Concerns over floods impact on salmon

The River Tweed is currently enjoying its second-highest salmon catches since records began more than 50 years ago. The Tweed Commissioners and related Tweed Foundation carry out research into the river environment. Pictured is fisherman Brian Colin, from Morebattle, fishing on the River Tweed at Dryburgh. 'Picture by Jane Barlow 10/04/07
The River Tweed is currently enjoying its second-highest salmon catches since records began more than 50 years ago. The Tweed Commissioners and related Tweed Foundation carry out research into the river environment. Pictured is fisherman Brian Colin, from Morebattle, fishing on the River Tweed at Dryburgh. 'Picture by Jane Barlow 10/04/07

Tweed fishing interests will have to wait until summer to discover if vital salmon spawning beds have been damaged by recent storms and floods.

That is when the Tweed Foundation, the scientific and 
research arm of the River Tweed Commission (RTC), will be carrying out its electrofishing survey of the tributaries on the world famous catchment.

That work in July and August will indicate how many fry, having emerged from the gravel redds (shallow depressions made by salmon as nests) where eggs are laid in the late autumn and hatched in spring, have survived the unprecedented winter rainfall.

Concern over the impact of the floods on breeding and future stocks has been voiced this week by former RTC chairman Andrew Douglas-Home, owner of the Lees beat near Coldstream.

Writing on his Tweedbeats website, he noted that at Birgham, 14 inches of rain fell in November, December and January – which amounted to about two thirds of the average annual rainfall for the Lower Tweed, which stretches from Kelso to Tillmouth.

But in Eskdalemuir, close to where the River Teviot rises, 49 inches were recorded over the same three months.

“No wonder the Tweed has been in flood for all but a very few of the last 90 days,” wrote Mr Douglas-Home.

“Fishing huts have been washed away, river banks degraded and nobody yet knows how their pools have changed, but change there most certainly will have been.

“Gravel movement and consequent change to pool flows and depths must have been prodigious.

“None of us wants to think about the possible damage to the precious salmon spawning beds.”

He did sound a note of cautious optimism: “There have, of course, been massive winter floods before which have had little discernable impact on fry numbers.”

However the scale of the floods and the repeated battering that the Tweed has taken this year forced Mr Douglas-Home to concede: “We have not had four such big, successive floods in the space of six weeks over the vital spawning period.”

It is estimated the Tweed fishery is worth £18m to the Borders economy and supports around 500 full time jobs.

Over the past two seasons, catches of salmon taken by rod on the river have fallen by nearly half, from a five year average of 11,000 to around 6,000.

The 2016 salmon fishing season began on February 1.