River Wear – Crisis?

16 Jan
The Wear Anglers Association have recently emailed the Environment Agency with regard to the apparent collapse of migratory fish stocks entering the River Wear in 2019. The following is a reply on behalf of the agency by Jon Shelley, Fishery Programme Manager:-
” Thank you for your mail which I have passed on to the Fisheries Technical team, who are better placed to provide an update on Wear fish stocks than I am. Someone from the team will be in touch soon.
Regarding the net fishery, we will very shortly publish a full report and all data from the net trials we undertook in 2019, together with an accompanying report setting out options for future management of the fishery. We will then consult with interested parties to seek views on the best and most appropriate management of the beach net fishery.
I will, of course, invite you to participate in this consultation. Following the consultation, a summary of all submissions received will be published, and we will make our recommendations for the future management of the net fishery.
In advance of this consultation, I have provided a summary below – which you are free to share with anyone who may have an interest:
The new netting season date are as follows:
District 1:          26 March – 31 May
District 2:          No licences
District 3:          26 March – 30 June
District 4:          26 March – 31 July
District 5:          26 March – 31 July
District 6:          26 March – 31 August
District 7:          26 March – 31 August
The 2019 net trial provided a substantial amount of new data to better inform our understanding of the operation of modified designs of T and J nets. The North East trial comprised 771 hours of netting in 87 separate netting events over an 11 week period. The data provided by logbook returns from licensed netsmen were validated by over 92 hours of independent fisheries observations and video surveillance of the operation of the nets by Environment Agency officers.
In the North East, a total of 3342 sea trout and 46 salmon were landed during the trial. Based on comparison with recent historic catches at the trial berth locations, this represents a 97% reduction in salmon catch, whereas sea trout catches were only reduced by around 30%. All 46 salmon entangled were released from the net and returned to sea with the minimum of delay. There were no immediate mortalities of salmon recorded, all fish were returned to the sea alive, generally with minimal to moderate scale loss.
The trial in Yorkshire comprised a total of 14 netting events, over which 81 hours of netting were undertaken. The data provided by logbook returns from the trial berth were validated by over 36 hours of independent fisheries observations and video surveillance of the operation of the nets by Environment Agency officers.
In Yorkshire, a total of 67 sea trout and 4 salmon were landed during the trial. Based on comparison with recent historic catches, salmon catches were around 74% lower than the recent average for this berth, with sea trout catches around 64% lower than average. Four salmon were entangled during the Yorkshire  net trial, three of which were returned with no recorded significant injuries. The fourth salmon entangled was intercepted by a seal and killed before it could be released.
Our first priority is the conservation of salmon and sea trout stocks, but we are mindful of the impact of regulations on commercial netsmen.  We will seek to achieve the best balance between providing vulnerable stocks with necessary protection and minimising the economic impacts on netsmen by allowing a sea trout net fishery as far as this is sustainable. A number of options have been developed for potentially extending the beach net fishing season for sea trout. Each option would have some degree of impact on the livelihoods of beach net licensees and on the levels of protection provided to the stocks of salmon and sea trout exposed to the net fishery.
Any extension to the sea trout netting season would be dependent on an assessment that contributing sea trout stocks have a surplus available for exploitation, as well as there being a minimal impact on salmon populations.  Any proposals to extend the netting season using modified designs of nets would require amendments to national and regional fisheries byelaws. This would require the publication of relevant evidence, formal advertisement and response to any objections raised, and confirmation of any byelaw changes we might make by the Secretary of State”
Editors Note:-
This is quite clearly a comprehensive reply that leaves all doors open with no particular committed outcome. Whilst the EA’s local office will make recommendations to government on the basis of net catch results and an assessment of the sustainability of migratory fish stocks. Decisions on angling restrictions and the continuation of coastal netting will lie solely with the Secretary of State.
Only 5,000 migratory fish were counted in the River Wear system in 2019  and 8,500 in 2018, this is approximately 11,000 fish below the yearly long term average.
Strong and decisive action is needed now, before it is too late!!!