The Ballynahinch system of interconnecting lakes, streams and rivers has a large capacity of producing young salmon and trout before they make their journey to the sea. To maintain this healthy state of affairs, the Ballynahinch Catchment Management Programme has been set up to ensure that the system will continue to have high levels of productivity for a long time into the future.
The main area of work in the catchment management programme is maintaining pristine spawning and nursery areas in the tributary streams. Much work has been carried out to fence the banks alongside spawning streams to exclude livestock. This enables vegetation to grow, stabilising the banks and allowing the deeper holding pools not to be washed out. A propotion of the the money received from fishing licence sales (the Conservation Stamp) has been spent in 2007 and 2008 on spawning and nursery rehabilitation work through the Recess and Lough Inagh spawning streams.
Christmas tree logs and riprap have been added to streams that have badly eroded banks and spawning gravels are added to areas where excessive gravel has been washed downstream. Gravels are turned every two years on the major spawning beds on the system to ensure that they are free from siltation. The silt that is carried down in floods blocks the gravels preventing oxygen getting to salmon and trout eggs.
Regular electrofishing surveys are carried out and have proven that the enhanced streams have much higher numbers of fish of all life stages than prior to the improvement works. A large scale electrofishing survey is due to be carried out in the summer of 2009 to assess the stock increases as a result of the closure of the drift net fishery and local salmon farm.
Up to 2005 a small number of fish were taken from different spawning streams throughout and are stripped of their eggs. These eggs were fertilised and kept in our hatchery until April when they were returned as unfed fry to the same location from where they were taken. Studies have since found that this practice does little to improve the smolt production on the system. Our efforts are concentrated on habitat rehabilitation which is the least intrusive and most productive method.
The Ballynahinch Catchment Management Programme is an ongoing plan and in 2005 the construction of an electrostatic fish counter was completed. This counter is a powerful management tool enabling us take further steps to conserve and improve current salmon stocks in the Ballynahinch System. With 4 years of data collected we are gaining a great knowledge and understanding of our salmon and sea trout stocks and their behaviour
The closure of the commercial mixed stock drift net fishery for salmon since 2007 has helped to increase our runs by up to 50%. The will mean for better spawning and a speedier increase in our stock levels.