Press Releases

Go north, and swim fast!

New evidence of migration of young salmon leaving IrelandMigration route discovered and longest tracked distances of individual salmon at sea

The route taken by young salmon (smolts) leaving the east coast of Ireland has been discovered for the first time. Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) have revealed findings that prove some young salmon leaving rivers on Ireland’s east coast start their migration to the Atlantic by travelling north to leave the Irish Sea rather than south. The The ongoing research is being carried out as just one part of the COMPASS project studying the regions oceanography, marine protected areas and species. The project is funded to the tune of €6.3m by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme , managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Match-funding for the project has also been provided by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in Ireland.

The new evidence was established after researchers tagged salmon smolts with coded transmitting acoustic tags in the Castletown and Boyne rivers in County Louth during the spring of this year.  Three of these tagged salmon were picked up on listening devices in the coastal seas as they travelled northwards out of the Irish Sea towards the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the smolts was recorded in Scottish waters, some 80 kilometres north of the Inishowen Peninsula. This smolt had travelled an estimated 250 kilometres in just over a month, one of the longest distances recorded for a salmon tracked at sea en route to its feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.  Two more salmon smolts were tracked as far as receivers located off the Northern Ireland coast, further confirming the northward migration of the fish through the Irish Sea.

Until now, it was unknown if juvenile salmon leaving Ireland’s east coast rivers headed around the North or South coasts to get to their oceanic feeding grounds.  These first three tracked fish took a northward route from rivers on the east coast to exit the Irish Sea. These salmon also moved offshore quickly, behaving very differently from sea trout, which remained closer to their spawning rivers and swam closer to the coast and river mouths.

The tagging work was carried out by scientists from IFI (Dr James Barry) and AFBI (Dr Richard Kennedy) who tagged and analysed the movements of 130 salmon smolts as they left their rivers of birth in the spring of 2019. This work was supported by a local angling clubs, including The Dundalk and District Brown trout and Salmon Anglers, who helped to install fish traps which enabled the tagging and release of fish. A network of acoustic receivers were moored to the seabed along the coast from Drogheda to the north east coast by researchers from IFI and AFBI, to track the tiny acoustic transmitters in the salmon as they migrated from the rivers to the open ocean. 

This research is just one element of the COMPASS (Collaborative Oceanography and Monitoring for Protected Areas and Species) project, a transnational initiative which focuses on the coastal seas between Ireland and western Scotland.  The project aims to deliver improved cross border environmental monitoring programmes, including research to support highly mobile protected species such as marine mammals, salmon and sea trout. This particular research package is investigating the success of wild salmon and sea trout as they migrate from river to sea, and examining where they travel to and how many of them survive before returning to Ireland to reproduce.

Commenting on the findings, Dr William Roche, Senior Research Officer at IFI said: “As salmon populations are in decline across the northern hemisphere, we urgently need to establish their migration journey and identify any issues which may be negatively impacting survival along that route. This research marks an exciting milestone and it will play a critical role in supporting marine conservation efforts.

Dr Cathal Gallagher, Head of Research and Development at Inland Fisheries Ireland said: “Salmon hatch in their native river, spend their juvenile life feeding in freshwater and prepare for their long sea migration before returning as adults, usually one year later to mate in their native river.  Genetic analysis has shown this loyalty to their native river which can be traced back to the Ice Age.

The COMPASS project has for the first time identified the northward migration route of young salmon from some of Ireland’s east coast rivers, as they start their epic and dangerous journey to their feeding grounds in the North Atlantic Sea. Research results like these offer insights which will enable policy makers and managers to focus actions aimed at the protection and conservation of Ireland’s iconic salmon stocks, which have suffered considerable decline over the past decades. Inland Fisheries Ireland will continue in its research efforts, nationally and internationally, to support the conservation of our salmon stocks which are threatened by current and increasing threats posed by a changing environment.” 

Dr Robert Rosell, Principal Scientific Officer for freshwater Fish at AFBI said: These observations are an exciting first for long distance tracking of individual young salmon at sea. We are now in a position to carry out follow up studies to find out much more. These results will optimise the placement of further detection equipment and add information, for instance on survival rates, for further releases of tagged fish. Now that we know where to look, advancing technology and longer battery life tags may soon give us not just the outward journey, but also detail of the routes taken by  adult fish coming back to spawn.

EU Invests €6.28 Million to Help Protect Life Beneath The Waves

The SEUPB has announced that €6.28 million worth of funding, under the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, has been offered for a ground-breaking environmental project that will both protect and increase our understanding of oceanic life.

The funding has been offered to the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) for the ‘COMPASS’ project, which will create a state-of-the-art network of buoys to effectively track, model and monitor aquatic life and oceanographic processes, on a cross-border basis.

The network will produce new marine monitoring data for emerging areas of environmental concern including ocean acidification and the long-term impact of ambient noise on sea-life. It will also help fulfil International, European and national biodiversity obligations.

A cross-border project, ‘COMPASS’ will deliver a clearer understanding of what changes in the oceanographic climate have on underwater habitats, fauna and flora across the region. It will also develop hi-tech acoustic tag programmes to understand the migration patterns, the behaviour and mortality of salmon and sea trout in the North Western part of the Irish Sea.

The interregional perspective will allow data to be captured and shared across Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland. The coordination of monitoring activities will help to prepare the data for outputs into regional and international monitoring programmes.

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in Ireland and the Scottish Government.

A spokesperson for the DAERA said: The Department match-funded the COMPASS project to help deliver the first fully coherent network of marine monitoring buoys, connecting the core marine research institutions and government agencies operating in the coastal seas of Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. This network will generate essential baseline monitoring of animals, oceanographic factors and ambient noise in support of our Marine Protected Areas.

“The benefits of this AFBI-led research project include long-term monitoring strategies for highly mobile protected species such as marine mammals, and also fish such as salmon and eels which are of conservation and commercial importance. It will provide the department with key tools to enable sustainable management of Northern Ireland’s valuable marine resources and I am delighted to see this project coming to fruition.”

Mr. Simon Coveney, TD Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, said: “I am pleased to financially support this cross-border project, noting that the increased understanding of oceanic life to be delivered by the COMPASS Project will assist in protecting and supporting ocean biodiversity in a real, meaningful and sustained fashion.”

Welcoming the funding the Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “It is fantastic news that this ambitious programme of work is being funded. The monitoring will provide valuable information to help manage Scotland’s marine biodiversity and contribute to achieving Scotland’s vision of clean, safe, healthy and biologically diverse seas.

“I’m delighted that Scotland is playing such a crucial role in this collaborative international project, bringing significant skills and resources from both Marine Scotland Science and the Scottish Association for Marine Science,” she continued.

Highlighting the importance of the project, Gina McIntyre CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which manages the INTERREG VA Programme, said: “The breadth of experience represented by the various cross-border partners involved in this project will prove invaluable to the future protection of our marine environment.

“Collectively they exemplify one of the core objective of the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, which has been designed to support cross-border solutions to issues of shared environmental concern,” she continued.

Notes to Editors:

COMPASS (Collaborative Oceanography & Monitoring for Protected Areas & Species project background

  • The project will develop common, connected monitoring programmes and data management practices across Ireland, Scotland and Northern Ireland to improve cross-border capacity for monitoring and managing marine protected areas and species.
  • Project partners – the project integrates the knowledge and expertise of five key regional organisations including the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the Marine Institute Galway (MI), Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), Marine Scotland Science (MSS) and the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS). Collectively they represent the main marine science organisations in the eligible region.
  • These partners are responsible for delivering a significant proportion of the regions marine monitoring programmes, and will develop their connectivity and collaboration by implementing enhanced monitoring and modelling programmes supported by a co-developed collection of relevant data to ensure an effective legacy.


  • The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Ireland. It is responsible for managing two EU Structural Funds Programmes, PEACE IV and INTERREG VA which are designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society.
  • The Programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and in the case of INTERREG VA, Western Scotland.
  • The INTERREG VA Programme has a value of €283 million and aims to address the economic and social problems which result from the existence of borders.
  • For more information on the SEUPB please visit