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Focusing On The Positives

A recent attendance of a Spey Fishery Board meeting truly opened my eyes. Sitting in as a silent observer it was interesting and even a little humbling to witness just how much they actually do behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s too easy to get swept along in a tide of ambivalence believing that those in positions of administration are nothing more than pen pushers. It was good to see and hear first-hand just how much and how often they challenge the Scottish Government and other bureaucrats over conservation matters. Far more than us “outsiders” might think. Also, to learn what they achieve over and above that of some other river boards is quite remarkable and as a passionate Speysider I do think that we need to shout out about this. I’m someone who lives, sleeps and breathes this river and want to share my passion and pride for her with anyone who’ll listen and, to be honest, when it comes to Politicians, bureaucratic restrictions and those who don’t want to listen even more so!!

Final catch statistics for the 2019 season were awaited by all who fish The Spey with great anticipation. After the devasting and soul-destroying lowest level ever last season we were all hoping that the situation had not deteriorated further. The final numbers for 2019 came in at just over 5,000 which is up around a third on last year. Obviously conditions were a lot kinder but with so few fish coming into the river to spawn last year are we going to see another drop in numbers in 2020 and the year after? But, before we get too bogged down in negative thoughts, lets just step back and appreciate the improvement on numbers this year. Whilst nowhere near the levels of days gone-by we can at least take some solace in the fact that the Spey has, I believe, out-performed all the other “big” rivers in Scotland this season bar The Tweed. Given that our season is some two months shorter this is no mean feat. I’m not ready to start jumping up and down in excitement, our salmon numbers throughout the Northern hemisphere are at an unprecedentedly low level but with more fish in the system lets hope that we can have more eggs into the Hatchery and give nature a helping hand to recover salmon populations.

On the subject of Hatcheries, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to visit the Spey Hatchery and even get hands on with stripping the hen fish and milting the eggs. It was fascinating to experience this first-hand and to learn more about the processes that are carried out behind the scenes that so many visiting rods will be unaware of. I’m afraid the days of pitching up to a river and casting only for truly native wild salmon were over many decades ago and we now need to give nature a helping hand. No matter how much some may object to this I see it as vital work in the conservation not only of our salmon stocks but also in our fishers. Without fish in our rivers we will have no anglers visiting to try to catch a silvery prize and then not only do we lose salmon, we lose anglers and we lose the vital contribution that salmon angling gives to our rural economies. A hatchery, like any other conservation measure, gives hope and without hope all is lost.

Sadly the powers that be have, in their infinite wisdom, decided that only eyed ova can be planted out in the river. Given that the signs from the Missing Salmon Project are that more than half of all smolts are lost in the river before reaching the estuary what chance do eyed ova have?! Far more open to predation and being washed out by spates than fed fry, predation from goosanders, mergansers and cormorants together with their greedy cousins the seals, (the populations of all of which have exploded concurrent with the demise of salmon stocks. Whilst many would like to see sawbill predators put onto General Licence (whereby they can be shot in far greater numbers), the Spey Board have consistently managed to increase the licence allowance year on year. Whilst the permitted amount is unarguably a mere drop in the ocean it’s proof of the dogged determination of some of the board members. These predations problems are shared across all rivers and obviously this is a subject that requires far more to be written than I’m able to here just now. As a note of caution on this, it’s worth noting that the number granted on the licence is calculated on the previous years count. Last year saw a heavy number of birds on the river, this year in the same period only 150 have been counted compared to the 450 last year. Reports from Scandinavia at the time of writing are that the birds have yet to arrive there and it may be that the mild weather is holding them out further. The Spey Board plan to do another count in December and it will be interesting to see if numbers are up by then. Unfortunately if they’re not then it looks like our licence for next year may well be reduced.

Staying with an optimistic view however, as I discovered attending that meeting, often preconceived ideas and input from others can blindside us to the positives. As anglers and conservationists we need to open our eyes not just to new opportunities but also to the familiar and judge without bias or prejudice. In doing that we can then all pool resources where possible and work together. Am I being too idealistic? Perhaps, but the only way to make change is to make waves and the biggest ship makes the biggest waves. Let’s put egos and personal agendas aside. As our salmon numbers slide ever further into crisis lets all pull together, river boards, river workers, proprietors, even those in aquaculture, we have a vested interest and can learn so much from each other if we work TOGETHER rather than AGAINST each other.

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