Salmon catches on the world famous River Tweed catchment fell drastically in 2014 with only around 2,500 fish taken by rod and line over the three-month autumn season which ended on Saturday, November 29.
This compares to the 8,000 which were caught in the corresponding period last year. The fishing was so poor that one notable beat – at Tillmouth on the lower river near Coldstream – closed 10 days early.
And across the entire season from February 1, just 4,000 salmon were caught, compared to the five-year average from 2008 to 2013 of 11,000.
The slump in salmon catches, anecdotally predicted in local angling circles, are revealed in the online magazine FishTweed and based on returns from beats and angling associations across the catchment.
The exact totals will not be confirmed until the AGM of the River Tweed Commissioners (RTC) in March. That amalgamation of beat owners, which runs an industry worth an estimated £15m a year to the Borders economy and has already introduced a compulsory catch and release policy - from February 1 to June 30 - for spring-running salmon in a bid to conserve stocks, will have much to ponder.
Tillmouth, downstream of Coldstream Bridge and with five full-time boatmen, is considered one of the best performing beats on Tweed with a rod costing around £200 a day in high season. But over the year, just 311 salmon were landed, compared to 685 in 2013 and a five-year average catch of 758.
On November 20, Tillmouth’s head boatman Willie Elliot posted the following on the FishTweed website: “Over the last few days it has become apparent that the river is beginning to shut itself down and it was felt it was not sporting to fish over spawning and, in some cases, diseased fish. As a consequence it has been decided, in consultation with the owners, to close the fishing down for the rest of the season.”
Theories abound as to the reasons for the dearth of salmon catches in 2014 – from the overharvesting of krill at sea to the spread of lice infestations from commercial salmon farms. But there appears to be consensus on the need for a curb on wholesale coastal netting.
An online petition to Holyrood is calling for the Scottish Government to follow the example of the RTC and outlaw for a period of five years the killing of all Atlantic Salmon, either by nets or rods, before July 1.
The petition also urges the government to “take such steps as are necessary to bring an end to the exploitation of wild salmon by mixed stock fisheries at any time of year, in line with Scotland’s international commitments and obligations.”