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Galloway Fisheries Trust

Fisheries House, Station Industrial Estate, Newton Stewart, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. DG8 6ND
Telephone: 01671 403011 · Fax: 01671 402248 · Scottish Registered Charity No. SC020751

Looking downstream on the River Cree

Brown Trout

Looking upstream on the River Bladnoch

Felling of commercial forestry in Galloway Forest Park

Looking upstream on the River Luce

North American Signal Crayfish

The sandy beach at Loch Grannoch

Belted Galloway Cattle, or 'Belties'

Fly fishing on the River Cree

Murray's Monument

A small upland burn

A stoneloach

The High Cree, looking towards Cairnsmore of Fleet

A small waterfall on the Buchan Burn

A salmon from the Kirkcudbrightshire Dee

Solway fish stocks

19 December 2013

A coloured hen caught in the Barhoise Fish Trap on 20th November. She was close to spawning

A coloured hen caught in the Barhoise Fish Trap on 20th November. She was close to spawning

A large cock salmon caught in the Barhoise Fish Trap on 19th Novemeber

A large cock salmon caught in the Barhoise Fish Trap on 19th Novemeber

The 2013 salmon fishing season has been extremely poor across the Solway rivers, on both the Scottish and English sides. This is not only a local problem and a quick check in the rivers reports section of the latest Trout and Salmon Magazine shows that most Scottish rivers are showing really low catches this season. Affected rivers include both East and West coast rivers. The dry and hot summer did not help but as the wet weather came in the autumn runs of fish have been very disappointing. All of the region’s rivers are considered to fish best later in the season as the rivers fill up with autumn fish. It is these later running fish that have failed to materialise so far this year. The rivers which fish right to the end of November, which includes the Annan, Nith and Urr, have shown little evidence of many late running fish arriving. The fish counter at Tongland Fish Ladder on the lower Kirkcudbrightshire Dee is showing similar results with overall fish runs low so far. Many of the Ayrshire rivers report a similar situation.

It is not clear why there are so few fish around this year. It is clearly not only a local problem as so many rivers are reporting the same thing across a wide geographical area. There was no indication that a poor smolt run occurred in the last few years. It is known that marine mortality (between when the smolts leave the rivers and their return to spawn) has significantly increased over the last few decades and maybe this year’s fish have been hit particularly badly at one stage of their lifecycle? It is known that mortality can be very high, up to 50%, in the vicinity of river estuaries in dry years if returning adult salmon will not enter the rivers due to high temperatures and low flows. Marine mortality across the life time of a salmon is poorly understood but can include predation, starvation, sea lice damage, netting, by-catch in commercial mackerel netting, etc. It is also possible that grilse have chosen to stay at sea for a further year due to environmental factors. It is also possible that the fish are particularly late running this year and have simply not returned yet?

Salmon are a truly wild fish which has a complex and complicated life cycle involving the migration to and fro distant feeding grounds. Little is really known about what pressures they face at sea and how these combine to affect overall survival e.g. how are food sources being affected by climate change which is moving tidal currents and making the sea more acidic? Natural fluctuations in population size will always be expected in wild species too.

Rod and net catches can be influenced by so many factors that they are not a robust method to monitor salmon stocks alone. The apparent shortage of returning salmon in 2013 should be a particular concern to all if the spawning stock falls below that required to utilise the available instream habitats. In general across the Galloway Rivers, where suitable habitats exists, access is possible AND water quality is good – you will find healthy wild fish densities each year. Waters cannot simply fit more and more fish into them but instead have a maximum carrying capacity and once this is reached any extra fish will die or be displaced downstream. As a species, salmon are well adapted to maximise the use of freshwater habitats themselves naturally. Large numbers of eggs are produced – over 10,000 eggs from a 15lb hen salmon – with high fertilisation rates which are well protected in their early months buried in the gravels of a river or burn. A reduction in the numbers of spawning fish in any one year may not result in significant falls of juvenile fish densities the following year if there is normally a surplus of fish spawning.

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