Anglers in Wales are urgently being asked to help conserve fish stocks by agreeing to release all the salmon and more of the sea trout they catch in 2015.
Natural Resources Wales has made the request following reports that salmon numbers in Welsh rivers seriously declined last year and while sea trout numbers were more variable with some rivers performing well, others are showing continuing decline.
As part of efforts to address this, NRW would like to see anglers release all the salmon and more of the sea trout they catch to ensure more fish migrate upstream to spawn and produce more juvenile fish to help boost stocks.
At present an average of 78% of salmon and sea trout are released after being caught.
Figures from the Wye and Taff, where mandatory 100% catch and release byelaws are in place, suggest that catch and release can have a positive effect on fish stocks.
Both the Wye and Taff have shown an improvement in salmon numbers in 2014 and are now predicted to move out of the ‘at risk’ category by 2019 thanks to a combination of catch and release and improvements in habitat and water quality.
Fish stocks in a total of 23 salmon and 27 sea trout rivers are assessed annually in Wales and placed in risk categories.
The assessments based on 2014 figures show 23 salmon rivers either ‘at risk’ or ‘probably at risk’.
There is also cause for concern over some sea trout stocks especially on the ‘at risk’ rivers Loughor, Tywi, Taf, Ystwyth and Eastern and Western Cleddau, as well as the ‘probably at risk’ Afan, Tawe, Gwendraeth, Aeron and Seiont
Rob Evans, NRW fisheries advisor, said:
“The number of fish, and salmon in particular, migrating into many Welsh rivers was worryingly low last year so we are asking all anglers to help by releasing more of the fish they catch to boost the next generation.
“Most anglers are already voluntarily practising catch and release and have been doing so for many years but we feel the situation is now so serious for salmon that we must urgently ask anglers to release all of their salmon catch.
“We are in the process of considering byelaw options and will be holding consultations later in the year on possible new measures for both the rod and net fisheries
“There are many pressures on salmon and sea trout these days including loss of habitat, illegal fishing, low marine survival and a changing climate but studies have shown the vast majority of released fish survive to spawn successfully.
“It is vitally important, however, that fish are handled with the utmost care and released as quickly and as carefully as possible.”
Catch and release is one of several initiatives to improve Welsh fish stocks.
Over the last 12 years Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Government and EU funded
Sustainable Fisheries Programme has, in partnership with Rivers Trusts and others, invested millions of pounds to improve stocks.
This included opening up over 1,500km of access to spawning grounds by building fish passes and improving over 500km of habitat by, for example, fencing to exclude sheep and cattle from river banks.
To give fish the best chance of survival anglers should use barbless single or double hooks, play the fish quickly, keep it in the water at all times and support the fish facing into the current until it is strong enough to swim away.