THREE companies appeared in Bandon District Court this week to face the same charges relating to an alleged killing of fish and the disturbance of spawning beds in the Bandon River on May 10th last year.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) sought the prosecution against Wills Bros Ltd, Byrne Looby Partners Water Services Ltd and Rivus Ltd, who are all involved in works as part of the Bandon Flood Relief Scheme.
Solicitor for IFI, Vincent Coakley, told the court that all three defendants faced the same two charges in that they allegedly did injure or disturb a spawning bed where the spawn of fry of salmon, trout or eels may be, and of allegedly injuring or disturbing the said spawn.
Mr Coakley said the charges related to certain works being undertaken in the Bandon river on May 10th last year, with all three defendants denying the charges.
Fisheries officer Dermot Long told the court that on May 10th last at around 3.30pm he was on patrol by the Bandon river at an area known as Rough Hoole and saw that a new ‘haul road’ had been created on the river, which is used to dredge material from the river.
Mr Long said this had created a separate pool of water away from the river. He noticed that the pool had dead and dying fish, with sludge in the bottom of it, and said he estimated there were about 200 fish dead, which included juvenile salmon and trout. He said it was obvious the eels were on their last legs and the salmon were dead as there wasn’t enough water for them.
‘It became apparent that necessary de-population measures weren’t taken, as this work normally is carried out by electro fishing, where the fish are stunned and then removed and it’s quite common on sites,’ said Mr Long.
He noticed some men at the site. There was a ‘panic’ about them as they tried to get the fish out using butterfly nets and they were throwing them into the river.
Fisheries officer Sean Cremin said he estimated that there were between 200 to 400 dead fish and that on the day he saw individuals picking up the fish and putting them in the river using buckets without any water. He said the situation was ‘farcical’ and any chance that the fish would have been saved ‘would be something like Lazarus.’
Michael McPartland, lead investigator with IFI, said that when he visited the site that evening he saw that the water level had been sucked out of the pond. He said that that whatever methodology was to be undertaken, it shouldn’t have resulted in a fish kill.
Barrister Tom Power, representing Wills Bros Ltd, disputed the number of fish that were killed and said it was closer to 30 salmon fry.
Barrister Stephen O’Donoghue, representing Byrne Looby Partners Water Services Ltd, said his client was the design team for the Relief Scheme and weren’t responsible for ‘monitoring pools and fish’.
‘It’s terrible fish were killed but they had no role in relation to the monitoring of fish,’ said Mr O’Donoghue, who called for the two counts against his client to be withdrawn.
Plunkett Taaffe, representing Rivus Ltd, said in relation to the works on the river the haul road had to be tight to the bank of the river.
‘One of the difficulties is that the haul road had a gap and that’s it here that the pool happened which caused the problem,’ said Mr Taaffe, who also called for the charges against Rivus to be withdrawn. However, Judge Mary Dorgan said she was satisfied that having looked at the evidence, there was a case for all three defendants to answer.
Defence witness Peter Quigley, environmental health and safety manager with Wills Bros, said the work on the Bandon river was one of the biggest jobs in Europe being undertaken at the moment.
He said the work involves dropping the level of the river by 2m and placing back in the river an artificial bed where 117,000 cubic tonnes of material would have to be removed during the works.
Judge Dorgan said she wanted to see documents in the contract in relation to the care of the fish in the river.
She adjourned the case to March 2nd to allow all parties to agree on all documents before the case could proceed again.