I had an interesting and engaging conversation this morning with, Sarah Bayley Slater [Executive Director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust] [AST], and was delighted to find her both pleasant and most knowledgeable, but also, and importantly passionate, not only about the subject of salmon conservation, but the business of salmon fishing.
Our conversation focused on 4 different topics –
Tagging of smolts from river to sea and back to river.
DNA analysis and sampling of the catch in pelagic trawlers.
Fishing farming. What can be done to bring the interests of Aquaculture and Anglers in line with one another?
The important roll played by Ghillies in the above.
Interestingly, each of the four subjects are joined, not only by the gift that is wild salmon, but by the “Business” that is salmon angling. Without this business, Scotland would have to find upward of £200,000,000 per year from elsewhere and a great many rural communities would cease to exist. The business, although fragmented and spread thinly around the country, is a big one and something we all must do our bit to look after.
Of the subjects above, I will begin with the one I personally see as most important. Number 4!
Ghillies are our visiting anglers first, and in many cases, only point of contact, so what our visiting anglers hear from the ghillie over a dram or cup of tea, is not only taken as gospel, but also what they take home with them. Ghillies are, and have always been, the salesman, marketing man, your host and in a lot of cases, cook, cleaner and bottle washer. Basically, he fills every roll and because of this, is both respected and has the ear, not only of everyone who fishes with him, but potentially, all their friends too. In the modern age of communication, they are not only the eyes and ears of the river, without whom none of the real-time websites would function, but also, the trend setters, whether that trend may be special flies, rods, lines or even particular management strategies. If the ghillie says “they’re shite”, most tend to agree.
Number 3: Was fish farming.
A problem most anglers and Ghillies are aware of, but the solutions to which, well, the Jury remains out. However, we all know the main problems so don’t need to talk even more about them here. What’s required is a strategy with a short, medium and long term plan, because, unfortunately, this problem doesn’t have a short-term fix. However, it most certainly has a medium and long one but that can only come about via positive dialogue with the people involved.
Last year, whilst fishing in Norway I spoke frankly about this to Per Greig [Chairman of Greig Seafoods], a major Norwegian Supplier of Farmed Salmon.
I found his interest in both businesses interesting and “fresh”. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of closed contained farming. Fish farming on a global scale, the people involved, all of which was more than interesting, as obviously, as an angler, he had an interest in both. Basically, no matter what the subject, our capitalist society is run by the bottom line and stops at the buck. Although a great many of us [Including myself] find this morally frustrating, unfortunately, it can and will never change. So where does that leave us with salmon and fish farming? My conversation with Per left me in no doubt that a strategy devised by all stakeholders will be the way forward.
Number 2: DNA Sampling.
What can this achieve? Even if we find out salmon are taken by the Mackerel/Pelagic fishery at smolt stage. What can we actually do about this?
The chances are this would be at one point of the smolt migration and as such, would only be relevant for a few weeks’ tops. Finding out where and when, pin pointing this, “could” lead to lobbying of the industry, or applying political pressure to keep away from those areas for that short time.
Given where European fisheries negotiations are and will be over the next months [Brexit]. Even if we found out conclusively when this “time corridor” for smolts passing was, then it would be a very difficult [even more so than fish-farming] nut to crack, especially if this is in international waters. Our best hope would be if it were within our waters. On a brighter note, I do think the UK will hold some ace cards regarding fisheries during this period. I suppose it depends on how the government, both Scottish and Westminster, plays the hand. Given their recent record, my guess is they will forget the main agenda, find something to argue about and let the aces fall!
Number 1: Tagging and Monitoring of Smolts leaving our rivers.
This is a great programme, one I know will bear fruit by providing us with answers, which hopefully, cannot be questioned. Initial results show that 25% of smolts tagged, don’t even get to the sea! We will have a good idea what’s happening because the ghillies and anglers reading this watch it unfold every day. I really like the idea of tagging Kelts, as they are doing in the Gaspe peninsula near Quebec. Again, this properly answers the questions asked - What are happening to those fish at sea?
The answers to all of the above, inevitably [I believe], will take us into direct conflict with
those who feel we should not kill/manage predators. At this time it is mine, and the opinion of a great many more, that the “obvious” increase in predator species, simply “must” have an impact on a declining number of Salmon. However, in the 21st Century, only by proving this categorically, will our politicians [the real decision makers] “even begin” to listen.
As a footnote. I heard this morning that the numbers of Dolphins on the west coast had increased to a level never seen before. The question was asked why? Why indeed. Because the food that particular predator likes is there. If there’s no food then predators go elsewhere. Simple Food for thought!
As anglers, particularly salmon anglers, we tend to have our own pet theories, its all part of the game; why does a salmon take a fly!???/? However, to properly protect what remains of this species and so all our jobs and businesses, then we really do need to begin to work much more closely together, difficult, given our personal ideas, but we must begin somewhere and I think what I see here is a step in the right direction.