WHEN the salmon fishing season opens next month anglers will once more be on the lookout for reliable signs of revival or decline in stocks. A comprehensive pattern has proved hard to establish despite many years of international, national and local study by a range of experts.
The Irish Republic’s Inland Fisheries Institute has reported the number of fish passing through counters is at the lowest level since 2002. Yet there are some encouraging signs in the north – though many sceptics refuse to believe the data from fish counters on the Bann and Foyle systems.
Most scientists regard climate change as the greatest threat to the wild Atlantic salmon and have voiced serious concerns about the Arctic ice melt. But critics of fish farming argue it has replaced coastal netting as the most pressing threat. However all parties agree that in Ireland alone wild salmon numbers have declined by more than 60% in 40 years and we must all share the blame for this natural disaster.
It is easy to despair but the good work or organisations like the North Atlantic Salmon Fund must not be forgotten. Recognition and support must be given to the increasing number of community groups and angling clubs which have dedicated themselves to the restoration of lost streams. These include the Enler at Comber and the Dibney in Killyleagh.
The Salmon in the Classroom project, which encourages children to hatch salmon eggs and return them to a suitable stream in an effort to restock, is a good example of creative thinking by environmentalists which brings many benefits.
Policy makers too have taken some small steps in the direction of conservation. It is against the law to kill wild salmon in areas under the control of Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and elshewhere on the island bag limits and tagging systems control and monitor angling kills.
The Loughs Agency faces much criticism but does a great deal to tackle poaching in border areas. The Irish government has a National Angling Development Plan which may be a model worth adopting on this side of the border.
Imagine the tourism potential if sustainable runs of wild salmon were able to return to the Lagan, the Quoile, the upper Bann, Blackwater and the Erne catchments. The Loughs Agency has reminded anglers that catch returns for 2016 must be made by January 21, 2017. Last year only 16% of fishermen made these returns which help to establish the state of stocks of salmon and sea trout. The salmon season opens on January 1 on the Drowes river in Leitrim and the Lennon in Donegal. If water conditions are suitable the Drowes usually produces the first fish.
Meanwhile, if you have ever wondered how big a rainbow trout will grow in the wild then Glasgow painter and decorator Micky Mitchell, aged 52, can provide us with hard evidence. Fishing Loch Earn in the Trossachs north of Glasgow last month he hooked an escaped rainbow of 34lb 12oz and has a claim to a British record. The fish took a bunch of maggots and it was 15 minutes before it came to the net. The world record rainbow is 48lb and was caught in Canada’s Lake Diefenbaker in 2009. The Irish Specimen Fish Committee does not recognise the rainbow trout.