WORKING ACROSS BORDERS TO INCREASE NUMBERS OF RETURNING SALMON

November 8th, 2014

Some Thoughts about Priorities for Action.

Thinking about Finavon, the South Esk, the East Coast of Scotland, the southern range of wild Atlantic salmon, and the North Atlantic Ocean as the salmon’s bio-region, is to follow the migration of our very own salmon from their juvenile time in upland burns of the S Esk catchment to the rich feeding grounds (or maybe not so rich) in the Ocean itself. It is not fanciful to think globally in this way. Indeed, I would argue that to fail to do so inhibits our aspirations to return our salmon rivers to the abundance of the 1970s. We have to think and act in recognition of the whole life of our salmon. I cannot make a wake-up call on my own. I need supporters, colleagues and partners to recognise that spending most of our resources on the 5% of fish that get back to our rivers is to ignore the 95% that die at sea. I want to see a far better balance of effort and resources than we have at present.

Dolphins killing salmon 1

Dolphins predating on salmon in the Moray Firth. These salmon were waiting in the dangerous inshore waters for a spate to draw them into their rivers. WEemust assess such risks as part of fishery management.

In preparation for forthcoming meetings with American and Canadian colleagues I want to indicate two or three projects which would benefit from an injection of programme funding. I don’t want to overload you with a lot of reading, but I decided to include a couple of attachments to give you a feel for our new strategy, which concentrates mainly on the marine environment.

AST is committed to a ‘Big Picture’ approach to salmon conservation. By that we mean wild Atlantic salmon throughout their lives in all parts of the North Atlantic Ocean. We treat salmon as pelagic fish that interact with other species throughout their marine phase. We cannot treat them in isolation, as has been the tendency until recently.

We therefore recognise that it is essential to work cooperatively across international borders in all parts of the ocean bio-region. We want to concentrate on research and actions which have a prospect of producing measurable outcomes within a reasonable timescale. We are therefore looking closely at areas where human intervention can make a difference to numbers of adult salmon returning to rivers throughout the North Atlantic region.

Our themes include:

1) reducing exploitation, including accidental by-catch

2) removing or adapting obstructions to migrations

3) establishing ‘safe’ migration routes

4) raising public awareness of the predicament of wild Atlantic salmon, including education.

5) influencing development of sustainable aquaculture

6) influencing decision makers in order to benefit salmon conservation

7) initiating international meetings & fora for discussion on key issues, innovation and sharing best practice.

Three projects within these themes which would benefit from US charitable support are:

PROJECT ONE: By-catch

Innovative E-DNA pilot project to address the problems of accidental by-catch by pelagic trawlers. Our concern is the likelihood that post smolt migrations, relatively densely packed within coastal currents, may be inadvertently caught up in huge purse-seine nets. It is conceivable that the outward migration of a small river catchment could be decimated by pelagic trawlers. (See project proposal on separate attachment)

PROJECT TWO: ‘safe’ migration routes.

Establishing safe migration pathways for salmon between their native river estuaries and their feeding grounds. This project requires building on data from the SALSEA project and subsequent tracking projects to define migration routes prior to negotiating with national and international governments and organisations to agree protocols to reduce poaching & accidental damage to wild salmon stocks.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Feeding grounds off the West Coast of Greenland. We need to find ways of protecting the migration routes of salmon between their home rivers and their feeding grounds – for outward and inward migrations.

PROJECT THREE: post-smolts in estuaries & coastal waters

AST and others are concerned over the high rate of mortality of smolts in the days after they enter the sea. We recognise that the inherent vulnerability of these little fish, weakened by osmo-regulation & local conditions may cause huge variations in survival rates. Research is urgently required to establish what proportions of smolts die from causes such as predation, pollution, dredging, disease, infrastructural obstructions, drought etc in the intertidal zone. If we are able to identify a) the extent of the loss b) the causes we should be able to develop remedial actions.

Rough seas in winter

Rough seas in winter

TA

END OF 2014 SEASON: RECENT FACEBOOK POSTS

November 1st, 2014

Philip's 10lbs salmon

PENULTIMATE DAY. LOVELY CLEAN WATER & ONE SALMON

Today was a perfect, slightly misty, autumn day with the light fading away from about 3pm. Our guests were iain Ingledew, Mark Coburn (Fishpal) and Colin Carnie. There were some salmon showing all day long, especially in a Willows, Lower a Boat Pool, Volcano and Pheasantry. They were, as has been the case for all this autumn, very reluctant to take the fly. Nevertheless Mark Coburn had a nice 11lbs hen fish from the taking spot in Willows, immediately after Iain McMaster had encouraged him to drop the fly into the small bay just downstream of the willows. According to Mark the fish took with a quiet authority, as a salmon should! Well done Mark. While enjoying a most convivial lunch, I watched from the DTH veranda a big fresh salmon break the surface no less than 4 times. We tried to persuade it to take the fly by fishing down to it from above the RPJ at the head of the pool. Without success. Tomorrow is the last day of the 2014 season. Our guests are John Wood, Colin Carnie, and Derek Strachan. TA

FCW CATCH OF SALMON REACHES 100

No-one could deny that 2014 has been a tough year on most Scottish salmon rivers. Rivers such as the Spey, Teith, Dee and Thurso have had a torrid time, and their catches reflect that. Here on the South Esk we have been quite well let and there have been fish in the river since March. I wouldn’t claim that either wild salmon or sea trout have been here in big numbers but I can say with a deal of certainty from my own observations and those of people I trust that the River is holding its own in a difficult year. Thus it was with some relief that I heard that Tony Searle had caught an 8lbs cock salmon in Beeches Pool on Castle Pool in conditions that were nigh-on perfect with falling and clearing water, a nippy frost lowering water temperature, no wind and only a few leaves but it was hard going all day long with only the occasional fish showing. But who better to reach our 100 salmon for 2014 than Tony Searle who has given FCW so much support over the years!

Philip's 20lbs salmon

THE SOUTH ESK IN GOOD PLY FOR THE END-GAME

Monday started the week with the river in perfect ply. The air temperature was unseasonably warm, and a few leaves lingered in the current, but we really couldn’t complain that late October had sprung a high water surprise on the South Esk. We caught two salmon and a sea trout, but not many fish were seen during the day – certainly far fewer than in the previous week. Interestingly, as dusk fell, there was a good show of salmon in Pheasantry. For readers who don’t know that pool, it is the streamy section of river directly opposite David’s Tree House (DTH). Fish were splashing about in that pool well into the darkness. At least one of the fish caught yesterday came from that pool. Have a look at the map – and click on the pool name “Pheasantry” to see the pool in more detail. This morning (28/10) the river is running at 1’6″ at Gella Bridge and “steady” so, leaves permitting, and the overnight rain avoiding another deluge, we should see some action today. TA POSTSCRIPT OVERNIGHT RAIN SWELLED THE WATER IN THE CATCHMENT WHICH THEN SPILLED OVER INTO THE RIVER, BRINGING A 2′ SPATE. While conditions today weren’t good for fishing, the weather forecast suggests that there will be no more rain. More to the point, it is likely that there will be a sharp frost in the glens which should lower the water temperature and bring salmon onto the take. We are eternal optimists as we strive towards the 100 salmon for the season!

TA

Early autumn view in low water from the Red Brae Hut.

Early autumn view in low water from the Red Brae Hut.

THE LAST FIVE DAYS OF THE 2014 SEASON (and some pictures from the spring & summer)

Overnight the storm blew itself out into the North Sea. This morning the wind is a shadow of its former self – a mere zephyr – and the beech leaves are lying 6″ deep on the lawn. The exhausted trees, after bending and groaning before the full force of the westerly gale are battered and bedraggled, with remaining leaves like shreds of clothing hanging from their skeletal forms. This is the back end of autumn, or the beginning of winter from which we should emerge in five or six months time. It’s a long haul! Today is mild and dull and, although I have yet to look closely at the river, I think it likely that the leaves will be less of an interference than last week. It has also started to rain here while in the West over 6″ of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours. Tony Searle and his two companions will start at 0800 with a meeting at the Milton gate, to be shown the river by Iain. Here’s hoping for keen salmon and satisfied anglers!

TA

CATCHING UP AFTER A LONG GAP

October 21st, 2014

My apologies to regular readers of these blogs. I have been remiss in not writing since August and, as a result of my neglect, today received a stern reprimand from Simon, our website advisor and guru. I am abject, and promised Simon I wouldn’t let it happen again. If I have an excuse it is that my mind has been wandering away from FCW website blogs into the world of Facebook, where feedback is guaranteed (if not always welcome) – a pretty paltry excuse by any reckoning.

To make amends I have included some extracts from the FCW Facebook pages over the last two months, and an update on a season that has turned out to be far from easy, despite that optimistic beginning in April.

HURRICANE GONZALO (remnants of) blew in from the southwest, sombrero firmly clamped to his head by a well buckled chinstrap. The wind roared and the chimney pots rattled, and the rain pattered against the windows of our old farmhouse. More rain fell than we anticipated, so that to a leaf filled river came a second flood of the week as the well leached land gave us a clearwater spate.

As I write this post the leaves are being stripped from the trees and outsize sycamore leaves spiral to the surface to drown in the swirling current and provide a brief moment of thrill as they tug firmly at the angler’s fly, just as a 20lb autumn salmon might.

WILL BATT CATCHES HIS FIRST SALMON.

Before the rain and leaves arrived like the densest imaginable minestrone, Will somehow managed to persuade a respectable but somewhat underweight grilse to take his hot orange fly in the Willows. A few fish were showing there and in Lower Boat Pool, but as I fished through those pools I had no tremors of anticipation. The river felt curiously comatose, its inhabitants unmotivated and uninterested. Will did well to catch his fish – his first salmon. Life will change after that moment – the moment when you raised the rod and felt the solid resistance of your first salmon! Nothing will ever be quite the same, Will. Relish it – a moment for lifelong reflection, & the strange alchemy of the salmon fisher’s experience infecting all that follows. Always respect the fish, its Odyssey, resilience, and its habit of making us miss a heartbeat!

Will Batt's 6lbs grilse

Will Batt with his first salmon (6lbs)

 

VETERAN POLICEMAN CATCHES HIS FIRST FISH

Last week we had another first salmon!

OK, it wasn’t a monster but it was a salmon – well, a grilse in fact – but John was the happiest ex-chief superintendent in Christendom as he headed back to the Finavon hostelry to boast his catch over dinner. A happy man, and one extremely satisfied Ghillie Iain, who said to me over the phone, “I couldn’t have enjoyed it more if I had caught it myself”.

My take on this happiest of incidents, which saw one rather coloured 4lbs grilse swim off into the shallow deeps of Beeches Pool on Castle Beat, is that vicarious enjoyment is usually much better than the real thing! Well done John: enjoy your dreams tonight, not to mention the odd libation to settle the brain and inject goodwill and contentment!

While the level of the South Esk continues to drop away gradually, the water temperature is falling as it ratchets down in sympathy with the coming winter. On the Tuesday of their week Colin Wilson’s party picked up three fish, the biggest of which was 11lbs. Ivan had a purple patch in late morning at Indies, with one unlikely encounter with a grilse from the tail of Indies Pool and then another bigger cock fish from the improving stream at the top of the pool.

Three fish against the odds. There will be some wine and spirits drunk tonight in convivial company! A happy occasion.

 

The week before was a time of the falling river level and gin-clear water.

THE GOLDEN AUTUMN CONTINUES

Last year (2013) was a dry year with consequent low levels of water and catches in the South Esk. It now looks as if 2014, while not as dry as 2013, is to be another low water year.

After a big spate at the beginning of the wek it has only taken five days for the river to drop back and the water to clear. Overnight frosts are nipping and reducing the runoff in the hills. Colder water temperatures may encourage fish already in the river to take more readily, but only the streams are likely to be productive.

In the coming week we have Colin Wilson’s party fishing all four beats. I just hope that they can pick up a few salmon before the water drops right back.

However, there are signs that later in the week there may be some rain; probably not enough to fill the river, but maybe sufficient to freshen it up. The problem of leaves in the water will then become a nuisance to fly fishers.

Just three more weeks of this season with FCW catches on 80 salmon and 81 sea trout.

TA

 

THE WIDE OCEAN AND ‘TWO INCHES OF IVORY’

An aspect of my life is the constant switching from the detail of managing Finavon Castle Water, a small beat on a Scottish East coast river, to the global scale of the migrations of wild Atlantic salmon, which is where my work with the Atlantic Salmon Trust takes me.

For an ageing angler and amateur natural historian, that constant changing from deep focus into the detail of the freshwater environment to the panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean gives me an awareness of how extraordinarily ignorant we are of just about every aspect of the life of the salmon. I am acutely conscious for example of the activity that takes place throughout the seasons below the surface of Finavon’s sometimes limpid, sometimes turgid, pools.

Seeing the abundance of darting juvenile fry and parr in the riffles and pool tails sensitises me to the colossal levels of regeneration that routinely take place in the river. Knowing that these tiny animals are connected directly with the endless horizons, relentless currents and violent weather patterns of the Ocean itself is somehow counter intuitive.

Why should there be such a connection?

Why don’t these little fish stay safe in the relatively unthreatening environment of the South Esk?

Why not stay at home?

Why risk themselves to the vagaries of weather, threats of predation and activities of man by exposing themselves to the limitless volumes of salt water?

Cerebrally I know the answers to these questions, but emotionally I haven’t fully taken them on board. Can I really directly relate the sight of a pristine spring salmon of (say) twelve pounds to those impatient little fish in the tail of the boat Pool? No wonder our ancestors failed to see the connection!

The ‘Big Picture’ of Ocean, geophysical cycles and deep global rhythms, changing climate, massive species migrations, variable planktonic blooming, availability of the right sort of food etc etc is all stuff that I have read about or been told. My own observations confine me mostly to the beginnings and the ends of the salmon’s great journey. But sometimes there are opportunities to raise my view above the parapet……

HIGH ARCTIC ADVENTURE

During the last few months I have followed the voyage of my brother John, as he sailed his yacht, Suilven, into the high Arctic Ocean in an attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, past Devon Island into the Pacific Ocean and down the North American West coast to Vancouver. He didn’t make it because the ice that blocks the NW passage did not clear to give him time to complete the journey. He is now sailing down the Labrador coast to winter moorings in Newfoundland.

Do visit his logbook and blogs (written by my sister-in-law, Linda). You will find her blogs on:

< Blog.Mailasail.com/suilven > ‘John Andrews Great Northern Adventure 2014′ some of the photos, also taken by Linda, are highly evocative in the context of the Ocean odyssey of our spring salmon!

For me John’s voyage helps to connect the cerebral and the emotional, or the wide ocean with two inches of ivory!

John and Linda’s voyage, from Oban to Iceland, Greenland and into the icy regions of the high arctic, through Atlantic Ocean, Irminger Sea, Greenland west coast, Labrador Sea, is the very same journey taken by those iridescent animals whose juvenile years are spent in the riffles of the South Esk.

Enjoy the Suilven blogs!

TA