This is a guest blog by Tim Sykes,EA Fisheries & Biodiversity Team Leader. The views expressed are his and have not been edited.
Beneath the Solent’s waves primal urges are taking place in our migratory salmonids : Sea Trout and Salmon are on the move. To some people that is an awesome wildlife spectacle whilst others will wistfully dream of warm dusky evenings angling. But others are intent on cashing-in by illegally harvesting these fish, using any means possible, and selling them on the black-market.
A high priority for the Environment Agency is to conserve the local stocks of wild Salmon and Sea Trout, including tackling poaching, and you can play a part.
Salmon eggs hatch in May and the juveniles spend just one year in freshwater before migrating to the sea, the following spring. They migrate to Iceland and Greenland, putting on weight at an astonishing rate whilst covering about 50km a day! After one or two years they return to their home rivers , congregating in our estuaries in the spring and spending much of the summer in the lower reaches of the rivers before spawning near Christmas. At the time of writing (mid-May) Sea Trout are returning to all our Solent estuaries whilst the rarer Salmon are heading towards the Test and Itchen estuaries.
Photo : Year-old Salmon smolt. Romsey 2013. Credit : Adrian Fewings
Whilst in the estuaries Salmon are legally protected from exploitation but where there’s a will there’s always a way, and poaching is locally common.
Traditional romantic notions of poachers taking ‘one for the pot’ are outdated and increasingly the activity is driven by personal commercial gain. A 20lbs Salmon, like the one caught illegally at Redbridge last month, may be worth £200. Intelligence we share with the police indicates that serious criminals are poaching Sea Trout on the Wallington and attempting to hawk their fresh catches to food outlets in Fareham. While a gang of known criminals are believed to have set nets in our estuaries in the western Solent to harvest Salmon and Sea Trout. Some ruthless local anglers are also opportunistically exploiting this resource.
The Test and Itchen Salmon population is estimated to be only 1,570 returning adult fish. This is well below their ‘conservation target’.
A large female Salmon can carry over up to 15,000 eggs, so if these fish are removed on a large scale it will remove their progeny from the future population, resulting in a long term decline in the size and ecological integrity of the population.
It is estimated that a single rod caught Salmon is worth over £7,000 to the local economy : a poacher might get £200 for that fish – the same (farmed) fish species that is available for £20 at the supermarket! Poachers cheat the community and make us all poorer.
We urge those who value the Solent to report any suspicious fishing activities to us. Look out for nets in estuaries or nets strung between moorings in our local harbours and marinas; traps or set-lines; or if you see someone shining a light into the water at night. A snatch is a weighted treble-hook on a hand-held line which is used to deliberately ‘foul hook’ or impale fish – with this poachers can catch the fish faster than with a rod and line but it causes a lot of damage to the fish. Look out for individuals leaning over bridges and suddenly jerking a hand-held fishing line or, if they have successfully hooked a fish, landing a large silver fish without a fishing rod.
Snatch confiscated from a poacher. He illegally caught a Salmon ; used an illegal fishing method (not a rod and line) and was fishing for Salmon without a valid rod licence. Credit : Tim Sykes
Poaching on a large scale is only financially worthwhile if there is a commercial demand. That is created by a few unscrupulous local food outlets which are prepared to buy illegally caught Salmon and Sea Trout through the back door. They are themselves committing an offence when they purchase a wild Sea Trout or Salmon. The uncertainty in daily supply means that these outlets are unlikely to offer local wild Sea Trout or Salmon in their standard menu. We need people to be on the lookout for ‘Daily Specials’ offering local wild Sea Trout or Salmon, and to call us immediately.
If you are a local business, restaurant or gastropub and are approached by individuals offering to sell you local wild Sea Trout and Salmon, please call us immediately. Buyer beware http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/library/publications/108292.aspx
If anyone thinks that they have seen any illegal fishing or illegal selling of wild Salmon and Sea Trout, they should phone the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Adult Salmon in the River Itchen, 2012. Credit : Linda Pitkin/2020VISION
Want to see a Salmon? Visit the River Itchen at Bishopstoke on a rainy day in early November. Salmon can be seen leaping at Bishopstoke Lock, which is one minute walk along the public footpath from The Hub car park (free). Observe and wonder at this spectacular fish on their amazing migration, slave to an overwhelming natural urge to return to the spot where they were conceived, to spawn, die and decay. The cycle of life.
Fisheries & Biodiversity (Solent) Team Leader Environment Agency