Tweed fishing cannot rely on autumn run

Fishing on The Tweed in Kelso.
Fishing on The Tweed in Kelso.

The freehold purchase of three coastal netting stations at Cheswick and Goswick last year meant River Tweed Commissioners finished 2015 with a £442,000 deficit.

The organisation’s spending on salmon conservation measures in 2015 was £612,120, including the buying of the netting stations, compared with £33,750 in 2014. The deficit leaves the RTC with a year end balance of £54,576 compared to a year end figure of £496,672 in 2014.

Conservation of the salmon stocks was further improved by an agreement between the RTC and the Paxton Trust fishery that netting there would be for demonstration and heritage purposes only and no salmon would be killed at that fishery, plus an agreement that the Gardo netting station in the Tweed estuary was used for heritage netting, and had agreed not to commence fishing before mid June.

River Tweed fishing continues to play a major role in the region’s economy but with 2015 being the second year of low rod catches there is growing concern about whether this momentum can be sustained. A recent survey revealed that River Tweed fishing contributes: £24 million a year; 513 full time job equivalents; 57,000 rod days (non-fishing companions spend a further 12,240 days); 70,000 visitor days within the Tweed district; and 490,000 overnight visitors to the Borders.

Tweed Commission chairman Mr D J Dobie: said: “2015 was another season of relatively low rod catches for salmon even though anglers were casting over the returning progeny of the 2010 and 2011 bonanzas: a good example of why rod catches can provide very poor indicators on which to base future management decisions.

“The distribution of catches during 2015 again showed a marked and rapid movement away from the traditional autumn run of numerous and larger fish (only seven fish over 25lbs were recorded in the year) to a reliance on grilse and summer fish.

“This apparent change is very quick in biological terms and the Tweed Foundation’s ongoing fry surveys are, therefore, being targeted towards providing some understanding and guidance as to the long-term impact.”

The River Tweed Commissioners report continues: “The overall salmon catch for the year was similar to 2014. Spring salmon catches were unexceptional, although on some beats they were particularly good. There were short periods of elevated water levels during the late spring and summer but they were short-lived and for most of the fishing season flows were either low or very low, providing unfavourable conditions for angling.

“Whilst the summer of 2015 was not officially a drought, significant floods did not come until early November and were the first for almost seven months. Until then many of the best angling pools were of much reduced size.

“8,091 salmon (7,767 in 2014) were caught by rod and line and 553 (2,204 in 2014) by net, giving a salmon catch of 8,644 (9,971 in 2014). 80% (6,440 fish) of the total rod catch was returned (77% in 2014).

“This was the second consecutive year of unusually low total catches in all parts of the river and tributaries, largely attributable to the autumn. Both the grilse of the previous year (2014) and the salmon of 2015 were the progeny of the unprecedented, large runs of 2010 and 2011. The grilse arrived late and were smaller than usual.

“2,030 springers were caught by the rods, which was an improvement on the poor spring season of 2014 (1,797). The majority of fish were, as usual, caught in the middle and lower river with the Junction fishery having its best spring on record. The bulk of the spring catch was caught in the later months, with May and June producing 59% of the spring total.

“The declared net catch was negligible due to the decommissioning of three coastal netting fisheries.”