Catch-and-release by anglers, and net-and-release in the estuary of the Hampshire Avon has been encouraged for four years by Tesco stores, who reward anglers with a farmed salmon and fund the cost of the live purchase and care of netted fish to the tune of several thousand pounds. The result in 1997 was that 89 per cent of fish caught by both methods were returned alive. Tesco have extended their scheme from this season to include the rivers Test, Itchen, Frome, Piddle and Dart. They are also examining further initiatives.
Laudable though such riverine measures are, they will count as nought unless the mass slaughter of salmon at sea by drift-netting is urgently halted. Commendable efforts by ministers to ban this method of fishing for tuna to protect whales and dolphins will not, they tell me, be extended to protect the more seriously endangered North Atlantic Salmon. How blinkered can you get?
The environment agency admits that 52 rivers out of 65 suffered spawning escapement below minimum target levels in 1997. Salmon caught in 1997 represent a 40 per cent drop against 1996. Nets caught 31,484 fish to rods 13,706, of which 81 North-east drift netters caught 21,922 fish for which they contributed pounds 70,000 licence income (rods approximately pounds 1.2m). The Irish west-coast drift nets are known to capture up to 20 per cent of salmon returning the English and Welsh rivers. There are massive international surpluses of farmed salmon.
Last year just 151 fish were caught off the once famous Hampshire Avon (2,000 in 1986). So far this year, eight have been caught and returned. We may be too late.
B G MARSHALL
Wessex Salmon Association