Meet the team: John Hickey

Meet the team: John Hickey

An interview with John, Fisheries Policy Advisor
02 March 2022

In this next instalment of our meet the team feature, we are delighted to introduce John Hickey who joined us last year as a Fisheries Policy Advisor. 

We asked John about his new role at S&TC and how he believes he can make a positive contribution to wild fish populations in the UK.

Photo: ©JohnHickey
Photo: ©JohnHickey

What was you background prior to joining S&TC?

Before joining S&TC I worked for the Westcountry Rivers Trust, helping to protect the diverse network of rivers and streams that flow through southwest England.

I have helped farm businesses adopt best farming practices and limit the impact of soil erosion and chemical run-off on freshwater, and at the other end of the scale supported practical implementation of traditional river restoration management. In a wider fisheries context, previous experiences include electrofishing and water quality monitoring as well as technical fish passage and easement improvements. I have also enjoyed facilitating links between local communities, helping to inform others about the importance of freshwater conservation through projects like the ‘Salmon in the Classroom’ initiative.

Tell us about your new role?

I join S&TC as a Fisheries Policy Advisor working specifically on the EU funded SAMARCH Project.  The project involves a wide range of English and French partners with a focus on obtaining and transferring new scientific evidence to improve the management of salmonids in the estuaries and coastal waters on both sides of the Channel.

On this side of the Channel we are gaining a greater understanding of Atlantic salmon and sea trout stocks on the Tamar and Frome while our French partners are studying salmonids in Brittany and Normandy on the Scorff, and Bresle. Combined project work includes extensive tagging of juvenile salmon and trout, as well as sea trout kelts, to gain a new understanding of the movement and survival of salmonids whilst at sea.  The team of scientists are also developing a unique genetic database for brown trout populations from rivers in Southern England and Northern France, so that any sea trout caught in and around the Channel area can be accurately assigned back to its river of origin.

Photo: ©GettyImages
Photo: ©GettyImages

How do you think your role can have a positive influence for wild fish and their conservation?

My role is to take the new scientific understanding and evidence from the SAMARCH project and use it to inform, improve and develop new policies for the management of salmonids in our estuaries and coastal waters.

Populations of salmonids – salmon, sea and brown trout - are under significant threat from wide-ranging pressures. Many populations have literally been suffering death by a thousand cuts; identifying and tackling each of these problems will help aid the recovery of our fisheries.

Having a deeper understanding of the behaviour and habits of salmonids throughout their lifecycle will greatly aid our ability to help protect and improve their populations. An accurate picture of coastal behaviour and a clear picture of the factors affecting survival are undoubtedly an area that has been largely unknown for management. Understanding this picture will be of huge importance both now and in the future, particularly as pressures on coastal areas and the marine ecosystem grow.

Your favourite freshwater species, and why?

My first love is for the wild brown trout of Exmoor. However, in Exmoor’s rivers and streams another species swims. One named Salar, about whose life, Williamson so elegantly wrote.

For my part, Atlantic salmon offer an ongoing fascination which has endured for over thirty years.  What is not to be fascinated about, with our most beautiful and precious fish?  Salmo salar, the Silver Leaper, The King of Fish.  Is it the incredible migrations that the juveniles undertake, from our rivers to the Norwegian Sea, to the Faroes and onwards to Greenland and back?  Is it the magical transformation that they undergo, not just in majestic appearance, but physiologically to allow the transition between fresh and salt water and back?  Is it the sheer determination to overcome all obstacles and complete their incredible life cycle?  Well, it is probably all of these and more.  Celtic mythology has it right. An Bradán Feasa is The Salmon of Knowledge, which holds all the wisdom of the universe.  The question is our we listening?  The Atlantic salmon is one of the greatest indicators of the health of our rivers and seas; and currently their populations are in crisis.  We must cherish our natural world, the land, rivers and seas upon which our lives also depend.  Humans are part of nature, not separate from it.  We must all do our utmost to take action to protect our salmon and the streams, rivers and seas in which they live, for our very existence also depends upon this, we should listen to and use the salmon’s knowledge wisely.

Why S&TC?

For me the clue is in the title, you have to take action to protect what you love.