There Goes The Neighbourhood

Three locals coming home accompanied by two sea trout in the River Ness; filmed by the Ness Fisheries Board

The occasional observer on the river bank may be unaware that migratory Atlantic Salmon native to these islands, who have never had it easy as they flog over to their Icelandic feeding grounds and back again to their home rivers, face increasing threats to their well-being which are becoming beyond worrisome. 

Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

The last few years have seen numbers returning to their home rivers in decline from Canada all the way over to Norway. Salmon fishermen and those who study migratory salmon have so far been unable to identify any single reason for the decline. Similarly, the pattern of behaviour which we have seen in salmon since the early sixties appears, in some rivers at least, to be changing with returning fish coming back in large pods at different times of year than has been the way for at least a generation. It is likely that a combination of factors are responsible and probably include their feeding grounds being pushed some 250 miles further north because of sea warming, unrestricted growth in predation in native coastal waters because no one wants to kill seals and many local factors such as agricultural pollution and sea lice from salmon farms on the West Coast. Not forgetting of course the invasive American Signal Crayfish which has decimated some rivers in South West Scotland and the demented introduction of beavers in some areas. 

Part of the fishing community, having consulted the dusty records of the past, believe we are simply going through one of natures down-cycles and a natural reversal of the trend will come in good time. At best though, only 5% of smolts survive the sea journey, (it was 30% in the 1960's), and now, after that long trip, a new threat awaits.

Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Some new folk are moving in. Pink, or Humpback salmon as they are also known, are ugly brutes and are not native to our waters. About a month ago a couple were caught on the Ness and since then they've been appearing in rivers up and down the Scottish East Coast from the Helmsdale to the Tweed. They have occasionally appeared in the past, just not in the numbers being seen this year. Although native to waters off Canada and Alaska the travellers we are seeing have probably come from the Barents Sea where they were introduced in 1956. I wish they would bloody stay there.

Pink Salmon spawning on the Ness filmed by the Ness Fishery Board

Broadly speaking, no-one in the fishing world is getting too animated about it. We're a stoic lot and lord knows there's enough to worry about without sweating over a few illegal immigrants. The clip released today though by the Ness Fisheries Board of two Pink's spawning won't help. The last thing we need is for these buggers to take hold and potentially squeeze out our native salmon for its not exactly something that the poor fish get a vote on.

An update posted on 15th August from Fisheries Management Scotland may be found here.