Only 5 per cent of Bush smolts may return

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Low marine survival of wild Atlantic salmon continued to dominate the thinking of fishery managers and scientists in all the salmon countries of the north Atlantic seaboard.

In a lengthy and engrossing article Tony Andrews executive director of AST makes a number of telling points. He says that among others the Norwegian Government and Atlantic Salmon Federation have sought to map salmon migration routes in inshore waters and in the ocean to answer three key questions:

Where are wild Atlantic salmon dying at sea in unprecedented numbers? What are the causes of salmon mortality? And what can realistically be done to reduce mortality?

Tony Andrews asks ‘can we find ways to give the wild Atlantic salmon time and space for its natural resilience for survival to kick in?’ With new instruments and methods at their disposal, scientists are ready to take up the challenge. It seems a defeatist view that we should not even try to resolve the problems encountered at sea by the wild Atlantic salmon.

“We already know that the north-east Atlantic has shifted to a warmer regime, causing changes in the composition and production of plankton on which salmon post-smolts depend. The result is reduced salmon abundance. Forty to 50 years ago there were eight million wild Atlantic salmon at sea. Today that figure is three million, or less.

“Efforts are being made to reduce harvests by nets and rods, and to enhance freshwater habitats, but numbers of returning salmon remain low, despite the fact that catches of salmon have been greatly curtailed, dropping from around 12,000 tonnes in the 1960s to their current levels of 1,500 tonnes.

“The marine environment is changing rapidly. Climate change is severely affecting trophic levels of the world’s oceans. The abundance of salmon mustering at sea (so called pre-fishery abundance - PFA), prior to their arrival back in freshwater, has dropped by 66 per cent in the case of southern European grilse, and by a staggering 81per cent for multi-sea-winter salmon.

“Changes in ocean surface temperature which profoundly influence the biology of the pelagic zone are underlying drivers of PFA decline of wild Atlantic salmon. Distribution of the shrimp-like creatures from the plankton communities in the surface layers of the ocean is changing quickly.

“Cold water prey species, on which salmon post smolts feed, are moving north. Exotic species from warmer climes now inhabit those vacated ecological niches. We also now know that is it is not simply the quantity of food that is important, but also the quality of the nutrition it provides. Well nourished salmon produce large, fertile eggs that ensure the successful recruitment of the next generation of juveniles.

“Salmon smolt survival at sea is affected by a confusion of interacting factors, including predation, accidental by-catch, disease and parasites, changes in the marine environment and food availability. Monitored catchments, such as the Welsh Dee, the North Esk, the River Conon, the Dorset Frome, River Bush in Co Antrim and Burrishoole, Co Mayo, have recorded the decline of smolt survival to returning adult from well above 20 per cent to less than 10 per cent, sometimes as low as 5 per cent. The loss of 95 per cent of a river’s output at sea is unprecedented, and confirms that ocean-wide changes are impairing the smolts’ ability to feed and grow at sea. More subtle forces may also be at work through changes in competition for food with newly arrived species.

“If, by reducing the effects of human obstructions to salmon migrations, we were able to increase the percentage of smolts that survive to return as adults by as little as one or two per cent we would almost certainly see more fish in our rivers.”

Northern Ireland angler Gary Lamont had the second biggest fish of the season on Tuesday at Carrahulta on Carrig on the Blackwater Lodge beats of the Munster Blackwater. Gary released the 15lb fish which was taken on prawn. 

Seven fish to 15lb were caught on Lodge beats on Tuesday bringing the total to 106 fish for the first 28 days of the month and to 474 for the season which ended on Thursday.

On September 23 four fish were caught. Two were fresh run.Three rods released eight fish on one of the upper beats. One was a first ever salmon for UK angler, Doug Clayton. Anglers saw a very big number of fish moving during the day.

USA angler Casey Simons had his first ever salmon at 9lb on fly.

A total of 47 salmon were caught in seven days with the best of the season, an 18 pounder taken on September 20.

Myles Kelly of Angling Ireland said there wasn’t enough rain to improve things on the Drowes but a salmon or two a day was still being reported by the fishery.

Myles quoted anglers who reported that the trout on Lough Sheelin were restless and although just about any fly would work, fishing it right was the key.  A total of 174 trout was reported from the lake and the heaviest fish for the week was a 6 ¾ lb trout caught by Pierce Boyle of Sussex using a Claret George. There was good late season fishing to be had on Lough Corrib where fish were coming to dry Olives as well as a variety of wets. On Lough Melvin anglers continued to enjoy the Sonaghan fishing. Deep water drifts in the middle of the lake produced the best bags.

At Craigmore, James Harper had 26 trout to 6lb on dries and lures and Hartley Smith had 12 to 5lb on buzzers and damsels. Johnny McNeill had 43 to 7lb on weed fly on three visits.

Other catches were: Aaron McGaw, 17 to 8lb; Michael Currie, 28 to 6lb 9oz; Andy McClelland, 28; Colin Foster, 12 to 8lb; Michael Wakeland, 12; Gordon Wilson, 21; Daniel Paton, 12 to 9lb; Jason McKeown, 17 to 7lb including a tagged fish worth £25.

I am happy to say that readers of this column have never disappointed me when I have asked for a favour. Hopefully, it will be the same this time. On Saturday (September 19) a very good little brown fox terrier was lost in the Glens of Antrim. My son Daniel was hunting with hounds above the Green Hill in Torr. Hounds had accounted for one troublesome fox but Belle wanted to make a name for herself and went to ground after another fox about a mile and a half above the Torr road.

Dan said she was only a couple of feet underground and could have been dug out easily if he had had a spade with him. All entreaties to come out fell on deaf ears and when help came back with the spade both terrier and fox had gone. Dan and his friend Paddy McQuaid checked every known earth within miles but there was still no sign of Belle or fox.

Then at 9.30 am on Saturday last, eight days after she had gone to ground three miles away, two young people from Cushendun saw Belle at the car park near Loughareema.

Speed records were broken and many miles covered both on foot and by quad in a widespread search for Belle. But she was gone.

My guess is that some well meaning person or perhaps a visitor new to the area took Belle home with them - thinking that was the right thing to do.

By the worst of bad luck I missed finding Belle by a matter of minutes. I was looking for her out above Loughareema on Thursday of last week when I distinctly heard her barking down near the bridge at Loughareema. I called her repeatedly as I hurried down but the wind was blowing towards me and I fear I could hear her a lot better than she could hear me. When I got to the bridge she wasn’t there.

I have said in this column before that a hunting dog will usually find its own way home and it is hardly ever right to lift a stray dog unless you take it straight away to a dog warden or owner. If anyone knows where Belle is I would appreciate a phone call to 02821761551.