IFI’s mandate and biodiversity practices
Fish species form an essential part of the biodiversity of waterbodies (i.e. lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters). For example, fish are an important link in the food chain in all waterbodies and serve as food for other fish, for birds such as herons, cormorants and white-tailed eagles, and mammals such as otters and even humans, all while adding to the biodiversity of waterbodies. Certain fish species such as juvenile salmon and trout serve as an essential host in the life cycle of the endangered freshwater pearl mussel. Fish are also an important indicator of water quality and ecosystem health and are considered sentinel species.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the statutory authority tasked under section 7(1) of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010, with responsibility for the protection, management, and conservation of the inland fisheries resource and is one of Ireland’s core environmental agencies. IFI’s role relates to all fish species in fresh water and their habitats, to all aspects of the aquatic environment, such as water quality, biodiversity and hydromorphology and all factors that influence biotic communities within water bodies. The conservation of valuable water resources and protection and enhancement of biological diversity are core components of IFI’s legislative remits. IFI also protects bluefin tuna and sea bass as part of a service level agreement with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. This delegation of functions is pragmatic and extremely beneficial in terms of species protection and value for money for the taxpayer.
Inland Fisheries Ireland’s environmental role is delivered primarily by a network of Environmental Officers based in the six River Basin Districts. The environmental function can broadly be broken into three main themes: (1) Regulatory and enforcement (incident management, expert witness and planning/licence/compliance), (2) Expertise, knowledge and industry experience and (3) Stewardship and advocacy. IFI staff are empowered to enforce the Water Pollution Acts 1977 and 1990. IFI undertakes and commissions applied research in relation to biodiversity and conservation; specifically to assess the conservation status of fish species, to monitor the status of fish stocks, and to explore environmental issues that have an impact on fish and their habitats. IFI provides scientific research and management advice to the Minister for the Environment, Climate Action and Communications. Ireland has approximately 74,000 km of rivers and streams, 12,200 lakes and an extensive coastline, all of which fall under IFI’s jurisdiction.
IFI’s activities (i.e. protection, conservation and development, environmental enforcement, angling support, education and outreach, research and stakeholder engagement) align with several recommendations made by the Citizens Assembly report and thus IFI should be considered a key agency in the protection and restoration of biodiversity in our freshwater and coastal waters. IFI is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of existing national legislation and bye laws directed at the conservation of fish species and the habitats within which they reside. For species like, the European eel and Atlantic salmon, which are under considerable conservation pressure, IFI has directed its resources to provide focussed conservation measures, which includes habitat restoration, evidence-based fishery management, legislation and enforcement of protection against poaching. The latter remains a constant risk and is very resource intensive.
IFI has a long history of assessing the health of rivers, lakes, and estuaries through the monitoring of fish stocks, which in more recent years have expanded to national programmes supporting reporting on the status of fish populations regularly through a national monitoring programme which in turn informs restoration and protection measures. These data support IFI’s role in implementing the Water Framework Directive (S.I. No. 722 of 2003) (i.e. protection and restoration) and Habitats Directive (European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997 (S.I. No. 94 of 1997)) (conservation of fish species and other species of fauna and flora habitats and the biodiversity of inland water ecosystems).
IFI has supported a recent review (Irish Red List 2023) of the extinction risk of freshwater fish species and certain trout ecotypes in Ireland. Using the latest international guidelines IFI found that 43% of fish species are threatened. One fish species (i.e., European Eel) has been classified as Critically Endangered, one species (Pollan) has been assessed as Endangered, nine species have been classified as Vulnerable. They include (Arctic char, twaite shad, Killarney shad, ferox trout, gillaroo trout, sonaghen trout, croneen trout, dollaghan trout and Atlantic salmon). Two fish species were found to be Near Threatened (Sea lamprey and Sea trout). Sea trout experienced a dramatic collapse in 1987 along the west coast of Ireland and have not recovered in that geographical area.