Looking at the October 2019 Environment Agency fish pass numbers. There is undeniably serious cause for concern with regard to the number of migratory fish entering northern rivers. This not only applies to all North East and Yorkshire rivers but many Scottish rivers. Only a small number of rivers in the very far north of Scotland appear to have had a reasonable 2019 season.
The River Wear in particular has had a poor season. Over the last 10 years the number of migratory fish travelling through the two counters at Framwellgate Dam has averaged approximately 18,000 fish per annum. However over the last 5 years this has dropped to 16,000pa.
In 2018 the number counted totalled 8669 and this year the figure is unlikely to exceed 6,500 which will be an all time record low.
So just taking the last two years into account, the River Wear has lost approximately 19,000 migratory fish. Of course, with the very wet 2019 autumn some fish will have avoided the counters altogether, however 2018 was particularly dry so it seems very unlikely that a substantial number of the missing fish avoided the count.
The River Tyne to a certain extent has managed to maintain equilibrium over the last 10 years, but this year figures seem to be as equally alarming as the River Wear with only 275 being counted through Riding Mill in October. Projecting forward from the end of October it looks as if this years count will be close to 20,000 which will be the lowest figure since 2002.
One bright spot seems to be the River Coquet where anglers report a better year than past but of course any improvement from a historical low base seems a reason for hope. Unfortunately due to counter problems and consequential data shortages there is little opportunity to measure the improvement.
The River Till has also fished better, particularly for Sea-trout so it could be that both the Till and Coquet have benefited from the shortened T&J Net season. However, since the ‘ T net ‘ trial appears to have been a relative success, in taking Sea-trout but releasing Salmon, there is the imminent danger that the EA will revert to the traditional Sea-trout netting season of May until the end of August, putting further pressure on declining Sea -trout stocks. In which case all game anglers need to be on their guard and be proactive if the EA try to re-establish this programme.
So what’s behind this decline.? Well obviously no one knows, but everyone’s guessing.
Is it agricultural pesticides, run-off from commercial forestry, poor water quality, fish farming, netting and avian and inshore seal predation or is it a cyclical phenomenon?
Hopefully the ‘Missing Salmon Project will quickly tell us and enable swift action to be taken to counter the decline.
One interesting observation from the article ‘Missing Salmon’ posted below on 22nd of November 2019 refers to the loss of some 65% of smolts in one trial ‘ in river ‘ which will come as no surprise to anglers who watch our avian friends in action. Still better not to jump to hasty conclusions.