incidents, the largest fine is just over £22,000 with the total value of fines being less than £500,000.

Anglers say more must be done to protect waterways.

"We've had an awful lots of fish kills in this particular river, even since 2010" explained Terry Smithson from Omagh Angling Club who fishes on the River Drumragh outside the town.

"It hurts to the core and to see it being poisoned on such a regular basis.

"The fines aren't near enough," Terry told UTV.

"It's a slap on the wrist. If they had to pay and put back into the river what was taken out of the river, then I think people would sit up and take a bit of notice" he added.

Terry Smithson speaking to UTV on the banks of the River Drumragh. Credit: UTV

Official statistics from DAERA show that since the start of 2020 there have been 48 fish kills reported to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) of which 24 were assessed as being ‘major’ kills.

In response, DAERA said: "Fisheries owners can seek compensation for the loss of amenity caused by a fish kill, by pursuing a civil action case, and this has been successfully done in the past."

"As these are civil matters, however, the Department does not hold any information on the outcomes of any cases taken.

The River Drumragh was the site of a fish kill in 2018. Credit: UTV

"NIEA will continue to be proactive within existing resources to ensure that those responsible for devastating impacts on the aquatic environment are held to account.

"The combined aim of the reactive, proactive, preventative and regulatory work undertaken by NIEA is to help deliver a reduction in the number of pollution incidents and fish kills," the statement added.

On the banks of the River Ballinderry, farmers are working together on a pilot project to help stop agricultural pollution incidents.

Swale holes are used to collect the waste water on this farm outside Cookstown. Credit: UTV

It involves manmade water holes or swales being used to collect waste water from farmyards with natural means being used to filter the water.

This means waste water will not end up in waterways, which could potentially cause more fish kills.

"Within this system, our nutrient hungry plants here will be able to suck up the nutrients from the dirty water," explained Eoin Devlin from the Ballinderry Rivers Trust who is involved in project.

"There's been a huge interest because this does solve a lot of problems for farmers, Mark Horton, CEO from the Ballinderry Rivers Trust told UTV.

"It does give them that peace of mind that if there's a big rainstorm there's somewhere for the water to be captured but it's also bringing back biodiversity to the farm which is really needed as well as returning clean water to our rivers," he said.

The water quality is regularly tested by the Ballinderry Rivers Trust Credit: UTV

"It's our backdoor, it's where we live in. It's up to us to maintain it to the best we can," said James Miller who is putting the pilot project into practice on his farm outside Cookstown.

"Very few people, if anybody actually deliberately pollutes but accidents can happen and this is sort of a belt and braces - it gives you a few options to prevent pollution," James said.

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