My last salmon, will I ever take another?

Every day there is a news story or social media post about the salmon stocks collapse, even last night on the podcast Davy mentioned a few thoughts, almost every customer in the shop makes comments about how bad the Salmon situation is, its not what it used to be. There certainly seems to be endless research before anyone is given the go ahead to pull the trigger and put a plan in place.

Please don’t think that I am getting up on high horse or preaching one thing over the other, I feel just as guilty for my part to play in the demise. Unfortunately I have killed a large number of salmon myself, back when I was less educated but still an enthusiastic young angler. Everything was hit on the head, I can remember clearly the smell of salmon in the kitchen when having breakfast in the morning after returning from the river with the job already done, within a few weeks of the summer holidays we were running out of friends and neighbours to give the fish to, its madness when you think back, but I didn’t know any better. At that time the fingers were getting pointed at the drift nets at sea, they were the culprits, the nets were the ones taking all our salmon (they certainly took a lot) but the year they were taken off the only difference I noticed was a slight increase in the quality of the fish, there didn’t seem to be many more and yet we still carried on harvesting as many fish as we could when they reached the rivers.

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With the drift nets out of the picture a new culprit was to blame, the next rumours up and down the riverbanks were that the problem lay out to sea, all the while everyone was still taking every fish. Catch and release was almost a bad word. The last fish I killed was up until that point my best salmon, one of three that came home that day, I didn’t need it, there were plenty of them in the freezer and the neighbours had all been served a few fish already but this was a time before every mobile phone had a camera, facebook and Instagram where not around, the only reason I killed that fish was to show it off, to say I had caught it almost a bit of the ‘great white’ hunter syndrome, I did the same with my biggest ever river brown trout as well unfortunately. When we got back and laid out that evenings catch on the kitchen counter and I looked at the fish there was something changed in me without realising, I was feeling bad about it despite posing for the photos.

The anglers aren’t making the difference is the argument I keep hearing, its not the angler who’s taking all the fish. Its them uns and those uns and its not fair on us. I would certainly enjoy a few steaks of salmon but the harsh reality is that they just are not there to be taken. A favourite river of mine has been on the downward spiral every year since I have fished it, you have probably heard me tell this story before if you have been around the shop but the last year before it was forcefully turned into a catch and release fishery (has any fishery voluntarily?) I stood with another club member having a chat about the lack of salmon, as is customary now during a days fishing.  The belief at this stage for the lack of fish numbers was the estuary nets, which at the time had its quota dwindled down to just over 300 salmon per year. That one club (there are others on the river) had 90 members, each allowed to take 10 salmon legally per year. Now you don’t have to be a scientist to see where the finger needs pointed.

In Ireland particularly we have these strange terms such as conservation limits and harvestable catches, sustainable crop etc etc. I for one can’t quite fathom how anyone comes up with a population density, I would love to hear all about it, but surely at this stage of the game there are not many rivers around the UK and Ireland that can boast a surplus. We are led to believe these extra fish provide no benefit to the river, too many fish arriving at the spawning beds is actually worse for the river, hey, wouldn’t that be a terrible problem to have? I think habitat works plays hand in hand with the catch and release mentality, the better the habitat, the better potential the fish have when they make to the spawning grounds and the better chance the juveniles have. Again the habitat plays in with the notion of the abundance of predators (there certainly are more today) as over the years we have manicured our rivers in able to make them easier to fish but it also opens them up more to the predators in the river.

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Speaking of predators. The salmon is without doubt one of the most hunted creatures on earth, if its not other fish trying to eat them its birds, seals, whales or dolphins. Just a few of the problems facing them before mentioning pollution or plastics. On the Sunday drive we used to occasionally visit a small harbour called Ardglass in Co.Down. A small fishing village where I can still remember my Granny pointing out the seal to us just over 20 years ago. It was a real treat to see the seal, if you were lucky you might have seen two sitting just out of the harbour mouth. Last year we went back and I was hoping to let my own girls possibly get a glimpse of the seal, we didn’t see one, there were dozens of them. More and more seals and fewer fishing vessels than ever. Sights that used to be rare along the riverbanks and coastlines are now common, I used to always get excited when I saw a Heron or a Buzzard, now, they are everywhere. Now I am not one for wanting to go out and decimate the seal population but surely there is a balance. Cormorants in Ireland are a huge problem, they are currently on a local river not far from me decimating our sea trout smolts, nothing can be done, no licence will be granted and where they are feeding is too public.

Problems at sea, well where do you even start with that one? Between fish farms and factory ships either obliterating the smolts themselves or just starving the salmon of feed it does nothing but make you angry when you think about it. How can people be so stupid, maybe its just the greed of a few? I know one thing, this aspect of the salmons problems is most likely going to be the hardest one to solve.

I am patiently looking forward to seeing the results of the missing salmon project, I have a few guesses myself at where we are losing our salmon, I even have a feeling that the problems could be lying closer to our home waters than we think! But here’s the thing, it will be another season gone before we find out, who knows how long before we can take action and thats without getting the boxes ticked and the i’s dotted as we attempt to dance around the red tape.

Heres what can be done, just put them back! Its a start, I know that hasn’t exactly solved the issues on other rivers that are under the same pressure but by taking the fish we as anglers are only making it worse. Just like that story about the club members having the capacity to tale 900 salmon take a look at the Loughs Agency rod licence, currently there are over 14’000 registered anglers, now imagine if each of those anglers takes just one salmon out of the foyle system, just one fish each? 14’000 salmon, now I would love to see what that amount of salmon reaching the spawning beds consistently would do for our rivers. Some anglers might not catch a salmon every year, some catch a lot more, there are a lot of variables in place a lot of obstacles facing the salmon, why should we be one of them? I think if we want to help the salmon, we have to start doing it ourselves.

I would love one for the table, but can we really sustain every angler in the country taking a fish ?

Tightlines

Have a great season.

Mike