Record breaking rod catches on the Tweed

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GOOD rates of survival and growth while at sea is one of the main reasons being touted for last season’s incredible record-breaking haul of salmon from the River Tweed.

As reported in TheSouthern earlier this year, salmon rod catches on the Tweed were the highest since records began in 1947. And in its annual report for 2010, published this week, the River Tweed Commission (RTC) said the figure of 23,219 caught by rod and line for the 97-mile Tweed system last year was “unprecedented”.

The record haul came despite a poor spring season when anglers were controversially asked to put all salmon caught back in the river to aid conservation efforts.

Whilst there was a relatively low spring salmon rod catch of 1,445 fish, 91 per cent of which were returned (1,147 in 2009 of which 83 per cent returned), a large sea-trout run was followed by an exceptional autumn salmon run.

Some 10,039 sea-trout were declared (6,671 in 2009), of which 7,418 were by net and 2,621 by rod. A total of 31,321 salmon was declared (12,199 in 2009) of which 8,102 were by net and 23,219 by rod and line (66 per cent returned overall).

All parts of the catchment had total salmon rod catches better than their five year averages – some, including Lower Tweed, significantly so. Nick Yonge, Clerk to the RTC, says the total salmon rod catch exceeded the previous high of 16,151 in 2007 by nearly 50 per cent.

“There is no clear reason as yet for these exceptional catches, but at least two criteria must have been fulfilled,” said Mr Yonge.

“Firstly, sufficient salmon and sea-trout smolts must have gone to sea in prior years [Tweed salmon and sea-trout mostly spend one or two years at sea].

“Secondly, there must have been good sea survival and growth in both the North Atlantic [for the salmon] and the southern North Sea [for the sea-trout] – a point which is confirmed by the good, sometimes abundant, catches of salmon and sea-trout made in other east coast rivers last year.”

However, Mr Yonge also sounded a cautionary note: “Despite the abundance in autumn last year, it has to be remembered that the Tweed, in common with other large rivers, supports several distinct breeding stocks of fish and its spring salmon stock is still highly vulnerable to over-fishing.

In his annual chairman’s report, Andrew Douglas-Home said something “truly extraordinary” had happened from about mid-August on the Tweed.

“The spring fishing had been poor, not as bad as 2009, but still well below what we had come to expect as the norm. In mid-April we asked all anglers and in-river nets to stop killing salmon until June 30 for conservation purposes,” he said.

“This provoked fury amongst some anglers and angling pundits; much of the subsequent blogging, correspondence and press comment was low grade, often pretty unpleasant and vitriolic stuff, some anonymous – which is unforgiveable.

“As chairman, flak-taking goes with the territory, but much was directed personally at our senior staff, and I cannot forgive that.”

“It was a depressing period and one which I trust will never again be visited on the wholly excellent senior RTC and Tweed Foundation staff.”

But he added that this criticism of these controversial conservation moves had faded as angling improved along the river during the season, with the numbers of fish being caught possibly setting a record for any North Atlantic salmon river.

“Some will say it is because we fish harder, that we have a longer season than anyone else, that the average size was smaller than in the 1980s,” he said.

“I have heard it all before and most of it is just not true. Even if the Tweed had little more than a three-month season [like many Russian, Norwegian and Icelandic rivers] from say mid-August to November, we would still have broken all records.”

Mr Douglas-Home said that the sea trout and salmon runs had been aided by the weather.

“Whilst it is clear that the runs were exceptional, rod catches were helped by almost perfect fishing conditions right through to the last day of the season,” he said.

The RTC is imposing a 100 per cent catch-and-release regime for salmon from February 1 until June 30 for the next five years – from 2011 – to further bolster conservation efforts.

This, said Mr Douglas-Home, would bring the Tweed into line with most other Scottish rivers and with all of England and Wales.