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Lost at Sea

December 17, 2017

I saw this film and thought it had some very good points.

Orri Vigfússon - Government and scientists refuse to believe, by killing too many fish over a period of time, obviously, “we” (man) are a major part of the problem. The period between the 1950s - 1990s saw a massive change in how we managed predators of salmon (including man) here in the UK. Not so much Iceland.

Arni Baldursson - Mentions a river In the south west of Iceland, which, due to the presence of a large impassable waterfall, had no salmon in this area. Within two years of installing a fish pass and stocking this area with 60K juvenile fish, no less than 2800 salmon were caught by rod and line! This, at a time where our fish are supposedly being taken by phantom trawlers, eaten by pelagic fish such as Mackerel, or boiling in some incredible ocean warming event.
Am I surprised that “extra” smolts produced in an area of a river, none of which would have been there naturally, created a very good salmon fishery? No, not in the least. Of course it will! The more smolts getting to the ocean, then, pro rata, the more fish will return, this proves this 100%. At this stage of their life cycle Salmon relay on safety in numbers , so it follows, they will do better in the ocean when they arrive there in bigger numbers. Nothing complicated at all.

Are our rivers producing the same number of juveniles as in the past?
Dodgy, poorly conducted science says yes, whilst most of us spending lots of time on the river say no. The bottom line is, most rivers haven’t produced a surplus since the mid 1980s and only those with a vested interest/different agenda, would question this. Add increased predation to this fall in the number of juveniles, and we have a double whammy. To me and a great many others, the reduced number of adults comes as no surprise at all. It’s simply the result of the above.

The only solid "Scientific Data" [data collected using the same "controlled" method, over a reasonable period of time] has been collected over the past 20 years, a time where, apart from rivers such as the Tyne, numbers of salmon present in our rivers have been in total decline, with less fish spawning and a “visible” decline in juveniles.

Warming water in our rivers [water abstraction, drainage changes in farming, population explosion, etc] must, and has impacted negatively on the ability of rivers to produce juveniles. This is obvious to anyone with an open mind and will be the main reason, “visually”, we see and catch fewer juveniles on rivers affected.
Proactive measures such as "Habitat improvement" has been tried to increase Juvenile production, but unlike the method used in Iceland, has failed to show any significant benefit to the fishery, yet. However, this can only be a good thing.

The film has a very good section on the tagging of smolts leaving two different rivers in Canada.
Tagging programmes on smolts leaving the Miramichi river indicate only 3 in every 10 smolts make it to the open sea, 7 from every 10 migrating from this river are eaten in the estuary by Stripped Sea Bass (uncontrolled natural predator), a relatively new species brought there by warming ocean temperatures.
Interestingly, similar tagging programmes on Nearby Casscapedia River, where there are no Sea Bass, reveal that 8 out of every 10 smolts make it to the open ocean.

How does this relate to what we have in the UK?
During the period when man controlled the number of predators here in the UK (Pre 1970), it would be safe to say at least 50% more smolts, possibly a good many more, would have reached the open ocean than now do. Why? The period between 1970 and today has seen, not a small, but a massive increase in number of Grey Seals, Dolphins, Goosander, Cormorants etc (uncontrolled natural predators), all of which eat copious amounts of juvenile salmon, and, in the case of Seals and Dolphins, adult salmon and salmon kelts too. As a percentage, I’d say this is the cause of 80% of the problems facing salmon right now and all our time and resources and energy need to be spent dealing with those. However, as we all know, this is not easy.

What is easy, is to invent a story, apportion blame on something based on inconclusive data, especially if the majority of the audience is green, easily influenced, don’t ask questions and demand answers. In other words, fiddle around with the 20%.
The bottom line is, and everyone now knows, if we truly want to do something positive and constructive to protect salmon then we really need to get a grip of, and have a plan to deal with those things above, and very much including aquaculture. Why go looking for the holy grail, or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather than “deal with” what we know to be a big part of the problem? Very simple, one is much easier than the other. No person, or organisation, has a plan, desire or the ability to deal properly with predation, and simply fail on aquaculture. It’s simply much easier to go fishing for a shoal of Red Herring!

Oh, the doom and gloom! Well, not for me at all. I know for a fact that nothing constructive is being done, I also know the fish will be in our rivers in similar numbers to the past 10 years. Nothing like before for sure (for the reasons above), but never the less, decent numbers of fish. Ask anyone fishing the Tyne or Clyde if their fish have mysteriously disappeared over the last few seasons? So, like I say, don’t despair, salmon are a resilient species and I reckon we’ve seen the worst of what their predators and our lack of protection, can throw at them. Increased in numbers of fish running into rivers such as the Tyne and Clyde are testimony to this. Perhaps the size of the estuary of those two rivers provide salmon entering them with a better defence against predation from Seals and Dolphins? While rivers such as the Tweed, Dee and Spey and others Don’t Have this!? It could also be that both of those have less predation due to the fact this increase in salmon numbers is fairly recent and unlike, say, the Tay estuary, predators have yet to find the food and properly colonise this area.

The commercial value of salmon fishing has reflected the downturn in numbers with some beats dropping prices due to the lack of fish, particularly at peak times. Interestingly, in most businesses, the scarcer the commodity is, the higher the value it demands. Not the case in Salmon fishing. Why?

When (what time of the year) they arrive in the river is both out of our control and that of their predators, so, those running businesses around salmon fishing simply need to respond to this. Information is king in the modern world, whilst hiding, or fabricating it is a recipe for long term disaster. If you have something truly “great” to sell, as we have here in Scotland, then, for god sake, tell people about it. PROPERLY!.

We “know they’re less abundant than in the past, and, because of websites like FishPal, everyone knows when, where and how many (a lot, normal, or poor number) are running each river. This information has the potential to help the river/beat manager no end, especially if he is clever enough to ask the right people the right questions. Most however, aren’t, and invariably lose their employers and others reliant on this potential bounty, lots of revenue. Not to mention putting the jobs of Ghillies at risk through their incompetence.

A general observation of predators (including man) suggests to me that a great many people will have another good season next year, enjoying the magic that is salmon fishing in Scotland and all the wonderful baggage that comes with it. “GOOD” Season I hear you say!? Yes, good for those who come with realistic “modern day” expectations for that given area, time of year and conditions.

We would all love to see runs of salmon as in the past, but personally I know this will not happen and anyone clinging to the hope it might, need to stop taking drugs before reading their tea leaves!

The person who actually made a difference to the overall biomass of salmon in the Atlantic Ocean was Orri Vigfússon. Entering a proper, fair, partnership with those involved in netting fish is all we can do at ATM as, unfortunately, we are not organised enough to tackle the real issue. I very much hope they find someone with the same skill sets as he had to keep up this practical work.

One thing for sure is, the fish are coming, and coming in the number dictated by nature, man’s miss-management/lack of protection. They’re coming in decent numbers and will provide those visiting the “right parts” of our rivers at the “right time” with some great sport as they’ve always done.

Doom and Gloom!? Only those looking for the Holy Grail or fish in the same number as the 1980s will be disappointed. Most people who came salmon fishing really enjoyed their time with us in Scotland and Norway this year, be it on the Spey, Dee, Tweed, Tay, Orkla or Gaula. All came with realistic expectations, had fun, learned a little and caught a few fish. I’m sure 2018 will be no different, or even better!



 

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