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Mystery over what killed 600 salmon and trout in a river beset by pollution

By Linda Stewart

Published 01/10/2015

Dead: Some of the fish
Dead: Some of the fish

Hundreds of salmon and trout have been killed by a pollution incident at a Co Antrim river brought back to life by anglers.

Some 600 fish were found floating on the Three Mile Water River, close to the seat of Newtownabbey and Antrim Borough Council.

Three Mile Water Angling Association and others had worked for 20 years on the river, which had been an illegal dumping ground.

Association vice chairman Andrew Moore said: "Before we started, the river was polluted and completely devoid of life. It was a fly-tipping area - very neglected.

"We got it back to a river with salmon, sea trout, brown trout, kingfishers, otters and bats.

"In the last few years we've had a lot of minor pollution incidents, but only a few have been fish kills. The last major fish kill was in 2005. It was a serious kill and a lot of the river was affected.

"In the latest instance, it was a smaller area, but an important area. This is an important salmon-spawning river. In the area where the pollution happened, we had recorded the highest number of young salmon in the river. Now there isn't a fish left."

By the time the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) arrived at the scene to investigate, there was no trace of the pollution.

"It seems to be a periodic thing," Mr Moore said. "Whatever it is, it's coming in, killing the fish and diluting after a certain distance.

"We were very pleased with the NIEA. They were out almost immediately and took samples. Hopefully, they can pinpoint what it is. The anglers are devastated, particularly members who are walking the river every day and putting so much effort into it."

Ulster Unionist MLA Adrian Cochrane-Watson added: "This is only the latest in a series of pollution incidents. Unfortunately, history repeats itself in this river. It rarely ever goes 12 months without a pollution incident.

"In fact, there was a fish kill only last month in one of the river's key tributaries. There is clearly a serious issue with regards to pollution and this waterway.

"Aside from the ecological problems, fishermen are at the end of their tether as their efforts at building a sustainable fish stock in the river are repeatedly destroyed.

"The only way the authorities will be able to get to grips with the problem is if they come in and enforce punishments with successful convictions and penalties. Nobody or no organisation, whether public or private, should be allowed to get away with this."

A spokesperson for NIEA said: "Following the NIEA investigation, the Inland Fisheries Group carried out an official count of the fish mortalities. Only minimal numbers of dead fish were noted from that count. However, from the site walkover and the numbers of dead fish observed, the fish kill is being officially classified as moderate."

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