Mankind 1, Salmon 0. A bad result

A rod-caught salmon can be worth £1,000 to a local economy
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The Independent Online

We may never again see shoals of salmon splashing through the rivers in our major cities. But it would be nice to think that enough salmon can make the journey each year to perpetuate the species.

We may never again see shoals of salmon splashing through the rivers in our major cities. But it would be nice to think that enough salmon can make the journey each year to perpetuate the species.

Unfortunately, that's living in fish cuckoo land, if things carry on as they are. This week, the Environment Agency launched plans to secure the salmon's future in the River Severn and its estuary. But this worthy scheme (and others the agency are planning) is doomed to failure unless something is done about those factors that are eradicating the fish.

Pollution is less of an ogre than it was 100 years ago. Rivers are mostly cleaner, though usually harder to swim up because of many more locks and weirs.

Anglers come into this equation, but not very much. the number they catch is not significant (the methods we use are woefully inefficient, and generally practised by incompetents). And fishermen are getting better at releasing salmon. In 2001, more than 40 per cent of rod-caught fish were returned.That is despite wild salmon prices rising as high as £40 a kilo. (Farmed fish cost about 25p a kilo, and taste like it.)

I'm not too worried about otters, either. It's galling to see them nab salmon, but I would rather admire a more talented fisherman than call for his head. Otters, anyway, prefer eels, which are far more nutritious.

Public enemy No 1 is the seal. On some Scottish rivers, seals take more than half of the returning fish. If seals looked like rats or slugs, calls for a cull would probably be more likely to win approval. Unfortunately, the public's perception is that seals are cute, cuddly things. It doesn't matter that a rod-caught salmon is estimated to be worth at least £1,000 to a local economy.

Rod-caught... there's the rub. For perhaps the real culprit in this (seals not knowing any better) is, as you might have guessed, man. An article in the latest issue of Trout and Salmon magazine reveals that drift nets working the seas in the North-east averaged 25,000 salmon and 30,000 sea trout annually between 1996 and 2000, while the Irish drift-net fishery is said to have nobbled more than 300,000 last year. Many of those fish were born in English rivers.

Amazingly, there are still many places where estuary nets capture the returning fish. The outlook is gloomy. The Government may be pouring money into rivers for salmon, but it's like giving £50 notes to a hamster unless the fish get a chance to come home in the first place.

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