S&TA/AST response to the Invitation to Shape the Nature of England

We are responding to this invitation on behalf of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association.

We are responding to this invitation on behalf of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association.
We are both parties to the joint response being submitted by five angling, conservation and fisheries organisations , and we fully endorse all the points made in that response. This separate response supplements it and provides more detail on salmon and sea trout.

Salmon are one of the best indicators of the health of the natural environment. Their life cycle exposes them to environmental hazards throughout the length of their rivers of origin, from remote upland streams to large estuaries, and then during the year or more that they spend at sea, migrating from our shores to Greenland and the Arctic circle. Silted up spawning gravels will prevent their eggs from hatching, pollution and low flows will kill fry and parr, reducing their habitat and exposing them to predation. Hydropower turbines can kill migrating smolts, which are further exposed to pollution and predation during their passage down river and in estuaries, again exacerbated by low flows. Returning adults face similar problems; barriers often impede their upstream journey, and there is evidence that even very low levels of some chemicals can adversely affect their migratory ability.

The problems salmon face at sea are largely unknown. However, there has been a steady decline over the past forty years in the total number of salmon returning to English and Welsh rivers, with total returns falling by some 60% since the early 1970s. The figures for 2009 were the lowest on record. This decline has been driven at least in part by an increase in marine mortality, with a lower percentage of smolts surviving to return as adults. It is probable that this is the result of a change in conditions at sea which may well be due to climate change.

The picture is not wholly gloomy. Salmon have returned to rivers such as the Tyne, commercial fishing for salmon outside coastal waters has been brought to an end and mixed stock coastal net fisheries have been ended or are being phased out in most North Atlantic countries (with the notable exception of Scotland). The number of salmon killed by anglers has fallen dramatically, with most now being returned alive. But while this reduction in levels of exploitation has helped offset the impact of falling stock levels, it will not be enough on its own.

Stock levels on 64 individual rivers in England and Wales are assessed by the Environment Agency against conservation limits, which define the minimum number of spawning adults needed to ensure the conservation of salmon stocks; they therefore set thresholds below which the number of spawning fish should not fall. Compliance with conservation limits is assessed using all available data. In 2009 the number of spawners was estimated to be above the conservation limit on only 21 (33%) rivers, down markedly from 41 rivers (66%) in 2008.

Numbers of spawners can vary significantly from year to year, so the Environment Agency also sets a longer term management objective for rivers, which is that they should meet their conservation limits in 4 years out of 5. The Agency estimated that 39% of rivers had a more than 50% chance of meeting the management objective in 2009; it has forecast that the figure for 2014 will be 45%.

Sea trout face the same problems as salmon in freshwater. However, they have a wider distribution, and make use of smaller streams; there are for example, sea trout in many small streams in the South- East and in East -Anglia. As a result, the range of environmental problems they face is probably greater, as small streams are less monitored that known salmon rivers.

Sea trout also face different problems at sea, as they remain in coastal waters, This is likely to expose them to different hazards than salmon, including pollution and exploitation, both illegal and inadvertent, by sea fisheries.

Much less is known about the state of sea trout stocks and such factors as marine survival rates. This is where more research is particularly needed.

Both salmon and sea trout are iconic species, and their presence on our rivers in good numbers will be a clear sign that the aquatic environment is in a healthy state. To achieve this, there are a number of steps the Government needs to take. These are set out in the joint response referred to in the first paragraph above. In particular, it is essential that the action needed to meet the objectives of the Water Framework Directive are taken.

As migratory species, salmon and sea trout are particularly affected by barriers in rivers. In this respect, we are concerned by the growing number of applications for hydropower schemes, driven at least in part by the introduction of the Feed-in Tariff. We are not against using river flows to create energy – we support the principle – but we must ensure that the aquatic environment and its dependent species are not impacted by hydropower developments. All proposals for hydropower schemes must be rigorously scrutinised, and should only be authorised if adequate measures are in place to ensure that they do not impede up-stream migration and intakes are screened to prevent the ingress if smolts migrating down stream. ??n?addition, the impact of hydropower schemes on migratory fish must not be assessed in isolation, and the cumulative impact of successive barriers on the ability of fish to reach their spawning grounds must be considered.

The state of the marine environment is crucial to both salmon and sea trout. There is little that can be done in the short term to address changing oceanic conditions, but these emphasise the need to take the steps needed to address climate change. Closer to home we support the introduction of a comprehensive network of Marine Conservation Zones and reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to ensure that all fishing in EU waters is on a sustainable basis and to give priority to the conservation of the marine ecosystem.

Although salmon, and to a much lesser extent sea trout, have been studied for many years, there remains a great deal of work still to be done. It is important that the Government continues to fund research in this area. Both organisations promote research, and the Atlantic Salmon Trust has played a key role in encouraging research into salmon at sea under the international SALSEA programme. But while we are ready to work in partnership with Government to develop research programmes and find funding for research projects, Government core funding remains essential to ensure that the scientific work needed to underpin the conservation of the natural environment is undertaken.

Paul Knight
Chief Executive
Salmon and trout Association
Ivor Llewelyn

Director (England and Wales)
Atlantic Salmon Trust