Atlantic Salmon – Lost at Sea
'Lost at Sea' is an important new film about the declining abundance of wild Atlantic salmon.
Source: Atlantic Salmon Trust
In the last few days the Atlantic Salmon Trust has hosted the visit to Scotland of Deidre Brennan, the 'Lost at Sea' director and Rick Rosenthal, the internationally renowned wildlife photographer who worked with Sir David Attenborough on his Blue Planet series.
During their time here the film crew held interviews with owners, managers, associations and ghillies, and filmed:
• The famous Celtic engraved salmon on the standing stone in Glamis Manse garden
• The South Esk at Kinnaird, Finavon and Inshewan
• The Dee at Altries, the Moray Firth
• The Spey on the Brae Water and
• Usan Fisheries operating near Montrose
Financial contributions have come from the Dee and Esk Fishery Boards and from proprietors on the Spey, as well as the main contribution from AST.
Why do we think this film - Lost at Sea - is so important?
Collapsing Atlantic Salmon Stocks
It is fair to claim that most salmon fishermen and many wildlife managers and conservationists are aware of the decline in numbers of wild Atlantic salmon in nearly all regions of the North Atlantic basin.
Over the last thirty years numbers of salmon at sea have dropped from over 8 million to about 3 million. By any measure that is a steep decline. Warning bells are ringing loud in all the salmon countries of the Atlantic Ocean because it is now recognised that the 'cliff edge' collapse in wild salmon abundance threatens their very existence. The decline is especially severe in European countries in the southern sector of the salmon's range.
The Atlantic Salmon's Story
'Lost at Sea' picks up the story of that decline and the measures being taken to address the threats to survival where human intervention can make a difference. Filming has taken place in Canada, USA, Iceland, Norway, Ireland and now in Scotland. It is a truly international production. Its total budget is well over $500,000 and it has been five years in the making, taking the cue from the results of the highly acclaimed SALSEA project.
Strong Efforts in Freshwater
No-one is making assumptions about the productivity of the freshwater environment. Nobody is complacent. Fishery managers are fully aware of the need for every salmon river to produce the maximum number possible of naturally generated smolts, because it is smolt production that is the baseline for genetic diversity and numbers of returning adult fish. While not every river is producing enough smolts, it is fair to claim that many are.
90% - 95% of Our Salmon Die at Sea
The issue is what happens to those smolts when they hit saltwater. We know that well over 90% of them die at sea. Why? Where? How? What can be done to reduce marine mortality? Above all, how can we bring more adult salmon back into our rivers?
Believe it or not there are people, some of who really ought to know better, who believe that there is nothing that can be done at sea to improve salmon (and sea trout) survival. Most of the conservation and angling NGOs focus on the freshwater environment despite the obvious fact that over 90% of outgoing smolts never return.
AST's Determination to Reverse the Decline
We should never stop working in freshwater on improving the number of naturally generated smolts that go to sea. However we could make the strategic observation that most of the precious resources for conserving these two important fish species are focused on the 5% to 10% of returning adult fish, and not on the 90% to 95% that die at sea.
What can be done at Sea?
Below are some headings of actions that are currently being taken to improve survival. We can only be effective in areas where human intervention makes a difference. Issues such as predation, and of course the mega-impacts of climate change, are beyond our reach.
Here are some areas where damage to stocks and ways of improving survival are being done:
• Obstructions to migrations from renewables
• 'Accidental' by-catch by pelagic trawlers
• Point and area impacts of open cage salmon farming
• Coastal pollution impacts on outgoing smolts
• Effects of invasive species such as gilt-head bream, bass etc.
• Coastal mixed stocks netting and poaching
• Distant mixed stocks killing of salmon (Greenland mainly)
An Abundance of Salmon and Sea Trout in our Rivers?
There are other threats, and doubtless new ones will emerge, but that is enough to be going on with!
First, we need to know the details of coastal and North Sea migration routes (sadly not part of SALSEA because the UK & Scottish Governments declined to take part!). Then we need to prioritise the work on the basis of what will be most effective. Then we need the support of everyone who is committed to ensuring that wild Atlantic salmon return to our rivers in the abundance of the 1970s, or better.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust is involved in all these campaigns and projects. We are focused on the 95% of smolts that do not return, as well as the 5% that get back into our rivers.
'Lost at Sea' looks at the whole life of wild Atlantic salmon, the relationship of this iconic species throughout history with man, how rural communities still depend on these fish, how the cultures of the North Atlantic countries continue to be influenced by the salmon, and where things started to go wrong.
The film explores human exploitation, lethal and otherwise, of wild salmon, the impacts of aquaculture, pollution, predation - all in the context of climate change, the warming ocean and massive, unpredictable changes to weather patterns, ocean currents, erratic temperatures and consequent availability of prey species on which salmon depend.
The film is superbly filmed and assembled by a highly professional and experienced US team, led by Deidre Brennan. It could be seen as a nostalgic lament for the lost King of Fish by people who see its decline as inevitable. On the other hand it could be seen as a wake-up call for peoples of the North Atlantic region to put pressure on politicians and decision-makers to take action - where effective outcomes are possible - and halt the decline.
The film will be distributed early in 2015. It will be the greatest film about wild Atlantic salmon at sea ever made. It has the pedigree, the passion and the support to change the landscape for ever…
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