Salmon – Over Precautionary Approach

24th October 2017 in Fisheries Science, North Sea, Salmon

Salmon fishermen on the Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire coast again face a period of great uncertainty as regard to their future. The issue now is a perceived problem with global salmon stocks which is being politically manipulated into an attempted closure of all these fisheries for motives that have absolutely nothing to do with conservation. It is all about “Who gets the fish”.

Salmon – Over Precautionary Approach
Ned Clark, Chairman, NFFO North East Regional Committee

The science underpinning this drive to curtail North East fisheries is very spurious and like all fishery science is very dependent on how you interpret it.

The overuse of the precautionary approach in this case is being taken to the extreme (if this might happen, that may happen which could lead to this happening). It is an excuse for saying we really don’t know but we will take action anyway, just in case.

This gives the politically connected and well-funded NGO, angling and riparian lobby to hammer home their 40 year crusade to end commercial fisheries.

The overuse of the precautionary approach has led to technical downgrading in the conservation status of rivers like the Tyne, and others, from ‘Not at risk’ to ‘Possibly at risk’ status, or lower. This brings them into the category of ‘Measures need to be taken.’

This has to be questionable when the river Tyne is experiencing consecutive record runs of salmon, and many other rivers are experiencing a revival of salmon runs, not seen in centuries, certainly in the North East. Our prolific fisheries, centred around North East rivers like the Tyne, are well-managed and there are no reasonable ground to close these fisheries, although we accept there may be grounds for proportionate management measures.

We accept that there are grounds for concern on salmon stocks for certain UK rivers, and the overall survivability of salmon at sea is declining, but the reasons for this have nothing to do with the impact of our fisheries.

The natural mortality rates of salmon is considerably higher than our catches. Even our critics say our fisheries are not the problem but argue to close them down anyway.

The solutions to the problems with salmon are in river habitat restoration, restocking and improving sustainability of salmon smolts in rivers and at sea.

Proposed closures of our fisheries are to treat the symptom, not the problem itself. It may mask a decline for a couple of years but does nothing else than placate opportunistic carpet baggers.

Healthy and prosperous commercial fisheries in the North East should be celebrated as an example of how stocks can be managed well. Certainly, the criteria should not be how many fish an angler can catch.

Fishermen are prepared to restrict their activities to an extent to play their part in any necessary conservation initiative but this should only be temporary because once fisheries are closed they are unlikely to be reopened regardless of the numbers of salmon that may be around. This is entirely due to politics not fisheries management.

I sincerely hope that the Minister, George Eustice, does not follow in the footsteps of Selwyn Gummer and Richard Benyon in consigning our fisheries to the history books simply because of their susceptibility to vigorous political lobbying by our detractors. This would be unfair, unjust and undemocratic but, there again, we are just fishermen.