Scottish Salmon Management
By Jock Monteith 24th December 2018
As a nation Scotland is very fortunes to have over 400 salmon rivers that all have varying salmon run timings and are of differing sizes from the smallest head water tributaries to the largest main stem rivers. Knowing roughly where and when to fish each river is half the battle for success.
Natural Cyclical Salmon Runs
In addition to the above nature is always on the move and a wild Atlantic salmon knows nothing of our calendar months and nor it ever should. One of the River Tay salmon beats I used to work on was purchased in 1970 purely due to its big Autumn salmon run as few Spring or Summer salmon fish were caught back in those days by comparison. In the late 90's Spring & Summer salmon became the dominating run with fewer Autumn salmon being caught on the beat. These days that venue still fishes best in the Spring & Summer unless your fishing for hatchery brood stock around or during late November/early December where 4 to 6 salmon in an hour is still very possible just like the old days! During September & October in the 70's on the Tay you were often hindered with frozen rod rings and these days you're usually more concerned with locating your factor 30! This year saw an overly extended hot Summer with very low water conditions which knocked out approx 25% of the fishing season along with the chances of good sport on the majority of Scottish salmon beats except for the few beats where low water conditions are needed and where salmon historically congregate in big numbers. The same low water extended hot spell also dried up the enthusiasm levels of the regular fishers who follow the 'catch stats' reporting which rightly or wrongly now dominates Scottish salmon fishing rod pressure.
Need To Know Basis
It all really makes perfect sense and even though it often has our fishery management in a flap as they feel the right to know the answers about these naturally appearing & disappearing salmon runs when they cannot get to the bottom of it their egos become dented and salary justification guesswork comes into play. It also seems to suit the Scottish 'sun light starved' mind to moan about things instead of backing off and realising somethings are better not known about salmon to preserve the magical unpredictable 'natural' selling point of Scottish salmon fishing. I could link you to senior Scottish salmon fishing officials talking about declining Spring salmon numbers a few years prior to a great 10 year Spring run period began which was partly assisted by a simple and logical adjustment to an existing and failing 'Catch & Release' policy.
A Salmon Ultimately Decides
If a wild juvenile salmon enters the sea there is absolutely nothing to tell it when to stop feeding and return to the place of its birth other than its own feeding instincts and reproductive call which we will never be able to influence and thank goodness too. With that fact in mind it is and always has been a complete lottery as to where between one and four years this 'return to fresh water call' occurs. These salmon know nothing of our graphs & discussions at salmon fishery board AGMs nor about the do good associations who pay their executives excessive salaries in the name of Atlantic salmon research.
Wild Salmon Stock Duplication
We all now know the effects of sea lice and pollution from the West coast Scottish fish farms and how that has subsequently shut down the majority of the entire West coast wild Atlantic salmon fishery asset from its once amazingly famous and prolific status. Yes we also know there's also a huge seal, goosander & cormorant issue that cannot be easily re-balanced for various legal reasons but surely now you realise why God gave a hen salmon approx 800 eggs per body pound and not just one or two like most other creatures are rationed to. Thank you 'big man' upstairs for having the wisdom and foresight to 'future proof' one of your finest ever creations.
Basic Salmon Fishery Management
If you want to naturally boost salmon stocks in any river it's nowhere close to the complex rocket science most people have bought into which has been sold to the masses by the mainly 'waffle' specialists who are in control of our 'out of control' industry. Firstly you must enhance, manage and protect the spawning & juvenile habitat areas in each river due to the buggering around of the surrounding hill ecology via commercial forestation and agriculture which has impacted many rivers with excessive sedimentation issues contrary to popular belief. Secondly you must protect the existing brood stock through effective 'Catch & Release' policies and other effective fishing & in-river stock protection measures. Thirdly, you must allow a minimum period of 5 years to see the benefits of your work. When I stuck my head above the parapet on the Tay in 2007 to play a vocal part in securing a more effective revamped 'catch & release' policy we didn't see the additional stock benefits until 2011/2012.
Salmon Ocean Mortality Rates
If you really believe there's a big issue at sea (which in my opinion has always been there) then fund 2 patrol vessels that utilise all the satellite & sonar data to follow & police our wild salmon migration routes to and from Scotland to their feeding grounds. So what if that costs £1 million pounds plus per year for a few vessels to permanently patrol as that is surely small potatoes to pay for an industry that currently still generates way over £100 million for the Scottish economy each year. The revenue to fund this is already being collected or I'm sure it could be swiftly raised through private corporate sponsorship funding if the re-appointment of existing multiple fishery board and foundation funds for less important projects could not be re-directed via good old human brain power 'prioritisation'. Significant annual & future season wild salmon smolt output targets (actual figures disclosed) should dominate all fishery board meetings as this is the most potent relatively short term restocking initiative that can be actioned. Nature has always been a numbers game regardless of the ever fluctuating & completely guessed ocean mortality rates.
We Need Real Entrepreneurship
What Scottish salmon fishing needs is a fresh prioritised management approach to deliver logical remedials so we're not as dependent on what nature gives us from year to year. To date, although there's a few notable exceptions we have largely been on the 'slow boat to China' in some key areas of Scottish salmon fishery management. 'Natural' large scale wild smolt ranching, large scale habitat evaluation and enhancement, in river stock protection & permanent oceanic policing protection would give Scotland the most attractive 'natural' salmon stock 'boost' abundance in the world. As a hint to the above mention of 'wild smolt ranching' entrepreneur and river manager Bob Kindness over on the River Carron in Wester Ross has been a forerunner at boosting Carron salmon stocks with 'genetically intact' wild ranched smolts and proudly presides over the only Scottish salmon river I'm aware of that has recorded an increase in 'rod & line' caught salmon & grilse during 2018! Bob has achieved this success on a shoe string budget although he's clearly of multi millionaire status in common sense!
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