Local fishermen have raised their concerns over the solid sewage being discharged into the River Erne after their recent catch consisted of “sanitary towels and toilet wipes”.

It is understood that the issue stems from a sewage pumping station near Derrychara, Enniskillen which a source told this newspaper has consent to do an emergency discharge into the River Erne at times of blockages. However, although liquid sewage is being diluted into the river, there is no primary filter for solid sewage which is sinking to the bottom of the river.

A spokeswoman from NI Water confirmed this, stating: “The NI Water Rossory Pumping Station and Lakeview Combined Sewer Overflow are designed during periods of wet weather to discharge excess water into nearby waterways to protect the network from becoming overwhelmed and causing out of sewer flooding. The discharges are controlled by consents issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).”

She continued: “Neither of these assets are currently screened to remove sewage debris. A requirement for screening has been added to NI Water’s network priority list for delivery within the next price control period, however this will be subject to available funding.”

Explaining that the pollution from sewage has been an “ongoing problem” for a number of years, local fisherman Tony Green, who also holds an open-water diving qualification, said: “The pollution from the sewage at Derrychara has been a particular problem with fishing during competitions because that section is only used during competitions.”

At a fishing competition organised by Erne Anglers, which took place on Sunday, October 6, Tony, who was based at Derrychara for the competition, noted that the pollution was “seriously bad”.

“It was on our lines, it was on the hooks, it was constant all day,” he commented, adding that other competing fishermen who were based by the Lakeland Forum pulled up to 25 items of solid sewage out of the river. Giving examples of some of the solid sewage pulled from the water, Tony said: “Sanitary towels, wipes, toilet wipes, plastic items but mainly sanitary towels and toilet wipes.”

“I’m not only concerned about myself and other anglers, but other water users. Just downstream from the area there is the boat hire around the back of Erneside, you’ve got the boating activities by Cornagrade and you’ve got the rowing,” said Tony.

“Just from fishing knowledge, the pollution has spread from the Derrychara area through the Broadmeadow, through the Queen Elizabeth Road and right through Cornagrade into the Lower Lough,” he added.

Mentioning the TV series ‘Lough Erne’ which has been airing on UTV over the last few weeks, Tony said: “It shows what a lovely natural environment Lough Erne is, which it is, we all love it, and it highlighted the great work that the volunteers do in cleaning up surface pollution from the lake, for example plastic bottles and all sorts that come down the rivers. What the general public don’t realise is what’s going on underneath the water with the sewage.”

Fellow fisherman Frank Smith added: “The problem is you can’t see the sewage, when you get debris on top of the lake, you can see it, but that stuff, you can’t see it unless you are there fishing. You can imagine how small a hook is and you’re hooking all this waste, so how much waste is in there? There must be a tremendous amount of it there for us to catch what we catch.”

However, a spokeswoman for Northern Ireland Water (NI Water) stated that the sewer network had been inspected on Monday, October 7 and they found “no evidence of spills”.

“NI Water appreciates the frustrations of the local community who have raised concerns over sewage related debris entering the River Erne. NI Water inspected the sewer network on Monday, October 7 and found no evidence of spills. An inspection of the river bank was also carried out but no evidence of sewage related debris was found,” said the spokeswoman, continuing: “NI Water recognises it has a major role to play in the protection of Lough Erne; however, it is important to highlight that protecting the lough is a responsibility for everyone, including in relation to misconnections to the sewerage system by private developers and householders.”

Adding that he believes that the increase in pollution is related to the decline in fish stocks around Enniskillen, Tony noted that fishermen no longer fish by the Queen Elizabeth Road as there are no fish in that area anymore.

“It’s not a coincidence, it’s more than a coincidence that there is increased pollution and decline in fish stocks. Somebody is responsible for the pollution in the river and somebody is responsible for cleaning it up and returning the fish stocks to what it was, it’s really that bad,” he said.