Salmon stocks in the last river open for angling on the east coast are on the brink of being wiped out by pollution from IRA diesel launderers.
This year, anglers on the Fane River flowing from Co Monaghan to the Irish Sea below Dundalk will only be able to 'catch and release' due to the depletion of stocks, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
Inland Fisheries Ireland is to impose the ban for 2016 because of what local anglers say has been a ten-fold decrease in the amount of salmon, brown trout and sea trout being caught in the river system over the past two decades.
The same river system supplies drinking water to some 45,000 households in the Dundalk and north Louth and 8,000 in south Armagh areas.
Over the past 30 years thousands of tonnes of highly toxic waste from the IRA-run fuel-laundering industry based in south Armagh has been dumped and poured directly into the river system.
The waste includes the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that cause cancers and degenerative illnesses in humans as well as wildlife.
Anglers who have fished the Fane River, its two lake, Lough Muckno and Lough Ross, as well as its tributaries, say the fish stocks have declined massively in recent years. Salmon stocks have declined all round the world mainly because of pollution and overfishing.
On the Fane, the main source of pollution is the massive dumping of the acids, diesel and dye residues that are the by-product of the multi-million euro illicit trade.
Inland Fisheries Ireland estimated that in the 1970s around 3,000 salmon were caught commercially in what it terms 'Dundalk waters'. This declined dramatically though, and in the past decade only around 200 to 300 fish were being caught.
Local sources said the stocks had declined so much by last year that many anglers stopped fishing because they were so concerned at the decline. This year there will only legally be catch and release allowed on the river system. Anyone found keeping salmon could face stiff fines.
The link between depletion of fish, and particularly salmon stocks, due to pollution of their habitat by oil spills was detailed in a report by a number of environmental and fish agencies published in September last year in the online journal, Scientific Reports.
The research into the lasting impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill at Prince William Sound in Alaska in March 1989 found that over 25 years - about the same length of time serious pollution of the Fane system has been taking place - there were serious effects on spawning grounds and on juvenile fish.
The study by the Alaska Fisheries Science Centre found a "much-reduced survival of pink salmon exposed as embryos to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from crude oil".
The PAH is exactly the same toxic compound found in the waste produced by the IRA-controlled diesel laundering process which used various chemicals to remove the dye from 'green' diesel for re-sale, at big profit, as 'white' diesel used for cars and commercial vehicles.
In the Scientific Reports article in September, Dr Nat Scholz, of the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre, stated: "We now know the developing fish heart is exquisitely sensitive to crude oil toxicity, and that subtle changes in heart formation can have delayed but important consequences for first-year survival, which in turn determines the long-term abundance of wild fish populations."
The report also found that "juvenile salmon exposed to oil grew more slowly, with those exposed to the highest concentrations growing the slowest. For salmon, early survival in the ocean is strongly influenced by juvenile growth, with smaller fish suffering higher loss to predators".
It added that "exposure to oil as embryos altered the structural development of the hearts of juvenile fish, potentially reducing their fitness and swimming ability. Poor swimming and cardiac fitness is also a factor in disease resistance".
The same PAH-poisoned material being dumped by the fuel launderers has also been linked to cancers, neonatal defects and abortion and damage to the human immune system.
Salmon, sea trout and other 'game' fish have long been under threat but relatively little attention has been paid to the poisoning of spawning grounds on the upper reaches of rivers like the Fane.
The Sunday Independent last year examined one stream flowing directly into the Lough Ross reservoir, which supplies drinking water to around 8,500 households in Crossmaglen and surrounding areas where all apparent wildlife had been killed.
The diesel pollution, pumped directly from an oil laundering plant being operated completely openly, had killed all the vegetation in the stream and left eroded clay soil visible under the surface.
The pollution had also killed the vital insect life which provides feeding for the juvenile fish stocks.
Research undertaken, particularly in north America where the survival of salmon stocks is taken very seriously, has shown that PAH poisoning in juvenile salmon causes heart defects that are not readily noticeable but prevent the fish from maturing to reproductive age.
The research carried out by Seattle-based scientists and published last year showed that diesel oil's effects are greatest in cold-water environments, where fish embryos are less able to metabolise the pollutants.
In the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude in Prince William Sound, Alaska introduced water-pollution limits at 10 parts per billion for the polycyclic aromatics but even at these levels scientists found that embryonic salmon were still being seriously affected.
Dr John Incardona, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Centre, said: "What this study shows is that in very, very low concentration of oil, embryonic fish get born with a mild heart defect.
"Those fish may look okay on the outside, but the heart defect makes them less fit, so they can't swim as fast. They may succumb to predators at higher rates than other fish and may be more vulnerable to infections."
The pollutants produced by the diesel laundering process have been widely and freely dumped into the water system along the Border for decades with no public outcry - due to what local people say is residual fear from the IRA.
Gardai say the south Armagh IRA has complete control over the illicit trade despite claims by Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein that there is no 'republican' involvement.
Local people say that the 'washing' of diesel has declined in the past year but still goes on.