An Ayrshire fishing club has sent a formal letter of claim to a farmer near Darvel in Ayrshire following the release of slurry into the Gower Water, a tributary of the River Irvine, in November 2006. The pollution caused a major fish kill, involving many thousands of mostly juvenile salmon and trout. The Darvel Angling Club, who lease the fishing rights of some of the affected area downstream, have instructed the Anglers’ Conservation Association (ACA) to claim £16,000 in damages on their behalf, for a loss of amenity and to cover the costs of restocking the river.

According to research carried out by the Ayrshire Rivers Trusts (ART), the Gower Water has been one of the most productive salmon and trout spawning tributaries in the Irvine catchment. Detailed calculations derived from electrofishing data led to an estimated fish mortality of over 7,000 salmon and trout. SEPA successfully prosecuted the farmer concerned, who was fined £1,000 at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on 13th September 2007.

Andrew Wallace, Managing Director of the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland and the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, commented: “This first case to be taken by the newly revived ACA in Scotland is the beginning of a new chapter for Scottish fisheries managers.   Fishery Boards with their statutory powers to protect Scottish fish stocks, combined with high quality information provided by Fisheries Trusts, pride themselves on seeking solutions to problems through education and dialogue. But sometimes this isn’t enough and it is vital that those who threaten our water courses and fish stocks know that we, in partnership with the ACA, will use the law, where necessary, to protect the Scottish aquatic environment”.

Mark Lloyd, Executive Director of the ACA, said: “Slurry is one of the most damaging pollutants because it decomposes very rapidly and the bacteria remove all the oxygen dissolved in the water. Fish and invertebrates are therefore suffocated to death. We hope that it will not prove necessary to go to court to get the farmer to pay for the damage caused to our members’ fishing”.

Darvel Angling Club Secretary Billy Galbraith added: “We were horrified to see so many young fish lying dead in the river. This incident will affect the whole of the River Irvine’s trout and salmon populations for many years to come and we are claiming this compensation so that we will be able to help the river recover as quickly as possible”.

Brian Shaw of the Ayrshire Rivers Trust commented: “The River Irvine has one of the highest human population densities of any salmon river in Scotland and it is also intensively farmed with much of the river habitat suffering from degradation. The Gower Water was considered to be one of its most pristine and most productive tributaries, supporting a high density of juvenile salmon and trout. It was all the more frustrating for a fish kill to occur in that part of the catchment. The Trust welcomes the involvement of the ACA in the incident as the support they provide helps it members get the compensation they require to protect the health of their waters”.