We warmly receive the Environment Agency’s proposed new measures to protect wild salmon stocks but we emphasise that they need to be implemented rapidly to save this threatened species.
The 2015 national salmon stock assessment indicated that wild salmon stocks in many rivers across England had failed to meet their minimum conservation targets. Further monitoring since then has shown that this trend has continued downwards.
Paul Knight, our CEO says:
“We are delighted that the campaigning and responses of S&TC and other organisations to the Environment Agency’s consultation on salmon stocks has resulted in these new proposals to protect wild salmon and sea trout. The proposed closure of net fisheries on the North East coast of England by 2019 is a promising start but we believe the case is extremely pressing and action should be taken this year and not delayed for yet another season.”
Mixed stock coastal netting stations indiscriminately catch any salmon passing by, regardless of where they are heading or the strength of the population in their home rivers. They are completely non-selective, making the management of individual river stocks almost impossible. In addition, many rivers that should see returning fish are designated as “At Risk”. The random nature of mixed stock fisheries therefore makes it extremely difficult to determine the impact of such fisheries on these vulnerable river sites.
Under pressure from S&TC and other organisations, the Scottish Government finally announced the closure of all Scottish netting fisheries in 2016. However, coastal mixed stock netting stations still occur along the North East coast of England. While this is not under Scottish jurisdiction, between 30-70% (depending on area fished) of wild salmon caught are from Scottish stocks
Paul Knight continues:
“We agree that the reason for the dramatic decline in wild salmon is complex. Atlantic salmon are wild migratory fish with a unique life cycle. Leaving its distant marine feeding areas, this iconic fish returns to the river where it was born to lay eggs, but to do this they face immense challenges. Many of these are caused by direct human impact - so it is in our gift to save this fascinating species for future generations, but time is running short.”
S&TC has long battled with the Scottish Government on fish farming and the impact that this is having on wild stocks of salmon because of the dramatic rise in sea lice populations. The charity is also helping to protect fresh water habitats through its Riverfly Census, which has identified that pollution from sediment and phosphate is having a direct effect on water quality to the detriment of all aquatic wildlife including wild salmon.
Paul Knight concludes:
“Pollution has reached an alarming level in many of our rivers and much more work needs to be done to protect these spawning grounds for salmon as well as other wild fish. This will involve a major re-think in the way our water is managed through improved regulations, stricter penalties for polluters and more in-depth monitoring of water quality.”
In addition, S&TC is concerned that these new proposals do not address the conservation status of sea trout. Although considerable effort has gone into identifying the conservation status of Atlantic salmon and its complex lifecycle, we know far less about how sea trout are faring, although they share very similar characteristics and habitats to salmon. More detailed research on the status of sea-trout populations is urgently needed to protect this species too.
The Environment Agency will advertise the proposed byelaws to protect salmon in late February 2018 and is inviting responses to the proposals either online or via letter.