At a well attended evening meeting on Wednesday 12th February at Willington Cricket Club members and guests of the Wear Angling Association met representatives of the Environment Agency to discuss the recent dramatic fall in the numbers of migratory fish returning to the rivers Tyne and Wear.
With the aid of several overhead graphical illustrations the EA demonstrated in the last few seasons the sharp decline in stocks, not only on local rivers but also throughout the country.
From the information presented the following appeared to be evident:-
The floods created by storms Eva and Desmond in 2015/16 had a serious impact on local rivers. Storm Desmond was the worst the Tyne experienced since 1956 and the third worst ever on the Wear.
With storm Desmond it was not necessarily the scale of the damaged but the actual timing being almost immediately after the spawning season. The EA expressed the view that although most redds were reasonably stable they were unable to withstand excessive and repeated washouts.
Surprisingly the number of smolts recorded in rivers in the following seasons 2018/19 seemed to be normal.
What was more worrying however was the apparent decline in the numbers of grilse and two winter salmon returning to not only local northern rivers but rivers throughout the country. Graphs for rivers such as the Towey, Itchen, Test and the welsh Dee were almost identical in their profile showing that whilst spring fish numbers were constant autumn fish numbers have been falling for a number of years. This is one of the factors behind the “Missing Smolts Programme” and highlights the need for further research both in marine and river environments to try and understand the decline.
In the following informal questions and answers part of the meeting, discussion centred around restocking and hatcheries. It is clear from the EA’s response that restocking is no longer considered a viable option by policy makers. The EA believe that restocked fish do not survive as well as naturally bred fish and have a tendency to weaken the natural strain.
In conclusion it seems that the EA believe that the situation will improve, perhaps in the short term. Restocking is no longer viable in expectation that stocks will naturally recover to pre 2015/16 levels, however storms Ciara and Dennis may influence that view. Only time will tell.