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Anglers on the Tay Rejoice

This summer the Ghillies and anglers on the River Tay have reason to be of excellent cheer. The grilse (immature salmon) are back in the River Tay in large numbers. Beats from the top to the bottom of the system are reporting excellent catches of grilse, with some beats recording 40 fish in a single week. Even beats at the very head of the system are seeing good numbers indicating that this is a particularly strong run.

Tay Grilse

There has been much talk recently about the imminent demise of the Atlantic salmon and there is no doubt that catches have been much lower in the past few years. The runs spring salmon and multi-sea-winter fish have been much reduced. Even more disturbing has been the almost complete absence of grilse on the Tay in recent seasons and last year's disasterous grilse run throughout the UK and Ireland. While it is every angler's dream to catch a large adult spring salmon it is the grilse, which form the backbone of the summer fishing. Since most visitors come to Tayside during the summer, it is the grilse with which they are most familiar. A recent study by Scottish Enterprise Tayside concluded that angling generates 400,000 bed nights and contributes £12m annually to the local economy.

Why should the grilse run suddenly reappear? Since runs of smolts (young fish migrating to sea) have been good in past years the most likely explanation is that the fault lies at sea. It is possible that global warming has reduced feeding in the North Atlantic. A more likely answer is that an entire year class from this river and others has been swept up in the high seas and coastal nets around Great Britain and Ireland. Nets on the river and estuary were bought out and removed by the Tay Foundation years ago. Considering the high value of these fish to the land based economies (Angling in Scotland generates over £50m a year) the removal of the high seas and coastal nets is long overdue, but why have the salmon angler's cries for help been studiously ignored by government. With the advent of a Scottish Parliament hopes were raised, but why do they continue to be blind to what is happening to Scotland's national fish when it is invaluable to the rural economy and herritage.

Local initiatives have been put in place. As a conservation measure the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board brought in a statutory ban on fishing shrimp and prawn in 1999. Together with the Tay Ghillies Association they also introduced a voluntary catch and release scheme and this year a trial tagging system to protect released fish has also been introduced. The catch and release scheme has been very well received and most beats now return over half the fish caught. Both the Scottish Office and the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board have long been active in restocking programs and this year the project has been augmented by the collection of spring brood stock so as to enhance early runs. A brand new hatchery is also being developed by Dr David Summers. The involvement of WWF Scotland with projects such the "Wild Rivers Initiative" and "Angling for change" has greatly increased public awareness. The vast army of ghillies, fisheries managers and landowners who carefully tend the river on a daily basis should also not be forgotten.

The return of the grilse run does not mean that all the problems have gone away, but it certainly is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture. All anglers and riparian owners should continue to support the conservation initiatives. If you are a visitor to Tayside come and try your luck, the grilse fishing is the best it has been for years, but please remember to put the fish back for future generations to enjoy.

Paul Fishlock 6th August 2000

News Update:
The main grilse run appears to have started around the second week of July. Many were running hard. The Tay Ghillies Fun Day was a good opportunity for Ghillies to meet and exchange notes. All agreed that this was a superb run. Large numbers have been reported in the Tummel, Lyon, Isla and Ericht. The run also appears to contain a good number of summer salmon. Some lower beats still have good numbers of fish present and a careful eye is being kept on the Perth Town Water. Huge numbers of fish can accumulate here in low water conditions.


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