All 22 salmon rivers in Wales ‘at risk’ according to a new report
All 22 principal salmon rivers in Wales are at risk or probably at risk, according to a new report.
The report from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales shows that wild salmon stocks are reaching a crisis point.
Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon, which traditionally breed in UK rivers, have fallen to their lowest level on record, the latest assessment shows.
Some 37 of the 42 salmon rivers in England are also now categorised as “at risk” – which means stocks have fallen below sustainable levels – or “probably at risk”.
Atlantic salmon, which travel between the sea and rivers to breed, are a classic part of the UK’s river life, but climate change, which is leading to rising sea and river temperatures, as well as overfishing, is hitting stocks globally.
Poor water quality in rivers and estuaries can hit their lifecycle, and barriers such as dams and weirs stop them travelling upstream to suitable river breeding grounds, experts warn.
Kevin Austin, deputy director for agriculture, fisheries and the natural environment for the Environment Agency, said the report was “of great concern” and that “without urgent action wild Atlantic salmon could be lost from our rivers in our lifetimes”.
“We have seen some real successes through our work with partners, particularly on the River Don and Tyne, but more much progress is needed,” he said.
“As the climate emergency becomes more acute, we need co-ordinated action between governments, partners and industry to enable stocks to stabilise and recover to sustainable levels.”
While all principal rivers in Wales are at risk, one river in England – the Tyne in the North East – is now classified as not at risk, and has improved due to better water quality in the estuary and action against barriers to migration.
And on the River Don in Yorkshire, action to improve fish passes and initiatives to restore river habitat have allowed salmon to return.
England’sEnvironment Agency and partners have developed a “salmon five-point plan” to improve marine survival, further reduce catches by nets and rods, remove barriers to migration and enhance natural habitat, safeguard sufficient flows, and maximise spawning success by improving water quality.
In 2019, the agency closed all salmon net fisheries in England until at least 2029, with a catch and release rate of 95% being delivered in rod fisheries, with further options being considered to implement a 100% release rate in all remaining rivers categorised as being “at risk”.
The Environment Agency has also improved 19 fish passes in the last year, giving better access for salmon to the Severn, Ribble, Camel, Tyne and Test rivers, along with a new fish pass at Diglis Weir on the River Severn.
Some 53 schemes in 2021 aimed to improve water quality and river flows, which will benefit salmon, while there are 50 new agricultural officers to work with farmers to tackle pollution in water courses, the agency said.
And it is calling for tougher fines and prison sentences for those responsible for serious and deliberate pollution that damages water quality and river life.
Meanwhile, salmon in the lower river Wye narrowly avoided death by overheating last week, thanks to prompt action by a conservation group.
Atlantic salmon, for which the river is renowned, perish when water temperatures rise above 27C.
Fearing a repeat of the major “fish kill” in the river during the heatwave of 1976, the Wye & Usk Foundation (WUF) persuaded Welsh Water and Natural Resources Wales to release water from the Elan valley reservoirs in the river’s headwaters at the end of last week to boost its flow and flush out warmer water.
The group also urged farmers along the river to “halt where possible, or limit if not, their water take from the Wye on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to ensure this release of water reaches the fish it is intended for”, according to an email it sent out.
Some residents along the river took to Twitter over the weekend to point out that individual farms were still abstracting, and irrigating crops with spray guns.
But WUF chief executive Simon Evans said today (July 20) that enough farmers had heeded its call to bring a rise in the river level, even before the effect of the reservoir release was felt.
As a result, “apart from a few dead fish around Holme Lacy, what we feared would happen, didn’t”, he said, adding the salmon can now be seen active once more as temperatures cool down.
“We don’t yet know if the releases were key,” he said. “We will have to analyse the data from the past few days, and learn some lessons so we can respond better next time.
“But it shows what can be done if everyone works together.”
Additional reporting by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
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