Fish Legal’s lawyers have written to the Director General for the Environment in Brussels to request that the European Commission considers infraction proceedings against the UK government in Northern Ireland for breaches of environmental legislation under plans to reopen the River Lagan for canal navigation which would have a devastating effect on recovering salmon and trout populations.

The Lagan Canal Restoration Trust – set up to oversee the ‘restoration’ of the Lagan corridor – counts among its partners both the Government Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

The Trust intends to introduce a series of weirs and locks, straighten banks and dredge the river bed to enable tourists to travel the from Lough Neagh to Belfast, all of which would impede the passage of wild salmon returning to spawn in the upper sections of the river and could ultimately lead to their extinction on this particular river.

Whilst the work is being carried out in a piecemeal fashion, each development is regarded by Fish Legal as a step in a much larger planned project, and should require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) because of the cumulative impact on the river.

In July, Fish Legal – an environmental NGO set up to protect fisheries in the UK - informed the Government Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) that they faced legal action should the Northern Ireland Executive decide to proceed with the development without the benefit of a full EIA into the effect such work would have on the wild salmon, as well as other migratory fish in the Lagan system. Salmon angling is very important to Northern Ireland for tourism and for the many angling clubs that fish the river.
Fish Legal has now made an official complaint to the European Commission.
Justin Neal, solicitor at Fish Legal, said:

“Whilst the Government may feel the Lagan is under-exploited by daytrippers and holiday makers, it is a habitat for wild salmon – one of the most precious and threatened species found in UK rivers. At a time in history when wild salmon numbers are at their lowest levels we feel that the plans to recreate a navigable waterway in a series of small projects is not only unlawful – but also a sly move by the authorities to avoid the need to fulfil their obligations under EU law. The Trust agreement also goes to the heart of the contradiction inherent in DCAL’s responsibilities in Northern Ireland which on the one hand include protection of inland fisheries and on the other promoting such projects. We wait to see what the European Commission thinks.”