Probe continues into major fish kill

Dead fish lying in the Ballymartin River near Patterson's Spade Mill. INNT 35-520CON

Dead fish lying in the Ballymartin River near Patterson's Spade Mill. INNT 35-520CON

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The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and DCAL Fisheries staff are continuing to investigate the cause of a major fish kill on the Ballymartin River.

Hundreds of dead fish were found in the waterway between Mallusk and Patterson’s Spade Mill near Templepatrick earlier this week.

A DOE spokesman confirmed that an NIEA Water Quality Inspector found more than 40 dead fish below the storm water discharge point from Mallusk industrial area on Monday (August 24). And the following day NIEA officials were tasked to the waterway again following the discovery of dozens more dead fish several miles downstream from Mallusk.

“Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of pollution to the watercourse, including samples collected by NIEA from the impacted waterway,” the spokesman said.

“The Environment Minister, Mark H. Durkan, is very concerned at this latest incident and has asked to be kept fully informed on the progress of the investigation, which is still ongoing. The Minster will also be meeting with elected representatives to consider what further actions can be taken to stop these types of incidents.”

Michael Martin, vice-chair of the Six Mile River Trust, believes the fish kill was caused by a pollutant being washed into the river at industrial premises in Mallusk.

He said that minnows, trout, dollaghan, salmon parr, eels and aquatic invertebrates have all been wiped out along the stretch of the river - a tributary of the Sixmilewater.

“It is just devastating to see all these fish lying dead,” Mr Martin said.

“It is extremely disappointing, especially given all the work that has been carried out over the past few years to improve the river habitat.

“Over the past couple of years the dollaghan had recovered and were spawning in the Ballymartin River again for the first time in 40 years, but now they have all been wiped out. It’s terrible to see this again.”

Mr Martin stressed that a lot of work has taken place in recent years involving local environmentalists, anglers, government departments and land owners in a bid to stop pollution of the waterway. And he called on the NIEA to find those responsible for the latest incident and prosecute them.

Chairman of the Trust, Jim Gregg, said the number of dead fish was “likely to be in the hundreds.”

He stressed that this is an important time for the river system, with salmon and dollaghan trout making their annual migratory runs, and warned that the latest pollution incident “could have set us back years again.”

At the time of going to print there had been no reports of dead fish on the Sixmilewater, but Mr Gregg described the incident - the latest in a series on the Ballymartin - as “extremely worrying”.

Responding to news of the fish kill, South Antrim DUP MLAs Trevor Clarke and Paul Girvan requested an urgent site meeting with the DOE Minister and DCAL Minister to discuss ongoing pollution incidents on the waterway.

“I have witnessed first-hand the devastation that this is causing and enough is enough. It’s about time DOE and DCAL took a more proactive approach to bring these incidents to an end,” Mr Clarke said.

Mr Girvan added: “How many more fish will have to die before the relevant departments take the necessary action to protect our waterways?

“Anglers are distraught and angry, and have every right to be so. The departments need to step up to the mark, deliver on previous promises and take action.”

Calling on the NIEA to bring the polluter to justice, their party colleague, Pam Cameron MLA commented: “The wider implications of fish kills such as this cannot be underestimated and have huge repercussions for our entire ecology. It is vital that the Department of the Environment, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure do all they can to minimise the impact of this incident in the short term. However, commitment must be given to find the source of the incident and the perpetrator must be brought to justice.”

The deputy chair of the Assembly Environment Committee added: “Only through having robust deterrents against environmental crime will businesses and individuals begin to think twice about polluting our waterways.

“I would like to commend the swift action which has been taken thus far by the NIEA and hope that we will soon see a prosecution for this incident.”

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