• Ian Gordon

A time before Corona and fake news!

One day we will look back and see the truth staring us all right in the face. Until this time, we must listen to and tow party line.

A lifetime of studying the river has led me to draw my own conclusions with regard the much-publicised decline in the Atlantic salmon. The timescale of my personal study ranges from, the mid 1970s until present day. A period of 45 years. During this time I’ve also read many books on the subject with particular interest in those written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as they tell the story of a particular period in time. focusing mainly on the period from the 1850s to the 1920s. But what about after this?

Although there are many people still living who can talk about the wonderful fishing to be had during the period from 1940 through to 1980, little is talked about regarding the biology of the river particularly the status of juvenile stocks from this time.

Yesterday I was given a copy of a letter written to a friend of mine relating to the present day status of our rivers, and his thoughts regarding what went wrong during his period of study 1940s - 2015. What I found interesting about this was that it correlates perfectly with my own observations throughout my own period of study And those talked about in books relating to the past.

In his opening line below, he talks about what we can do about the decline. The email below was written in 2015

Dear Bill,

Yes, today, I’m afraid there is ” little we can do about it”. But yesterday all was possible.

There is over emphasis of what happens to fish in the sea. Not easy to alter that environment.

In my opinion, the declines that were noted in 1968 and 1962 resulted not in any sea issues but probably right here at home.

Fishing from the mid fifties, the summer issue was always salmon par and smolts. The presence of par and the downstream passage of smolts made fishing for brown trout and sea trout difficult and frustrating. It was in the late seventies when this became less of an issue, certainly in my case.

So, what might the reason be? During the fifties, as a schoolboy, to earn money I worked on many farms whenever possible. I went to study agriculture in 1960 in Aberdeen.

In 1948, organochlorine and gamma BHC were approved as an acaricide, specifically to control sheep scab. There were also compulsory dipping orders from time to time. Sheep fanks (handling pens) were never designed to cope with safe disposal of surplus dip. There are figures for dip “run off” from the fleece of sheep. With two dippings and some way to a fuller fleece (as opposed to shorn sheep) that could be classed as a serious build up of chemical.

For plant growth and well being, a neutral pH of 7 is about right. The pH of 7 allows trace elements to become available to most plants. Aquatic plants also do well in a neutral pH eg. Chalk Streams in Hampshire.

In 1940 in UK. there was a total of 2 million tons of lime applied to agricultural land. The “war effort” for more food caused the lime application to peak in 1955 at 7 million tons. The usage then fell to the 1976 level of 3.8 million tons and that was the year that “the lime subsidy” was removed. The 1995 usage was 3 million tons.

Where I caught trout in hill burns in the fifties and early sixties, ( average 4ozs and and in a good spate around about 24 expected to be caught) in the seventies absolutely devoid of trout. In 1976 and 1978 I attempted to recreate my trout experience on hill burns with my two small sons. The only trout experiences to be found were on lochs, eg Loch Tay.

Trout are an effective barometer in the measuring and suitability of their environment. This is particularly important regarding eggs, eyed ova and fingerlings. The LD factor for their survival must be extremely low because of their size. What goes for the trout, equally affects salmon during their initial life stages.

As a boy, I cut thistles. Soon that stopped because it was more effective to spray them with herbicide. MCPA to Agent Red in Vietnam.

From 1975 till 1997 I was employed by Merck Sharpe & Dohme. In 1981 Ivermectin was introduced. This parasiticide was of great value to the livestock industry. It had a long lasting effect within the body of the animal. There were issues with excretion of this drug. Dung did not readily degrade, dung beetles did not survive. I believe that residual drug would leach into the water course. Ivermectin was trialled for use in fish farming to control sea lice. Did a great job on sea lice but killed everything below the fish cages for many hundred yards!! It was never approved for use in a marine environment. It was used illegally by fish farmers. Some vets who were involved with fish farming clients, found that in severe sea lice infestations, a welfare issue became prominent. They went “off script” and treated with ivermectin. (By the way, I hold the world record regarding market share of ivermectin sales into the cattle sector of - 71%. Ford car market share 4%) Perhaps I am to blame?

If the trout survived hatching to become fingerlings, there was not much for them to feed on. The LD factor on invertebrates in the streams was very low and with increasing use of more sophisticated herbicides, the initial food source for fish was removed.

It is of significance, that in summer time during the fifties, near hedgerows and river banks there was a constant drone from insects. I was able to create this drone for the first time in summer 2014 in my garden. It was year two of sowing a comprehensive mixture of meadow seeds, and the insects, butterflies that appeared were a sight to behold. I would recommend this to all my friends.

I do not believe that sufficient salmon par are available to pursue a life at sea. If the trout were suffering in streams in the seventies, so were the salmon. In 1959 the Tarland Burn near West Davoch was full of salmon. Are there any today?

I am fortunate that I lived and fished at a period when changes were beginning in agriculture. The old systems were falling by the wayside and an agricultural revolution was starting. When you consider the old systems of crop rotation, adding organic matter, permanent grassland and limited inorganic fertilisers, the land was husbanded. It took many generations of care to build up a living viable soil. This went by the wayside slowly, with continues grain cropping and additional fertiliser usage depleting the character and well being of the soil we depend upon.

Salmon spawn in areas which get little or no lime. (look at the rushes in fields). Acid rain seems to be an issue. I would say forestry management is most unhelpful.

In many costal area, if the smolts arrive, sea lice are unhelpful. it is tough out there!

Bill, these are some of my thoughts. I am intending to research this area more to see if the ideas fit?



A few things of interest and debate here.

1. High sea netting. UDN. The effect on overall adult numbers.

2. Having enough adult salmon creating enough genetic diversity when re-seed the river. Gone, it would seem, are the days of mass spawning, by this I mean an orgy of spawning with dozens of male fish present, interacting with a handful of females?

3. Liming Grants and Pesticides.

4. Insect life and in river feeding

5. Water abstraction and flow

6. Forestry

7. Change in land use

8. What can we learn from other places? France, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway. And Russia?

9. Predation

10. Netting

11. Aquaculture

I’m sure that looking at the above more closely we will find a great many answers to questions relating to the decline. Given all the in-river problems To say our rivers are producing enough, or, as many as they did in the past simply cannot be true. This is something those on the river have tried to point out over a long period of time now and, for whatever reason, has been largely ignored.

It’s with great interest I now see study taking place into insect life and feeding on our rivers, as, I know for sure that this will eventually lead to us taking a very different approach to both the problem and how to manage it.

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