Sea Trout Conservation

Under fisheries legislation Sea Trout have the same legal status as Salmon, and DSFBs are also responsible for their protection and enhancement. Sea Trout in the River Spey – and Brown Trout, which are part of the same family – are poorly understood and often overlooked. However, catch statistics show that the Spey Sea Trout rod fishery has been one of the largest in the UK, with a 10 year (1992-2001) average annual catch of 4,590. By comparison, only the Rivers Tywi and Teifi in Wales have caught more fish. A graph showing the Spey sea trout rod catch for the period 1952 to 2011 can be seen here.

An International Sea Trout Symposium in 2004 made the following key points, which are still valid today:

Sea Trout are the sea-running form of Brown Trout;
Sea Trout and Brown Trout interbreed;
The majority of Sea Trout are female;
Unlike Salmon, Sea Trout can return to spawn up to 10 times;
Because of their large size, female Sea Trout provide most of the Trout eggs laid in a river;
Genetic studies show that larger, longer-lived Sea Trout produce young that are also likely to grow large;
Finnock are Sea Trout in their first year after leaving the river as smolts;
Some Finnock enter rivers in the summer/autumn, and some of these breed;
Interbreeding with stocked ‘domestic’ Trout may interfere with Sea Trout genetics;
Sea Trout and Brown Trout should be managed jointly;
Since Sea Trout are largely coastal; they are barometers of the health of the local marine environment.

Because Sea Trout catches have not been as prolific as in the early 1990s, the Spey Fishery Board has maintained a precautionary approach and assumed that this trend is indicative of reduced Sea Trout abundance. While the causes of this trend are still not known, the Spey Fishery Board introduced a Sea Trout Conservation Policy for the Spey rod fishery in 2004. In consultation with proprietors, angling associations and the Spey ghillies, the policy was designed to encourage catch and release of Finnock and larger adult Sea Trout.

2009 saw the rate of catch and release increase to 62%, up from 61% in 2008, 53% in 2007, 49% in 2006 and 43% in 2005. In 2004 it had only been 21%. Whilst the overall upward trend is commendable, the Spey Fishery Board has become increasingly concerned by the fall in the numbers of Sea Trout being caught. In August 2008 the Spey Research Committee reviewed the Sea Trout Conservation Policy in light of the reduced catch and recommended to the Board that the Policy be enhanced. These recommendations were unanimously supported by the Board and a revised Sea Trout Conservation Policy was adopted for 2009 which remains for 2010 and is as follows:

Spey Fishery Board Sea Trout Conservation Policy

1. Finnock: Release all fish of 16 oz. / 35 cm / 14” or less
2. Sea Trout: Release all fish of 3 lb. / 50 cm / 20” or more
3. Bag Limit: 1 Sea Trout of takeable size per calendar day. Anglers are also encouraged to release their first fish and take the second of takeable size.
4. Unseasonable Fish: Release all unseasonable fish.

The Spey Fishery Board has continued to work hard throughout 2009 to promote a better understanding of the policy and the reasons for the changes, in order to encourage the continued compliance from all.  The aim has been to explain that Sea Trout numbers continue to be in decline and, whilst we have sport today, this might not be the case in the future unless active participation in the voluntary conservation measures remains. The Spey Fishery Board will continue to monitor the situation throughout 2010.

The decline in Sea Trout numbers in recent years has been reflected in their numbers from most rivers throughout the Moray Firth and widespread concern about this has led to the formulation of a research project to identify the reasons behind it. A Project Officer (Marcus Walters) was recruited in March 2008 for three years to conduct research around all rivers throughout the Moray Firth, examining possible reasons behind the decline and formulating management plans to try to redress the situation. The Spey Fishery Board and Spey Foundation are both providing financial support for the project and will continue to work closely with other DSFBs within the region throughout the year. For more information on Moray Firth Sea Trout Project see http://www.mfstp.co.uk/