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reLAKSation no 1129

Hot, hot, hot: Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE has this month reported that salmon and trout angling has been suspended at two fisheries in the west of the country because of elevated water temperatures and the impact that these temperatures may have on fish stocks. Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has said that the decisions to close the Moy Fishery in Balina Co Mayo and the Galway Fishery in Galway City follows recordings of water temperatures in excess of 20oc. They say that this level of heat can cause thermal stress which can lead to fish mortality.  Salmon and trout are especially prone to high temperatures due to the reduced oxygen levels in the water. IFI have said that they are assessing all the fisheries under their control and others will be closed to fishing if the water temperature increases to similar levels.

In Scotland, the BBC reported that concerns have been raised over water levels in Loch Ness and the River Ness with the loch dropping to the lowest level recorded in the last 32 years. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) recorded a level of just 109 cm at Foyers, the location of a pumped storage hydro scheme.

The Ness Salmon Fishery Board said that levels remained concerningly low, and they claim that if the water stored by the scheme was released, it would ease the situation. It is interesting that the fishery board has not suggested that salmon fishing should be halted during this challenging time.

The BBC also mention that SEPA has upgraded the risk of a water scarcity in the area around Loch Maree to Significant. The majority of the rest of Scotland has now been increased to a level of Alert. At the same time, Scotland has recorded its hottest day of the year so far.  This week, I was up on the west coast, and it was very hot. I also noticed on my travels that the water flows in most small rivers and streams were reduced to just a trickle.

Whilst the BBC reported that the local fishery board were unhappy that stored water was not released back into the river there has been very little mention of low water and rising temperatures in Scotland and certainly no examples of river closures to fishing as has happened in Ireland.

Fisheries Management Scotland’s news feed has referred to the news that the River Dee Trust and the River Dee Salmon Fishery Board have reached halfway towards their goal of planting a million trees to help save endangered salmon otherwise FMS make no mention of the current adverse conditions for salmon and make no recommendations for closure of any fishery due to high temperatures.

The story on the FMS website is from the Scotsman newspaper which says that salmon will benefit from the shade the trees provide. The newspaper also said that last week the River Dee Trust recorded water temperatures in the river of 20oc. This is the same temperature that has prompted IFI to close the Moy and Galway fisheries, yet no such action on the Dee.

It is very rare to hear of any river in Scotland being closed to fishing. This is because the fishery boards really represent the interest of the river proprietors, whose interests seem to take precedence over the interest of the salmon.

SEPA have been commissioned to regulate the salmon farming industry to help protect wild salmon. Why not extend this to the wild salmon fisheries so whenever SEPA gauge there to be a water shortage or elevated temperatures, they be given the power to close the river to fishing. After all, if salmon need protection from sea lice, then salmon also need protection from adverse water conditions.

The Wild Salmon Strategy is supposed to aid protection of wild salmon and help stocks recover. Closing rivers to fishing during adverse conditions would be one way to help stocks but the wild fish strategy has simply failed to deliver. I have written before that this strategy has more to do with protection of the fisheries than the fish. This is also clearly apparent from my next commentary.


Mortality:  Last week, a single tweet appeared to confirm rumours that have been in circulation concerning the status of wild salmon stocks on a number of east coast rivers.

After posting a picture of himself releasing a wild salmon back into the River Tay, angler Ken Reid tweets that there are:

“Big concerns over a newly discovered saprolegnia parasitica which is a primary infection not secondary, on wild salmon, wiping out fresh run salmon. Where did that come from? Freshwater aquaculture perhaps?”

Before discussing this serious issue, I would just like to address the obvious question. Whilst a handful of senior representatives of the wild fish sector might now grudgingly accept that the impact of salmon farming on wild fish is limited and that many other factors have much greater importance,  it is of no surprise that after hearing salmon farming being blamed for anything negative that happens to wild salmon and sea trout over the last thirty years, most anglers will inevitably look to salmon farming as the cause of anything new affecting salmon stocks without providing a shred of evidence to support their claim. It is enough just to mention salmon farming.

Whilst there are a very small number of freshwater growing facilities located on the eastern side of Scotland, they are not really close to affected rivers. I am led to believe that these are the rivers Forss, North Esk, Findhorn, Langwell, Berriedale and the Helmsdale.  I understand that the mortality of returning wild salmon is running between 80 and 90%.

I will repeat this – 80-90% of wild salmon returning to these rivers have died. I believe that these rivers experienced mortalities last year too.

Whilst clearly some are interested in the cause of the mortality, whether it be new, primary or secondary, there is a much greater issue here and that is there are large numbers of fish dying in Scottish rivers and this fact has not been publicised at all.  Almost every week, someone from the wild fish sector highlights salmon mortality on salmon farms, yet as soon as fish die in rivers there is a deafening wall of silence. There appears to be no open discussion of these deaths at all. It’s as if they are just not happening.

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why this is.

Fishpal is now the main booking site for salmon angling. It is possible to buy fishing on the Findhorn (the only river specifically mentioned on Fishpal that is said to be affected by the disease) for most days for the weeks beginning June 19th, June 26th and Jul 3rd. There is no mention on of any fish deaths on the Fishpal website. If there were, anglers would avoid going to this and other rivers at all costs, which would clearly have financial implications for the river proprietors. In my opinion, could it be that the silence has more to do with ensuring that it is only the salmon, not the proprietors that suffer. Surely, with such high level of mortality, these rivers should be closed to fishing.

Of course, there is no structure in place to make such decisions. The Wild Salmon Strategy is more about protecting wild salmon fisheries than protecting wild fish so is totally ineffective in addressing such matters, otherwise these rivers would already be closed when they are not.

Fishpal are showing catches from the river Findhorn in the following graph (green is this year, Blue last year and red the yearly average)

According to Fishpal, one salmon (7lb) was caught last Wednesday and one (12lb) was caught the week before, so fishing is still going on.

Fisheries Management Scotland say action is needed to protect this iconic species, but it seems that there is just inaction.

As I mentioned this Is not the first time that comparable mortalities have occurred. The Atlantic Salmon Trust’s latest Blue Book on Pink salmon and Red Skin Disease discusses similar mortalities and includes an image taken of tubs of dead fish collected from the River Langwell.

Whilst SEPA have been charged with regulating salmon farming to protect wild salmon, it seems that no-one has been given any responsibility for protecting wild salmon on issues where it really matters.

Finally, I would like to return to Ken Reid’s Tweet that I posted at the start of this commentary. last year, the Courier newspaper published an article headlined – ‘Killer fungus affecting Angus salmon is sad sight but not dangerous to humans or pets.’

The article said that people should not be alarmed if they see dead or dying fish in the River North Esk. The Esk District Salmon Fishery Board fear that hundreds of salmon will die in the river because of a naturally occurring infection called Saprolegnia. The fishery board said that the fungus normally manifests around the end of April but should be clear by July as the water starts to warm up. They said that maybe 200-300 fish are badly infected whereas there are over 2,000 healthy fish in the river. Fish entering the river from the sea are susceptible due to changes in their skin and scales as the fish adapt to freshwater. The Fishery Board stressed that anglers could help in protecting the fish by landing hooked fish quickly, minimising handling, and keeping fish wet at all times.

The board especially stress that importance of not gripping the fish too tightly to ensure that the important protective mucous coating remains intact. They add that fish have been seen with infection in the shape of a handprint around the tail where handling by anglers has encouraged infection. An angling friend of mine who fishes the North Esk said that such sighting of fish with a prominent handprint infection are not uncommon.

Perhaps, angler ken Reid (as seen in the image at the start of this commentary) should look to his and his fellow anglers handling of the fish they catch rather than be quick to point his finger at the aquaculture sector for causing infections.


Unregulated: Last month the news feeds were filled with stories about pollution in Scottish rivers. One in particular concerned pollution of the river Dee, not from sewage, but from silted waste produced at a development of new homes near Banchory. According to the Press and Journal, this is the 15th such report from this site in the last year.

Rachel Mulrenan of Wild Fish said that the River Dee is a Special Area of Conservation yet substantial quantities of sediment have been dumped into the river. Although SEPA, the regulator, has visited the site more than once, Wild Fish accuse them of failing to act to ensure that these incidents are not repeated. Rachel said that SEPA have not only failed so dismally to prevent the dumping of sediment at this location, but they have also failed to ensure that adequate measures were in place to stop any reoccurrence. Wild Fish accuse SEPA of being asleep on the job.

It makes one wonder whether SEPA will be really up to job of regulating sea lice, when they can’t stop a construction site, which they visited several times, from dumping heavily silted liquid into one of Scotland’s most famous salmon rivers.