ANGLERS on the River Tweed have been threatened with prosecution if they fail to release any rod-caught salmon before the end of March.
The warning came after a statutory ban was brought into force this week to coincide with the start of the 2015 fishing season on the famous salmon river.
Under the new rule, all salmon caught must be returned, even if the fish is injured or dies.
The rule succeeds a voluntary 100 per cent catch-and-release policy introduced to help preserve wild salmon stocks, which was brought in by River Tweed commissioners and beat proprietors.
It has been brought in after figures showed that catches fell dramatically last year with only 4,000 salmon taken during 2014 compared with an annual average of 11,000 over the previous five years. Lothian and Borders Police, Scottish Borders Council and Crimestoppers will be working with the River Tweed Commission to protect the 97-mile long river.
Nick Yonge, from the River Tweed Commission, said its water bailiff team would be liaising closely with police.
He said salmon poaching was a criminal act which seriously damaged breeding stocks of fish.
“River netsmen and anglers all agree not to kill early running stocks of salmon in accordance with the Tweed spring salmon conservation rules,” he said.
“The reason for the rules is that there are only just enough fish returning from the sea to sustain the breeding population.
“Killing any spring salmon reduces that breeding stock and will not be tolerated.”
Roy Adam, secretary of Kelso Angling Association, which fishes on the Tweed, said that the new rule was a “belt and braces” approach to deterring poachers that would have little effect on lawful anglers.
“The only change is that, in the past, if a fish was badly injured, perhaps if the hook had gone down its throat, and it was going to die, you could knock it on the head and you could keep it. Now, if that is the case, you could kill the salmon and put it out of its misery, but you have to return the fish to the river.
“As far as we are concerned, it was very rare that this ever happened – most fish that are caught are able to be returned unharmed. So it really doesn’t make much of difference to us, but I suppose in theory it will make it easier to catch poachers.”
The dramatic fall in numbers has prompted claims that the species is on the brink of vanishing. But Peter Straker-Smith, owner of the Carham beat between Kelso and Coldstream, has said that such predictions are overstated.
Writing on the Tweedbeat website, he acknowledged that only 130 fish were taken on his beat last year against a five-year average of 363, but said that they did “not know and probably never will” what had caused the drop.
“Similar effects were suffered across the north Atlantic which rules out local causes and any effects of man’s predation of returning salmon, including by the perennial bogeymen – drift and coastal nets and pelagic trawlers,” he said.
“Though clearly important to the welfare of salmon, they cannot be blamed for 2014 being so much worse than previous years across such a wide area.
“The fish that did return to Tweed were of decent size and in good condition which does not indicate they were particularly short of food [at sea].
“We will not know until many years have passed if this is a long-term problem but, in the short term, we have every reason to believe there have been quite enough spawning fish in the system in 2014 to fully populate the burns with fry.
“We know dramatic falls in catches happen from time to time… but, to date, all such falls have been followed sooner or later by recovery.”
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