Declines in freshwater fish should be a wake-up call to those working in policy: Our letter to The Guardian

The worrying declines we are seeing in freshwater fish should be a wake-up call to those capable of changing policy (Freshwater fish populations in ‘freefall’, 23 February). As part of the Missing Salmon Alliance we are working hard to build an evidence base to show national decisionmakers what can be done for species like Atlantic salmon before it’s too late. Saving these beloved fish is possible, but only with research providing the evidence-based solutions.

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Disappearing Salmon

at 7:58 on 27/02/2021 by John Thornhill

My local river Ecclesbourne, a tiny tributary of the river Derwent has recently seen the return of wild Atlantic Salmon for the first time in over 200 years! I have personally witnessed fish in mid double figures spawning on gravel redds just yards from my home - a truly remarkable sight especially considering the 140 miles these fish have traveled from the Humber Estuary to the very centre of the country. Credit for this being possible should go to the EA, Trent Rivers Trust and the Wild Trout Trust as between them they have removed impoundments and installed fish passes all the way through the catchment, releasing salmon that would normally have perished to now complete their journey on the redds. Given all the above then - an isolated and much needed success story amid what nationally is an almost unremittingly bad situation, why are we doing nothing about beaver reintroductions? It seems entirely nonsensical to me that the decades of hard work it has taken to make a small difference could be undone in a matter of months with the plan to introduce Beavers on the River Trent on a site owned by one of the regional Wildlife Trusts. While these animals might be in a fenced reserve, the fences are, unbelievably - fitted with badger gates which will then give the beavers free access to the wider river. Illegal introductions on the Tay show how prolifically beavers can breed and the speed at which they can alter landscapes - building impoundments that block migratory fish transit and creating sediment which destroys fragile spawning habitat. While those who advocate noisily for this state there is no evidence to suggest that beaver dams create problems in either of these respects (citing studies conducted in Norway!) they fail to acknowledge that there is no evidence to show that it does not!...a tactic we’ve seen deployed by (among others) Wild Justice in an attempt to skew at best ambiguous study results to favour their own self interested stance. In the USA, Wisconsin state fish, wildlife and game authorities remove hundreds of beaver dams annually for precisely the reasons that might legitimately concern us here - more so for the fact that our Atlantic Salmon stocks are accepted to be in such a parlours state. I dread to think what the associated costs for such work are or, perhaps more pertinently - what expenditure has been committed to this project and others like it. The Wild Trout Trust and their partners are looking for financial contributions to assist with the removal of a weir on the Ecclesbourne which will unlock miles of additional spawning habitat. A small proportion of the funds expended on Beaver reintroductions could make all the difference for this, much more pressing cause! It has been stated that the battle on beaver reintroductions has been ‘lost’ something I sincerely hope does not accurately reflect wider attitudes within our community. If it proves impossible to have these schemes stopped, there should at least be a mitigation plan in place should the beavers populations increase, allowing landowners and lessees the legal option of shooting and or trapping to lessen their effects. In Scotland ALL beaver populations are now afforded full protected status by SEPA - unbelievably this also includes the illegally released animals on the Tay. Should this be the case here there will be no legal recourse available to anyone affected by the release of beavers - licensed or otherwise! If we are going to act we should do so - now!...before the few salmon we have left are sacrificed on the alter of indifference!

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