A law to protect the salmon in the River Severn has been extended until the end of this year after a review of recent data showed a significant reduction in salmon stock levels.
The law, which was originally introduced on June 15, 2019, has now been pushed further back by the emergency byelaw to December 15, 2020.
It means that there are strong restrictions on fishing in the Severn, and fisherman will be expected to catch and release and no net fishing will not be allowed for another six months at least.
The Environrment Agency confirmed that draft net and putcher fishing in the Severn estuary will be prohibited, lave net fishing will operate on a catch and release basis only and that catch and release for rod and line fishing will be compulsory on the whole of the Severn for the remainder of the current rod season, which lasts until October 7.
David Hudson, environment manager for Gloucestershire, said: “We are concerned that the number of returning adult salmon continues to decline despite the current protection measures we have in place. We will closely monitor salmon stocks throughout this year, with a view to introducing more long term protection byelaws if required following consultation, in the hope of increasing the numbers of this iconic species.
“Fishing is only one of a number of factors that have led to the fall in salmon stocks in the Severn; environmental factors at critical times in the salmon’s life cycle, such as recent floods and warm winters, also play a part.
“We understand the concerns of fishermen, but only by the use of immediate and robust action, with cooperation from others, can we prevent the collapse of salmon stocks in the Severn in the future. Flooding earlier in the year and the coronavirus pandemic has prevented the Environment Agency from carrying out much of its planned engagement with fishermen, but we will look to do that as soon as practical.”
How critical is the current salmon level?
The 2019 salmon stock assessment shows stock levels for the River Severn catchment, continue to be significantly below conservation limits. The number of returning adult salmon continues to decline despite the current protection measures in place.
Salmon stocks in the River Severn, River Usk and River Wye catchments which contribute to the River Severn net fishery and rod and line fisheries continue to be poor and are all assessed to be “probably at risk”.
This situation will not change within the near future. The provisional 2019 declared rod catches on the Rivers Severn, Usk and Wye are the worst on record despite good angling conditions and the removal of all nets operating in the Severn estuary.
The anticipated and then observed critical decline in salmon stocks had justified the need for implementation of the emergency salmon protection byelaw in 2019 and continues to justify the need to prevent harm to salmon stocks in 2020.
The Rivers Usk and Wye are both Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and include salmon as a designated qualifying feature.
The Severn Estuary is also a designated European Marine Site which includes salmon as a qualifying interest feature of the RAMSAR and sub-feature of the SAC.
There is a need to develop and implement longer term management actions that seek to enable recovery of these stocks back into a favourable conservation status.
Why has the byelaw been extended?
The Environment Agency fisheries technical team have reported that they have spent the last 12 months reviewing and analysing the salmon stock assessment evidence to inform and consider the most appropriate longer term measures to protect the future of the Severn, Wye and Usk salmon stocks.
This includes consideration of extending and expanding the current restrictions to enable a better recovery.
Winter flooding and Covid-19 have prevented the agency from engaging with fishermen on proposals and options.
After considering the application for an extension of the emergency byelaw, the Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has extended the emergency byelaw for six months – pursuant to paragraph 7 of Schedule 27 to the Water Resources Act 1991.
This will allow more time to consult and continue to protect the fishery from harm.
They have said that they “will continue to engage with fisherman and partners as soon as it is practical to do so”.
Why was this byelaw introduced in 2019?
The move to protect this salmon population came after figures on the stock levels for the Severn, Wye and Usk, which salmon from the Severn estuary migrate to, showed numbers were extremely low.
An updated salmon stock assessment for the River Severn indicated that the Severn salmon stock was in a far worse condition than had previously considered to be the case. The decline in numbers means that every fish returned safely could contribute to improving the spawning population in the autumn.
The Emergency Byelaw sought to decrease levels of exploitation and enhance adult survival with the following measures:
- Mandatory 100 per cent catch and release of all salmon caught by the river Severn rod and lave (hand held) net fisheries for the 2019 season.
- Closure of the River Severn salmon draft and putcher net fisheries for the 2019 netting season.
The Environment Agency reported that they did not take this decision lightly, they said: “We examined the evidence, considered options and discussed the situation with partners and fisheries representatives.
“We understand the impact this has on fishermen, but only by the use of immediate and robust action, with cooperation from others, can we prevent the collapse of salmon stocks in the Severn in the future.”
To find out more about the Severn estuary salmon protection emergency byelaw and what it means for you, click here.