Restoring and Protecting Fish Stocks
The 2015 season has been very difficult for everyone on the Dee and The Board and Trust are active on a number of fronts to restore and protect fish stocks. Our primary concern is the in river phase of the salmon’s life cycle, but from 2016 we are going to be looking further afield to the inshore and offshore environments.
Work since the 1980s shows that where the habitat is good, juvenile numbers of fish are good, compared to an independent national classification scheme. To date these stocks are stable and are checked by electro fishing in the summer months redd counts in the autumn.
By Christmas we will know whether we are producing the maximum number of smolts for the habitat on the river. This will be tested against four smolt traps and counters to ensure that the numbers are valid.
The Dee habitat is in good condition but could be better in a few areas. To address this 52 km of riverbank has been restored over the last 12 months. In addition 121 km of river, on the Culter Catchment, has been opened up for the first time in over 250 years through easing obstacles to fish migration.
Populations of fish eating birds are monitored by counts six times a year. This is a controversial topic and the board has to work within the confines of the law. It is a source of frustration and we continue to press government about the impact of these birds. A licence is gained annually to control their numbers on the river and this is achieved through a network of licenced ghillies and volunteers across the catchment.
Seal scarers have been installed at the tidal limit of the river and have been supplemented with regular patrols. Since four additional scarers were installed in March 2015 only four seals have been reported upstream of the scarers. There will be additional patrols made in 2016 to intercept the seals and turn them downstream before they encroach on the beats. The issues we have had are with common seals, which are protected by law. There has been no licence granted on the east coast for commons since 2010 and so we continue to manage the situation by non-lethal means, while maintain a dialogue with the relevant authorities.
Policing remains a key priority on the Dee. In the last year the Dee Bailiffs have dealt with 24 incidents of poaching, which resulted in 10 formal warnings being issued in partnership with Police Scotland. Coastal patrols in summer 2014 provided evidence of the illegal operation of nets by a salmon netting company. A prosecution was taken forward late last year, to which the company pleaded guilty on corporate grounds and were fined. An appeal heard in summer 2015 upheld the ruling,
Due to the impact that mixed stock fisheries have on the catches on the Dee, the Board has lobbied Scottish Government for the closure of coastal netting stations. The Scottish Government now intend to implement a three year prohibition of all coastal netting, effective from 2016. This will lead to more fish returning to the Dee in 2016.
We are concerned about the survival of our smolts. New evidence suggests that smolts from some rivers are not making it to the open sea. To determine whether this is an issue on the Dee a major investment in smolt trapping and tracking facilities has been made so that we can determine the fate of salmon smolts as they migrate down the river and out to sea. This will allow us to determine how we best manage the river and estuary for our smolts and returning adult salmon.
The Dee is working with the Atlantic Salmon Trust to better understand what is happening on the high seas to our fish. Whilst we cannot do this work ourselves we are ensuring that the fish tracking technologies and genetic information on fish stocks is compatible with those being undertaken by international organisations