Salmon ‘die close to rivers’


It is the news we’ve been waiting for but the news we didn’t want to hear.

Two-thirds of salmon smolts leaving their rivers of birth – tracked during their migration from Scottish rivers – vanished within the first 60 miles of their journeys, according to new research.

The smolts were tagged as part of the Atlantic Salmon Trust’s Missing Salmon Project aimed at establishing the reasons for a 70% fall in numbers in the past 25 years.

Okay it has to be said that the question originally asked by the chief executive of the AST, Mark Bilsby, was: ‘What is happening to our missing salmon’ – and this has yet to be in any way fully answered. But for the scientists working on the project, they have definitive proof of where and when in the salmon life cycle the damage is being largely done.

And yet, even as I type this, I’m aware that ‘infant mortality’ – if you can call smolts infants and I think you can because I believe they are sexually immature at this stage – is a well documented part of nature’s programme and this cull of fish may simply be because they’re the lil’uns that get hammered at this stage in the process.

To look at the facts however: the AST’s research in the Moray Firth this year shows:

  • Two-thirds of the 850 Atlantic salmon tagged in the early stages of their migration from seven rivers in the Moray Firth to the open sea this year (2019), perished.

The results were revealed ahead of the launch last Tuesday of the Missing Salmon Alliance, a collaboration working to conserve the fish.

Mark said: “Two-thirds were being lost before they really got out to sea. Now we know where they died.

“Next year we want to find out what caused that.”

Wild Atlantic salmon numbers have fallen by more than seven ­million since the 1980s, and 2018 was the worst on record.

Media coverage of this news has been good and KRISSY STORRAR, writing in Glasgow’s The Sunday Post wrote the following:

Young salmon leave their home river and spend up to five years at sea before returning to their birthplace to spawn. But only 5% now survive – down from 25% just two decades ago.

Climate change, predators, fish farms, water quality and barriers to migration are possible reasons suggested for the huge mortality rate.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust has been joined in the new Missing Salmon Alliance by Salmon and Trout Conservation, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Angling Trust.

David Mayhew, chair of the new forum (and I’m delighted it includes the Angling Trust of which I am an ambassador), commented:

“We had four separate salmon preservation bodies and many more internationally not working as one group. Three years ago, I said it would be better for us and the fish if we banded together. Now we have.”

Finally, I particularly liked David’s quote: “Everyone who has ever held a rod has a theory. But it’s the science that matters.”

Spoken like a scientist and it’s great we are actually appearing to be getting somewhere on the threat to the iconic salmon.

3 thoughts on “Salmon ‘die close to rivers’

  1. Henry – I would only add that the scientists have had lots of opinions too, most of which haven’t been correct. It seems that the truth in this matter is quite hard to actually ascertain. Wouldn’t it be great to know for sure.
    As you now the Canadian runs are down too, especially the Miramichi. A lot of folks are blaming that on striped bass, but is that just another factor? When I started fishing in Scotland less than 15 years ago there were some up years on the Dee and a lot of optimism. It was the same on the Miramichi. It is hard to see what has really changed in just the last 7 or 8 years.

    1. Hi Brad,
      Thanks for your thoughts and great to hear from you here.
      What stands out was your ‘less than 15 years ago’. That puts us at, say 2006-2008 or 9 and actually these were rather good years in Scotland. Many of the fish ‘trophy shots’ on my walls were of fish caught around then!! They were the best recent years on our Nith beat.
      Yes I’ve been keeping up with your posts tho I may have missed the last – I shall re read and I’m aware it was somewhat tougher on the Miramichi and with salmon numbers down – sobering to hear that but hope as always for the future and we must all try to act in whatever way we can.
      I am really pleased as I said in my post that the Angling Trust are stepping in further to the Missing Salmon conundrum. They and others, and I’ve given them a signed copy of my book to auction – everything helps I guess we can all try…
      Go well and Happy Thanksgiving (just gone?). Henry

      1. Yes, Thanksgiving in the USA was yesterday. The Miramichi returns for 2019 will end up being the lowest ever recorded on the river. The decline since what I feel was a modern peak in about 2010/2011 has been quite steep and steady. We have gone from around 80,000 in 2011 to probably around 20,000 in 2019. For the grist mill the last great runs on the Miramichi were thought to be in the late 1960s where around 600,000 ascended the river. It is believed from a composite of records that over 1,000,000 entered in the 1920s.

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