Why are salmon dying at sea?


A unique international scientific mission - to investigate the increasing mortality of salmon at sea - has sailed from the port of Killybegs aboard the Marine Institute’s research vessel, RV Celtic Explorer.

The project - SALSEA-Merge - will investigate the migration and distribution of salmon in the North-East Atlantic. It will involve three marine surveys during 2008 and 2009, to be conducted by Irish, Faroese and Norwegian research vessels and will use cutting-edge DNA technology instead of conventional salmon tags. Similar programmes are also planned for 2008 in both North America and Greenland.

The €5.5 million project is funded by the European Union, with significant contributions from a consortium of interested parties - including the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) and the TOTAL Foundation.

Ireland has played a major role in the planning and implementation of this Salmon-at-Sea programme, which includes the use of Ireland’s research vessels - RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager. The programme is a unique public private partnership, which will follow the small juvenile salmon from southern Europe to the Barents Sea in the far North. It will involve three marine surveys over the summer months in 2008 and 2009.

The first of these surveys has already been conducted using the RV Celtic Voyager and the main Irish survey commenced from Killybegs aboard the RV Celtic Explorer. Its mission is to map the migration and the distribution of salmon stocks at sea, using ground-breaking genetic fingerprint technology.

This cutting-edge innovation, which replaces conventional salmon tags, has already facilitated the mapping of all of the major salmon stocks in Europe. Using methods similar to the DNA analysis used in tracking criminals, it identifies individual fish caught at sea by analysing their natural genetic code, which can then be matched back to their region or river of origin.

In addition to the EU-funded FP7 SALSEA Merge programme, there is also a parallel programme taking place in August of this year with Canadian and US involvement and their survey will parallel in the western Atlantic what the SALSEA Merge programme is undertaking in the east.

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