Major concerns over the decline of wild salmon have led to the extension of an emergency byelaw for the Severn Estuary.

Draft net and butcher fishing was prohibited in the River Severn and its estuary in June 2019, with other forms of fishing allowed only on a catch and release basis. The law was introduced after data showed stock levels had reduced significantly and it is now set to apply until the end of 2020 as concerns persist.

The move highlights the need to protect fish stocks in the Severn, which has been designated as a special area of conservation since 2009.

Every fish counts

The Environment Agency noted wild salmon numbers are declining throughout the North Atlantic, with populations dropping to unsustainable levels throughout English rivers.

“Every fish returned safely could contribute to improving the spawning population this autumn,” the organisation said.

David Hudson, environment manager for Gloucestershire, said environmental factors such as warm winters and recent floods have played a part in the decline.

“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,” he said. “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.”

A programme of protection

In addition to fishing restrictions, the Agency is engaged in a nationwide programme to protect salmon stocks, including actions such as:

  • removing physical barriers;
  • improving water quality where salmon are present;
  • implementing better agricultural practices.

FGS has been involved in multiple studies into the habits and physiology of salmonid species, developing technology for use around the world.

Acoustic fish deterrents (AFDs) have been found to play a key role in the protection of Atlantic salmon, as the species responds particularly well to sound. AFDs eliminate the need for physical barriers – which can become blocked or cause harm to fish – providing effective guidance for migrating salmon and deterring them from entering power station intakes.

As the salmon population reaches critical levels, proven techniques for preserving as many fish as possible become ever more important.