Stormont Northern Ireland


Enforcement Action over Abstraction on Northern Ireland salmon river “not a priority” for Office of Environmental Protection

2nd February 2024

The Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) has decided not to take any enforcement action against regulators in Northern Ireland, despite findings of potentially serious breaches of environmental law affecting salmon migration to and from Lough Neagh.

The decision is the outcome of a formal complaint submitted by us on behalf of the Crumlin and District Angling Association over the failure of Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to enforce abstraction permits on the river Crumlin and prevent it running dry.

Footage showing whole sections of the County Antrim river drying up completely was provided to the OEP as part of the formal complaint. The dry sections of riverbed prevent adult fish including salmon, dollaghan and brown trout from reaching their spawning grounds.

The decision comes just weeks after the status of Atlantic salmon populations in Great Britain were reclassified as ‘endangered’ according to the latest assessment by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

In its assessment of Fish Legal’s complaint, the OEP found indications that “the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) may have failed to comply with environmental law” and considered this failure to be potentially serious, based on the evidence provided. However, it decided not to prioritise further investigation or enforcement action, partly because there are a “a large number” of unregulated abstractions in Northern Ireland across “more sectors”.

Justin Neal, Solicitor at Fish Legal, said, “This dismissal by the environmental watchdog in England – the oversight body for regulators in Northern Ireland at the moment – comes as a bitter blow to local anglers who have been frustrated by the lack of action by the NIEA. The decision is very odd, not least because the OEP seems to be saying that no enforcement action will be taken because the problem of unregulated abstraction is much more widespread than highlighted in our complaint.

David Kennedy from Crumlin and District Angling Association said: “It is disappointing that the OEP have decided to take no urgent action despite stating that NIEA may have failed to act in accordance with environmental law, and they even consider the situation as potentially serious. The club has continually been pressing NIEA to ensure legislation is complied with and this lack of action will lead to the Crumlin River continuing to suffer from unlicenced abstraction which will have a long-term major impact on the biodiversity of the river as a whole.“

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