Netsmen who fish Devon's River Exe have agreed to a conservation deal aimed at restoring the stocks of what was one of England’s best salmon rivers. The river has long been a favourite for anglers but its most famous salmon was caught in the estuary by a netsman called Richard Voysey in 1924. It weighed 64 lb..

The agreement is part of a massive conservation initiative, co-ordinated by The River Exe Project, costing well over £500,000 and should help raise salmon numbers in the Exe in the most efficient and quickest way. Much of the money has already been spent over the last four years on preparations and habitat improvements that should enhance the chances of the rescued salmon to spawn successfully and help more of the resulting juveniles to survive. The River Exe Project‘s stated mission is to double the number of salmon in the river by the end of 2014. Early results indicate they are on the right track.

The commercial deal has been brokered by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF), the River Exe and Tributaries Association (RETA -- a partnership of local angling and conservation interests) and the Environment Agency. The Migratory Salmon Fund (MSF), the UK conservation charity launched by NASF, will contribute half the funds required towards the netting buyout. David Rice who leads the RETA group said “We are tremendously pleased with this result. It has been an ambition of RETA‘s to remove the nets for years and, thanks to the hard work of many, but in particular MSF/NASF, we have been able to achieve our goal. The Net Limitation Order, which was achieved in record time, lasts for ten years and during that time we aim to restore stocks to that state of abundance the Exe used to be famous for. The terms of the agreement are such that even when that happy state is achieved the nets that have been removed will not fish again.“

In the middle of the 20th century there were so many salmon in the Exe that anglers and netsmen together could take 3,600 a year without harming the stock’s ability to replace itself. In recent years, however, the combined catch has averaged a mere 600 fish. Almost 70% of the 400 salmon currently caught by anglers each year are already being safely released.

Devon is amongst the most beautiful of English counties and the Exe runs right across it from north to south. Rising on Exmoor close to the Bristol Channel the river chooses to run 50 miles through Tiverton and Exeter to the English Channel in the south The cathedral city of Exeter was a Roman stronghold. The Exe estuary is famous amongst ornithologists for its wading and migrating birds and it is a designated site of special scientific interest.

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Notes for Editors: The North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) is an international coalition of voluntary private sector conservation groups who have come together to restore stocks of wild Atlantic salmon to their historic abundance. – nasf@vortex.isNorth Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Helping restore Atlantic salmon to their natural abundance (NASF chairman can be contacted on mobile +354 893 3553).