Salmon catches slump – fingers point to disease

Salmon leaping at the Cauld in Selkirk.
Salmon leaping at the Cauld in Selkirk.

Salmon catches on the River Tweed and its tributaries fell drastically in 2014, with only around 2,500 fish taken by rod and line over the three-month autumn season.

This compares to the 8,000 which were caught in the corresponding period – which finishes at the end of each November – in 2013.

Fishing was so poor that the beat at Tillmouth closed 10 days early.

And across the entire season from February 1, just 4,000 salmon were caught, compared to the five-year average to 2013 of 11,000.

The slump is revealed in the online magazine FishTweed, but the exact totals won’t be known until the River Tweed Commission AGM in March. That amalgamation of beat owners, which runs an industry worth an estimated £15million a year to the Borders, has already introduced a compulsory catch-and-release policy from February 1 to June 30.

Hawick Angling Club, the largest in the Borders with 10 miles of double-bank fishing on the Teviot and its tributaries, posted on the website: “Thank goodness that this season is over, far fewer fish than there should be. Disease is rife with a high proportion of fish showing fungus in varying degrees. Let’s just hope this has been a one-off bad season.”

Tillmouth, downstream of Coldstream Bridge and with five full-time boatmen, is considered one of the best performing beats with a rod costing around £200 a day in high season. But over the year, just 311 salmon were landed, compared to 685 in 2013 and a five-year average catch of 758.

On November 20, Tillmouth head boatman Willie Elliot posted: “Over the last few days it has become apparent that the river is beginning to shut itself down and it was felt it was not sporting to fish over spawning and, in some cases, diseased fish. As a consequence it has been decided, in consultation with the owners, to close the fishing down for the rest of the season.”

Theories abound as to the shortage – from the overharvesting of krill at sea to the spread of lice from commercial salmon farms. But there appears to be consensus on the need for a curb on wholesale coastal netting.