Melfort Campbell writes:
I have felt that during the review we have not kept you up to date as we did in the past. This letter addresses that omission and I hope, after reading it, that you will want to make contact with us to challenge or question or be better informed on our new approach.
Two major changes in the fisheries science and management sector changed the AST’s working environment. The first of these was the SALSEA Project, which you may remember addressed widespread concern over the high level of marine mortality. AST was heavily involved in SALSEA, thanks to donations from our supporters. Conclusions from that project have shaped the new AST strategy and compelled us to focus on the sea and not so much on fresh water. The second big change has been the rapid development of the network of rivers and fisheries trusts throughout the UK to the point today when they are largely responsible for the management of the freshwater environment, working alongside government agencies and scientists.
When I started my term as Chairman of AST, I asked the question, “Why should the Atlantic Salmon Trust continue to exist?” After some deliberation it became clear that there is a vital niche role for AST in leading and supporting new research and management projects in the marine environment. I know that you will appreciate that this switch of strategic focus required radical changes to the way the Trust operates. The rest of this letter summarises those changes. More detail on all AST work can be found on the website www.atlanticsalmontrust.org and on the Atlantic Salmon Trust Facebook pages.
1. Freshwater Environment. AST has not abandoned its work in river catchments entirely, but instead has moved into a support role for the fisheries trusts. This new perspective enables AST to take an overview position, filling in gaps in knowledge and methods, which has resulted in new initiatives such as a) raising awareness of stock dynamics and assessment b) the importance of monitoring and managing small streams as part of an ecosystem approach to catchment management c) increasing understanding of the life history and habits of sea trout in fresh water and estuaries.
2. Intertidal and inshore waters. For outgoing and incoming migrations of salmon and sea trout this stage of their journey poses a range of threats to survival that are not yet fully understood. AST has worked for many years to provide evidence of the damage to stocks caused by salmon farming and mixed stocks coastal netting. Evidence given to the recent Scottish Government Fisheries Review by AST may have influenced new limitations on killing salmon by nets and rods by means of quotas and tagging, but there is more to be done to persuade politicians that open-cage salmon farming in its current form poses unacceptable risks. There is a lack of knowledge of inshore migration routes and impacts of engineering projects in renewables, and other man-made obstacles. There is an urgent need for tracking both species in an effort to reduce mortality in the coastal zone, especially at times of low water in rivers when up to 30% of waiting fish die. New technologies and methods of tracking will provide data on behaviour of salmon and sea trout at this stage of their life cycle, and should explain the extent of mortality against overall losses in the sea, where we know that well over 90% of salmon die.
3. The Ocean. In terms of nautical miles swum and the proportion of their lives spent feeding, the ocean environment provides the long migration routes to distant feeding grounds for salmon, and a mixture of seas and coastal waters for sea trout. New methods of tracking both species at sea will enable AST to assess damage to stocks from commercial trawlers, and to find ways of reducing accidental killing as ‘by-catch’. At sea both salmon and sea trout are pelagic species of fish, often swimming alongside other species such as herring and mackerel, or within shoals making them vulnerable to being caught in huge seine purse nets behind pelagic trawlers. Neither salmon nor sea trout recognise international boundaries. It is therefore important that this research and identifying mitigating measures to reduce marine mortality are carried out by AST and its international partners, such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and NGOs from other salmon-owning countries.
AST’s decision to focus its work on the marine environment was necessary in the light of high levels of mortality at sea. 30 years ago there were about 8 million wild Atlantic salmon in existence. Today the number is closer to 3 million. More than 90% of Atlantic salmon die at sea. While the priority for freshwater managers is to ensure that each salmon river produces the maximum possible number of smolts, AST and its partners urgently need to find out where migrations are suffering their worst lethal impacts, and find ways of reducing them.
I know that recently we have not communicated with you as much as we did in the past. I recognise this and I apologise. I hope that you will understand from the above that we have used the time well to develop our new and highly relevant strategy. It is fair to claim that AST is once again ‘punching above its weight’, often taking the lead, as we did with SALSEA, and filling a vital role wherever salmon and sea trout swim.
We badly need your help. Our website and Facebook pages are used by schools, anglers, managers, scientists and the general public. Please pick up the reins of your advocacy once again on AST’s behalf, help us spread the word and raise money to ensure that stocks of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout are given every possible opportunity to return to the levels of abundance of 30 years ago.