ANGLERS in the Borders are being urged to take part in a new online recording project in an effort to help finally unravel the mystery of what is happening with brown trout populations in the Tweed catchment.
The Scottish Fisheries Co-ordination Centre (SFCC) is an association of fisheries trusts, district salmon fishery boards, the Scottish Government and others involved in the management of the country’s freshwater fisheries.
Its Angling Diary is designed to overcome the problems of paper angling diaries and logbooks by making a single online document (www.anglingdiary.org.uk).
It is free to use and anglers can record information on it, which they can choose to keep private or share as a valuable angling and biological community resource.
Fisheries biologists such as those at the Tweed Foundation are excited at the prospect of, for the first time, having a reliable supply of continuous angling data to help discover more about brown trout populations in the Borders.
Among them are Tweed Foundation senior biologist, Dr Ron Campbell, and his colleague, Kenny Galt – who is in the unique position of being Scotland’s only full-time trout and grayling biologist.
Until now the foundation’s only real window on how trout numbers have fared over the generations has been the patchy historical competition records of angling clubs and associations.
“Occasionally, you get a good series when someone’s kept a series of records well and you can see the effect changes in regulations have on catches,” said Ron. “But without records, it’s all just anecdotal. That’s where the national online angling diary scheme – which foundation assistant biologist James Hunt has been involved in helping set up – comes in.
“The advantage from our point of view is that if anglers opt to share their information, we get to see the data.
“Salmon fisheries have to keep records by law, so there’s lots of records for that because it is a commercial business. But that’s not the case for brown trout and there’s just a black hole as far as data is concerned.”
Dr Campbell says recent surveys of trout spawning grounds have shown them, with a few odd exceptions, all to be “stuffed” with trout fry. “The thing is we don’t know if these are going to be brown trout or sea trout.
“That’s the biggest puzzle. We hear all these complaints from anglers on the one hand [about trout fishing being much poorer than it was], but all these burns are stuffed with trout fry on the other hand. So what’s the story? That’s our main focus.”
He hopes the advent of new techniques enabling the chemical composition of trout fry to be determined will help solve this riddle. “We’re doing the chemical analysis for Napier University and are looking for funding at the moment to start mapping the Tweed catchment on a large scale. So instead of just saying there’s all these trout fry, we can start to find out whether they are sea or brown trout.”
While fishing techniques and even the reasons for angling have changed over the years, so has life in the river. As part of his role, Kenny recently repeated a fly life survey carried out by Edinburgh University in 1974.
Although the data is not finalised, he says it is fairly obvious fly life has changed and that those changes will have led to other changes in the river.
“ It is most likely due to temperature changes because the river’s getting warmer. And if fly life is changing, who knows in what ways the fish are changing. Changes in the natural environment mean those things living in it change too.
“Trout have always been so common that people have taken them for granted. But trout is the fish that needs the most research work done on it, and yet is probably the one which has had the least done.”