The changes in run timing of salmon on the River Tweed are having a significant economic impact on the region’s £24 million angling industry.
Salmon catches on the Tweed were 15% down last year on the 2016 figures (7003 compared to 8221 in 2016) but reports by anglers of fewer fish in the water were not borne out by official counts.
The Tweed Foundation’s fish counter on the Gala Water – monitoring a summer stock – recorded 1,100 fish moving upstream, indicating that egg deposition would be well in excess of requirements. The Tweed Foundation’s annual monitoring of the juvenile stocks also confirmed that the headwaters and smaller burns were stocked to capacity in 2017, a recovery from the extremely depressed results the previous year.
Lower and Middle Tweed catches continued to fall, with a marginal increase continuing on the upper river as in the previous two seasons. The tributaries caught few fish, and remained in line with the five-year average figures.
In his annual report, published ahead of the River Tweed Commission’s AGM next week, chairman Douglas Dobie said: “2017 salmon catches are again at a relatively low level with very few grilse and late-running fish and, for the first time, summer catches matched autumn figures.
“These changes in run timing and the consequent decline in rod catches have a significant economic impact and the RTC has come under pressure to justify its management policies.
“Sadly, there is no magic wand but we do now have a better understanding of what is going on: the decline in grilse and late running fish is a nationwide trend; analyses of Tweed salmon catches over the past 200 years, particularly netting records, clearly show long-term oscillations between periods of earlier running salmon (less numerous) and later running grilse (more numerous); periods of earlier running fish show higher average weights; these long-term fluctuations are an indication of changing currents and feeding patterns at sea in the Atlantic Ocean; and electro-fishing in 2017 continues to show relative abundance of fry and parr throughout the catchment despite the decline in later running fish.
“A logical response, therefore, to a period dominated by earlier running fish with a lower survival rate at sea is to continue to ensure an abundance of fry and, particularly, to maximise the output of smolts.
“We continue, through the water bailiffs and working with SEPA and others, to protect adults, juveniles and habitat.
“Through The Tweed & Eye Fisheries Management Plan, The Tweed Foundation carries out a vigorous annual monitoring of juvenile abundance designed to cover the whole catchment over a three-year cycle. They are also starting to direct significant resources towards understanding the cumulative effect on smolt survival caused by predation, water conditions and physical barriers.
“ This will enable The Tweed Foundation to develop viable and effective actions to mitigate events leading to high in-river mortality and advise the commission accordingly.
“The Tweed system remains remarkably productive for salmonids and, arguably, has never been in a better position to adapt to changing circumstances, not least because of the management policies adopted by the commission in recent years.
“More of the catchment is open to migrating fish for spawning than at any time in the last 200 years.
“We have invested in excess of £1.5m over the last 30 years in buying out netting interests both within the district and as part of the initial buy-out of the North East Drift Net licences.
“Netting effort continues to decline and all our past efforts will in some way have contributed to the recent decision by the Environment Agency to extinguish the remaining North East Drift Nets in 2018, and limit on-shore activity in the same area.
“Over the same period, we have commissioned research from The Tweed Foundation to increase our understanding of the fish stocks under our protection. This has enabled us to adopt policies based on sound scientific evidence such as the spring conservation measures.
“Given the above, it is not unreasonable to be optimistic.
“Even a modest increase in adults returning to the river could significantly improve rod catches for both salmon and sea-trout and see a welcome return of confidence in the river and the quality of the angling opportunities it can provide.”
Brown trout fishing on the Tweed was a bit of a hit and miss affair. The number of large trout caught on the Upper Tweed was well above average, whereas the general view from the Lower and Middle Tweed was that it had been a poor season. This, however is not entirely supported by the data gathered: analysis of the Middle Tweed returns for the season showed that catches of +25cms brown trout were fractionally above average. The Lower Tweed catches were a little below average, but still notably higher than three recent years.
Anglers reported poor fishing conditions in the first half of the season when catches are usually expected to be good.