NASCO 2019

“With S&TC’s Chairman, CEO, Head of Science and Scottish Director actively involved in NASCO, we are playing a genuinely influential role within international wild Atlantic salmon conservation politics”

The 2019 NASCO meeting was held in Tromsø, Norway, this year and was preceded by a 2-day Symposium for the International Year of the Salmon - Managing the Atlantic salmon in a rapidly changing environment.

S&TC’s Head of Science, Dr Janina Gray, gave a presentation on behalf of the NGOs, covering the importance of using science to support policy making in restoring Atlantic salmon stocks for conservation, cultural, food and recreation purposes.  The presentation was very well received by the 160 delegates and Janina’s main call to action was a challenge to the NASCO governments to politically commit the necessary policies and resources to protect and restore salmon stocks right across their North Atlantic range.

Perhaps the three most important recommendations coming out from the Symposium were that:

  1. The primary objective of salmon management across all NASCO Parties and Jurisdictions must be to produce the highest number of healthy wild salmon smolts possible from all relevant river systems;
  2. We have to change our mindset from purely managing wild salmon stocks to actively conserving them, otherwise extinctions will surely follow;
  3. Wild salmon do not recognise country boundaries and we have to think in terms of protecting the species on a global scale.  For example, fish heading from Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and the UK, and from USA and Canada, all run the risk of being impacted by open-net salmon farming in other jurisdictions.  NASCO is ideally placed to reach a consensus as to how salmon farming should be operated and regulated to protect salmon across their entire range.

At a Special Session during the actual NASCO meeting, S&TC CEO, Paul Knight, who co-chairs the NGOs, gave a statement urging the Parties and Jurisdictions to undertake a progressive transition from a largely stock management to a protection/conservation regime for wild salmon.

His clear message was that we must aim for full wild smolt production by actioning measures to combat the stressors over which we have potential control – open-net salmon farming, water quality and quantity, intensive agriculture, hydroelectricity, barriers to migration, predation etc.

This will give salmon the best possible chance of surviving their marine phase, where there is far less that we can do to conserve them, except minimise coastal and high seas exploitation and by-catch.

In the questions that accompanied the Special Session, S&TC Chairman, Bill Hicks, received assurance that the annual process whereby NASCO jurisdictions report progress on their salmon management and conservation measures, would be more challenging to governments in future.  This will include NASCO representatives having to defend their actions publicly against questioning from the NGOs, which will enable us to better hold our respective governments to account over wild salmon conservation.

S&TC Scottish Director, Andrew Graham-Stewart, also gave a statement, in which he highlighted the continuing lack of commitment by those NASCO jurisdictions with open-net salmon farming to take the necessary and urgent measures, in line with the clear NASCO guidelines, to address the negative impacts of salmon farming on wild stocks.

His statement elicited several responses from the parties including a commitment from the senior Scottish Government representative who gave an assurance that a significant tightening of regulation of salmon farms is imminent.  This was consistent with the statement delivered to the Scottish Parliament on June 5 by Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, outlining the first steps towards delivering the recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee Inquiries last year, both of which reported that the status quo was no longer an option for the way in which salmon farming is operated or regulated in Scotland.

As well as the NGO statement, the NASCO Council was presented with a list of recommendations from the Symposium.  NASCO President, Jóannes Hansen from the Faroe Islands, confirmed that the Heads of Delegation would discuss the way forward for the forum in the autumn, and that the NGOs would be involved in discussing how NASCO would operate in the future.

So, at the end of an unusually upbeat NASCO meeting, there is the promise of beneficial change for wild salmon conservation across the North Atlantic.  And with S&TC’s Chairman, CEO, Head of Science and Scottish Director actively involved in NASCO, we are playing a genuinely influential role within international wild Atlantic salmon conservation politics, besides all that we do to restore wild stocks within UK river systems.

The RiverFly Census presents the conclusions and policy recommendations from three years of unprecedented species-level research and analysis across 12 rivers from southern chalk streams to the north’s Eden and Coquet.

The scope of the analysis is staggering: we (or rather, our independent scientist, Dr Nick Everall and his team) have sampled 34,000 river-dwelling invertebrates from more than 480 different species. This massive data set of aquatic “wee beasties” has provided hard evidence on the decline of riverfly life and tells a story of the pollution stresses our rivers face. By the Environment Agency’s own reckoning, only 14 % of our rivers are healthy and we reckon it is worse than that.

FURTHER ENQUIRIES

Corin Smith | Comms

comms@salmon-trout.org (+44 7463576892)

Troubling news from Wales

Troubling news from Wales as the recently published 2018 assessments of salmon and sea trout populations point towards a continued decline.

Stocks in twelve of the twenty-three principle salmon rivers were deemed to be “at risk” of failing to reach their conservation limits for sustainable recruitment and those in the remaining eleven rivers to be “probably at risk”.

Sewin stocks were found to be in an equally worrying situation with populations in sixteen of the thirty-three principle rivers revealed to be “at risk” and all but two of the remainder “probably at risk”. The need for urgent action to halt these declines grows by the day, not least in remedying the deterioration in water quality of several rivers brought about by intensive agriculture.

We eagerly await an announcement from Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, on the details of the new regulations to tackle agricultural pollution to be implemented in January 2020 in the hope that they will be sufficiently robust to bring an end to the current unacceptable practices of a small number of irresponsible operators. While they will not be sufficient in themselves to bring about a complete recovery of stocks, they will nevertheless be warmly welcomed as an important first step in addressing the plight of our precious sewin and salmon.

 

Unlike Scotland and England, where the potential impact of everyday farming practices on water are regulated under a suite of legally enforced rules and measures, farmers in Wales have until recently only been expected to follow the voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP). There is a lot to be said for minimising regulatory control and respecting an individual’s right to use their own land as they please; but with rights come responsibilities which, when shouldered in a conscientious manner, naturally result in equitable outcomes. Sadly, that has not been the case with CoGAP and in recent years we have seen a startling increase in incidents of agricultural pollution, particularly so within the dairy sector, as producers have expanded their herds and effectively abandoned all notion of voluntary restraint in the spreading of slurry.

For more information please contact: wales@salmon-trout.org

2018 Sea Trout Stock Assessment: http://bit.ly/2XapNIa

2018 Salmon Stock Assessment: http://bit.ly/2wtMlrK

Header Image Credit: Steffan Jones

BBC Panorama: Salmon Farming Exposed

“We applaud Panorama’s focus on the abject failure of the regulators in Scotland to carry out their responsibilities."

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland

For example, the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate, that polices farms for parasites and diseases, has in the last five years served only two enforcement notices under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, relating to the failure to control sea lice on fish farms.

Furthermore, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has not, in the last five years, served a single enforcement notice for any failure to comply with Controlled Activities Regulations licences and there have been no prosecutions.

This is taking ‘light touch regulation’ to extremes – a consequence, there can be little doubt, of political direction from above.”

You can view the full BBC Panorama investigation here:

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005hc1

- Andrew Graham-Stewart, Scottish Director 

For Scottish Enquiries contact: director@salmon-troutscotland.org

Header photo credit: BBC Panorama

The Shetland Factor

Many believe salmon farming is an issue exclusive to wild fish in the west Highlands and Hebrides. However, controlling sea lice on farms in Shetland is just as important as our Scottish Director, Andrew Graham-Stewart explains...

The official figures for rod catches of salmon in Scotland during 2018 were published last week. That they were the lowest since official records began was hardly a surprise. There has been a downward trend for several years and last year’s depressing figures were exacerbated and indeed partly explained by extreme conditions; on the majority of rivers most of the summer was unfishable as flows became trickles in the extended drought and temperatures soared. Incidentally it is worth noting that the season was not a universal write-off; despite the conditions, catches on the North Highland rivers were reasonably buoyant (albeit condensed into short periods) and the run registered by the fish counter on the Helmsdale was one of the best for years.

Looking at 'farm by farm' sea lice data

Back in autumn 2017, on the basis of data obtained under FOI (its release by Scottish Government was only forthcoming after our successful appeal to the Information Commissioner), we were able to analyse, for the first time, weekly sea lice numbers on a farm by farm basis; prior to this we only had access to regional monthly averages.

Between November 2016 and August 2017, the period for which the data was forthcoming, the worst performing company in the Scottish Islands and overall worst performing company in Scotland was Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd. For months on end its Shetland farms’ figures were massively above the industry’s code of good practice trigger threshold for treatment; some of the numbers were eye-watering – in one week on one farm the average number of adult female sea lice per fish was a staggering 29.

I commented at the time:

“Grieg Seafood’s lamentable record exemplifies the very widespread failure to control sea lice in Shetland. It is no wonder that mature wild sea trout have been wiped out in these islands.”

What this means for wild smolts

In the last 18 months there has been little improvement in sea lice control by salmon farms on Shetland, where over 20% of Scotland’s tonnage is concentrated. It remains a hotbed of lice production, with the farms consistently pumping out billions of sea lice larvae into the wider environment. What this means is that any wild salmon smolts passing within 20 miles (studies show that elevated levels of sea lice emanating from a farm may be found up to a distance of 31 km) either side of Shetland are highly vulnerable to picking up lethal infestations of the deadly parasites.

There is scant knowledge of the migration route(s) taken by smolts from Scottish east and north coast rivers. But a cursory glance at a map suggests that it is a reasonable supposition that they will pass close to Shetland as they head north towards the feeding grounds of the North Norwegian Sea.

There is a tendency amongst those who manage and/or fish on these rivers, including the Big Four, to view salmon farming as only being an issue for wild fish in the west Highlands and Hebrides. In numerous conversations with east and north coast river managers over the last two years I have raised the scenario that sea lice from Shetland farms may well be impacting their smolt survival. On reflection (most had not considered the possibility) all have agreed that this could easily be a significant factor.

Indeed, from a wild fish perspective, the control of sea lice on farms may be just as important in Shetland (and indeed Orkney), with the possible implications for east and north coast smolts, as it is in the west Highlands and Hebrides.

- Andrew Graham-Stewart, Scottish Director 

For Scottish Enquiries contact: director@salmon-troutscotland.org

Header photo credit: Eva Thorstad

We all have a responsibility to save the ‘King of Fish’

The publication of new Environment Agency byelaws banning the killing of salmon in the North East drift and coastal nets was very welcome news earlier this year and brought to a close a campaign by fisheries organisations that lasted some 30 years.

Scotland banned drift netting in 1962 and closed down its coastal nets in 2016, so most UK salmon are now able to reach their rivers of birth unhindered by home-water netting. It was a tremendous way to begin the International Year of the Salmon. However, the same is not true of salmon feeding off the West Coast of Greenland, an area where many of the UK’s multi-sea-winter fish go to fatten up. 

Getting the quotas right

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) was originally established more than 30 years ago to set quotas for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who between them caught nearly 4,000 tonnes of salmon at the height of their respective commercial fishing industries (Greenland in the mid 1970s and the Faroes early 1980s).  The Faroe Islands have not fished for salmon since 2000, although they reserve the right to do so if the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) ever report again that there is enough of a surplus of fish in the North Atlantic to exploit.

Greenland is much more complicated. For many years, NASCO gave the Greenlanders a subsistence quota of around 20 tonnes of salmon – fish that could be caught and either sold in the local open-air markets or kept for food by the fishermen.  Commercial fishing was not allowed, and export was banned.  Private funds were even given from around the North Atlantic countries with recreational fishing to the Greenlanders to help them re-equip and target different species.

However, monitoring and enforcement of salmon fishing by the Greenland Government was only really tightened some five years ago, when it became clear that the actual salmon catch was veering towards 100 tonnes a year.  To be fair, it is a thankless task trying to oversee any coastal activity in Greenland, as the West Coast communities are so disparate – there is no road connection between them, with travel limited to those with access to either boat or plane.  However, when Government officials started to phone round the fishing community and ask for catch statistics, alarm bells were rung.

The current situation

In 2015, Greenland accepted a quota of 45 tonnes agreed at NASCO.  Unfortunately, some people with little knowledge of the background ridiculed NASCO for the size of the quota, when in realistic terms, it was actually halving the amount of fish that was now known to have been caught in previous years.  Coupled to the new quota was a new management and regulatory system adopted by the Greenland Government which put much greater emphasis on monitoring and reporting.  In 2018, the quota was reduced to 30 tonnes.

The bad news is that Greenland has just reported a catch of 40 tonnes for 2018!  However, rather than a return to the bad days, at least the government has a handle on the fishery now and, if it abides by the NASCO agreement, the 10-tonne excess will be taken off the quota for this season, which is comforting news for our MSW (Multi Sea Winter) fish.

What this means closer to home...

All this regulation and government support at Greenland and the Faroe Islands means that UK governments have an extra responsibility to protect salmon stocks at home.  Good for Scotland and England in taking decisive action over coastal netting, but we still have serious issues to address – open-net salmon farming, agricultural impact on water quality, habitat degradation, water abstraction, barriers to migration, predation – and for that we need a political commitment throughout the UK which is sadly lacking at the moment.

I have some sympathy for Greenlanders who generally have a far better grasp of what ‘sustainable exploitation’ means than we ever have – they still derive much of their protein from natural resources and realise how important it is to manage those stocks effectively.  So when an angler lands a salmon in the UK and has to return it to the water because of byelaws or fishery rules, rather than curse the regulators, spare a thought for the Greenlanders and Faroese and their sacrifice in the name of conservation.

Better still, understand that, as Sir David Attenborough said in our recent video, if we are not to lose the King of Fish for ever, we all have to play our part, in whatever way we can, to help Atlantic salmon through their present crisis. The International Year of the Salmon gives us the opportunity to focus on that very stark warning, and act now!

- Paul Knight, CEO

International Year of the Salmon – Our annual seminar in Wales

Latest figures reveal populations in 21 of the country’s 23 principle salmon rivers to be probably at risk or at risk of failing to meet their conservation limits. It was with this thought in mind that the recent S&TC Cymru annual seminar took on an International Year of the Salmon theme, posing the question: “Can we save the Atlantic salmon?”

The overall consensus

Robust presentations citing the latest discoveries in our understanding of salmon population dynamics left delegates in no doubt that a new approach towards habitat management and water quality management is required if we are to maximise spawning success and achieve maximum escapement. Learn more about how S&TC are fighting for healthy habitats here.

Central to achieving good water quality is a science-backed understanding of what the pressures are. Our Riverfly Census provides critical insights into the health of the freshwater environment, but also provides benchmarks against which to assess the success or otherwise of various management interventions.

It is imperative that the Riverfly Census work is continued through its future development and expansion into S&TC’s SmartRivers; where local people will be able to harness the power of species-level invertebrate analysis to pinpoint water quality pressures on their own rivers.

Summary of the day

Proceedings began with a passionate personal account by author and broadcaster Will Millard of the important role salmon, clean rivers and wild fish have played in his life and his desire to see them restored and protected. Our CEO Paul Knight explained the important and role S&TC has played over the past century advocating on behalf of salmon while deputy CEO Nick Measham revealed the manner in which our Riverfly Census can be used to highlight the threats facing the invertebrate population upon which salmon parr depend.

Dr Nigel Milner related the role played by the IFM at NASCO and the need to revise current stock assessment methods to better understand and predict the dynamics of salmon populations. Ian Davidson of NRW continued the stock assessment theme and the
important role played by the Welsh Dee or Dyfrdwy as an index river. The dynamics and fate of small and declining salmon populations were presented by Professor Carlos Garcia de Leaniz of Swansea University who also drew attention to the hitherto underestimated importance of salmon choosing to spawn in different rivers to those in which they originated. The morning session was drawn to a close by author and Gamefisher editor Tom Fort who narrated a fascinating thousand year history of salmon exploitation in British rivers by both nets and rods.

The afternoon session got under way with a comprehensive and encouraging report from Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s Environment Programme Manager, Gail Davies, on the company’s
contributions towards conserving the freshwater environment and safeguarding the future of our wild fish. Dr Guy Mawle gave a detailed and valuable account of his own thoughts and observations, posing some challenging questions regarding possible reasons for recent declines in reported salmon numbers from his home river, the Usk. Drawing the theme of the day to a close, Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE of Afonydd Cymru and the Wye and Usk Foundation related his own conclusions drawn from a long and intimate connection with the Wye and offered some valuable suggestions on the steps required if we are to see our salmon stocks return to truly sustainable levels.

Our Fundraising Manager, Guy Edwards, then gave a short but powerful presentation on the value of our financial independence and the need to allow science to lead us in our campaigning efforts. This was followed by S&TC trustee Tony Bostock who provided a very useful summary of the day’s proceedings before thanking the contributors for their valuable contributions.

Seminar coordinator and S&TC’s National Officer for Wales, Richard Garner Williams, wishes to thank all concerned for making the day such a success and looks forward to repeating the exercise in 2020.

Header image credit: Alan Ward at country field media.

For Welsh enquiries contact: wales@salmon-trout.org

For Riverfly Census enquiries contact: lauren@salmon-trout.org

S&TC ask Sir David Attenborough to talk Salmon for IYS

For International Year of the Salmon, we asked Sir David Attenborough for his views on the need to protect the species.

We say that to save wild salmon, Governments across the Northern Hemisphere need to act now.

The following video gives a very clear message about this, if we are not going to lose the ‘King of Fish’ for ever!

We will continue our current work on reforming unsustainable salmon farming in Scotland and improving water quality, both vital issues affecting the health of wild salmon populations.

However, the greater support we receive, the more influential we can be. Please support us as we continue our hard work.

You can also support us by sharing and engaging with this content far and wide on our various social channels:

S&TC joins partners across the Northern Hemisphere to launch the International Year of the Salmon (IYS) 2019

S&TC joins partners across the Northern Hemisphere to launch the International Year of the Salmon (IYS) 2019

One of the more significant things on our 2019 radar is the International Year of the Salmon; an opportunity to further our important work, collaborate with other salmon conservationists and help spread the word about these beautiful creatures who are sadly struggling.

What is the International Year of the Salmon (IYS)?

IYS is a North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) initiative to support the conservation and restoration of wild salmon species. You can view the official IYS page here.

Salmon are at risk from environmental change and human activities across the Northern Hemisphere, but saving these beautiful and influential creatures requires a uniquely large-scale solution. The International Year of the Salmon sets out to protect salmon by bringing people together to share knowledge, raise public awareness and take action. We have a chance to save not just salmon, but also the communities and cultures that depend on them.

Why do Atlantic salmon need our help?

Wild Atlantic salmon are one of the world’s most iconic species, and a vital indicator of healthy aquatic environments. Their epic migration is one of nature’s greatest stories, swimming thousands of kilometres from home rivers to Northern Hemisphere oceans and back again. A rich cultural history has ensued, where people’s lives and ancestries have been shaped by their interactions with salmon.

Find out more about Atlantic salmon and their plight

However, Atlantic salmon are in a perilous state in their marine and freshwater environments. This is due to environmental change, as well as human activities. IYS will bring people together to share knowledge, stimulate investment in research, and raise public awareness to take appropriate action for salmon.  We have an opportunity to save not just salmon and their environments for future generations, but also the communities and cultures that depend on them.

How will IYS help wild salmon?

  • CONNECTION: The International Year of the Salmon brings together countries across the Northern Hemisphere, because no single country can hope to address fully the challenges that salmon face over their amazing migrations. In their epic migrations through rivers and oceans salmon know no borders; to help them we have to reach across borders and build bridges between countries and cultures.
  • KNOWLEDGE: The International Year of the Salmon will harness ongoing research and kick start partnerships and public action in Europe, North America and Asia to give salmon a better chance to survive and thrive. People across the Northern Hemisphere need to understand more about how migrating Atlantic salmon are unique, complex fish that are infinitely precious to those countries where they migrate, breed, give birth and die. Collaborating and sharing knowledge is essential to learn how best to help salmon.The International Year of the Salmon will draw on science, Indigenous knowledge, and the experience of fishers, policy makers, resource managers and others working to conserve and protect salmon.
  • ACTION: The negative effects that humans have on salmon are now at crucial levels – but it’s not too late. Anyone who cares about the survival of salmon can get involved in the International Year of the Salmon. Experts are needed – but it will take the passion and commitment of people from all walks of life to make the difference. Even the smallest contribution can help. Everyone has a role to play. Even if you've never seen salmon in the wild, the chances are they play a vital role in ecosystems essential to you. The International Year of the Salmon is your chance to join people across the world to make a difference. We have a global issue, but if we all act locally and do what we can, our combined efforts will make a big difference. Think global – act local.

How are S&TC getting involved with IYS?

We will be collaborating with partners all across the Northern Hemisphere to further our research and action on the threats that salmon face. The crucial research costs money. We are an independent charity receiving no government funding and rely on support from concerned, conservation-minded people just like you. You can support our work by becoming a member, or making a donation.

We have a range of exciting events planned to celebrate IYS 2019 and help protect and conserve salmon as part of a global effort. These events will be added to [iys page link]  in the coming weeks. You can also sign up to our newsletter [link] to keep fully up to date with what we are up to and how the International Year of the salmon is progressing.

Atlantic salmon populations across their range are in a serious and consistent decline, yet this important and fascinating species has a relationship with humankind stretching back into prehistory. We will be releasing regular educational resources designed to inspire, inform and enlighten on the plight of the salmon and it's incredible life cycle.

Stay tuned for more news of our involvement in International Year of the Salmon 2019!