End of season wash-up

The 2015 season figures are all in now and I am pleased to say it was overall the best season since 2011. Hopefully 2016 will continue to improve.

The seatrout catch was 2,175, down from 2500 last year, but this was possibly down to effort as conditions were not ideal for seatrout fishing in the cold June evenings.

The release rate was an excellent 94% !


  Grilse Salmon Total
2006 4383 6133 10516
2007 4181 5846 10027
2008 3199 8212 11411
2009 1652 6618 8270
2010 4060 4662 8722
2011 1659 6948 8607
2012 1906 5584 7490
2013 1837 3963 5800
2014 1024 3539 4563
2015 2732 4996 7728


There are 12 comments for this article
  1. michel spencer at 5:29 pm

    thanks for that Brian .
    i have to say relying on a counter in the north esk is dodgy science at best ,in fact trying to compare any rivers is dodgy.how do you explain the yorkshire rivers suddenly seeing returns of fish,the helmsdale with more or less consistant catches ? do these system produce fish with superior marine survival skills ? its sounds like nonsense to me and it has no science in it.
    yes much talk of the return to a spring cycle ,time will tell but early indicators are there ,maybe a reaction to some dry autumns ,the spring flows being more reliable . hope we do meet in the hut one day an if your right i shall be attired in thermals an fur.

    all the best

    • Brian Shaw at 5:03 pm

      Hi Michael,

      You are right, we need more data from a range of rivers in Scotland, hence Marine Scotlands current feasibility study on an enhanced counter network in Scotland. And I also agree that comparing rivers is dodgy, although that didn’t stop you doing that very thing! However in the absence of river specific data it is normal practice to use available data from the most appropriate source, in Scotland’s case that is the North Esk. Studies on other rivers show the same pattern so it’s not as if the North Esk figures are an anomoly.

      It is quite possible to understand why runs in post-industrial rivers with improving water quality can increase whilst established salmon populations are more stable, the key being the relationship between an expanding range in a recovering river and density dependent mortality. Also don’t overlook the impact of the reduced netting harvest on the rod catch, this in recent decades has mitigated against the effects of reduced marine mortality.

      Best regards


      • michel spencer at 6:04 pm

        hi Brian ,

        thanks for that .could you tell me what other rivers ” Studies on other rivers show the same pattern so it’s not as if the North Esk figures are an anomoly” please . another thing i asked you what you thought the percentage of fish that run the spey are caught by the rods ? it would be nice to get an answer an to know what its based on.
        do understand your bit about post industrial rivers it makes perfect sense to me but what about the helmsdale ,naver etc how does one explain them ? from my layman position there seems to be a rather lot of people telling us fishermen whats good an bad but it all seems to be lacking fact an evidence so i would like to do some more research an any pointers would be appreciated.
        lord its nearly christmas already !

        • Brian Shaw at 9:00 pm

          Hi Michael, If you look on page 132 of this report http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2014/WGNAS/wgnas_2014.pdf there are graphs showing marine survival rates for the southern NEAC area (includes Scotland), the rivers used in the formulation are mentioned.
          There was earlier research on the Spey looking into exploitation rates, if I recall correctly it was around 13% but I would have to look out the papers again to be sure. That study was done in the 90s I believe. I’d really like to repeat that work.
          I read that the Helmsdale catch was down this year; below average, although the mythical Naver is rumoured to have had a very good year. I have the Naver district catches (understood to include the neighbouring Borgie catch) since 1952, and they have fluctuated greatly, in fact it is only since 2010 that catches have increased dramatically, I can assure you they are not particularly stable, within a ten year period since 2000 they varied by a factor of four. My own theory – not all rivers are at the same point on spring stock recovery curve.
          Where are you from by the way?
          Have a good christmas when it comes,
          Yours always,

          • michel spencer at 7:44 pm

            hi Brian ,

            thanks for the link its interesting,although ive read elsewhere that this is somewhat disputed .
            my point with the naver an helmsdale taking on board your theory of a return to a spring cycle ,is how is this possible if so many fish are lost at sea ? to me it makes no sense at all ,if some rivers do well an others do not ! what are your views on that ?
            i am from nairn some 50 years ago but have lived mostly in arabia since then .
            well all from me until the new year ,all the best to you an the spey ,2016 is going to be v good i just feel it

  2. michel spencer at 7:25 pm

    thank you both for taking the time to reply. i am not a scientist either but i do like to see our fishing dictated by fact rather than what we think /hope is correct . estimates of rod catches vary between 4 to 10 % of the total run ,given this years catch if every single fish caught was killed it leaves a very large number of fish left to spawn and i would have thought that number to be more than sufficent to ensure future runs .restraint has been common practice for years an rightly so ,no one wants to see lines of dead fish ,dark fish killed ,these days are behind us but a return rate of 94 % i find a little bit hard to take ,does the spey have the spawning capacity for 60 plus thousand fish ? does it have the natural food to support the offspring until they go to sea ? will so many spawning fish lead to a weaker strain and fewer fish in the future ? i do not know the answer and i dont think fishery scientist do either. the salmon is a species that provides a surplus, it has too to survive and us anglers returning so many fish is upsetting that an disrupting nature as was intended as does constant recaptures . the board needs to act on fact an needs to show the facts behind what it advises . i think malcolm ,seal an nets have always been there and its never made any difference ! us anglers like to an always have blamed the above its an easy option to point a finger . if the board asks spey anglers to return everything they should show us all what that request is based on . all the best an tight lines 2016

    • Brian Shaw at 8:59 pm

      Hi Michel, Sorry for not replying sooner. First of all The Spey Fishery Board is not asking anglers to return everything. The current conservation policy has evolved over a number of years based on a voluntary principles resulting in the a return rate of 94% in 2015. The 2015 conservation policy can be downloaded here. As with almost all rivers the conservation policy targets spring fish, which have declined but are now at a stable, although low, level. There is no full river fish counter on the Spey, nor likely to be (more on this issue below) so fishery managers use a variety of methods to assess the health of fish stocks. One such method is the NASCO rod catch tool and in the 2011 SAC site condtion monitoring report http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/755.pdf page 198 onwards used that method to assess the Spey adult stock. The 2011 assessment concluded that the Spey failed for the spring component, albeit the first and weakest test only. Last week I updated the NASCO tool with the 2015 figures which showed the spring stock now passed all three tests but the summer stock failed the second test. If stock components fail than measures such as reduced rod exploitation are recommended. In addition other conservation measures such as reduced net exploitation have been brought forward by the Scottish Government, which will help conserve a significant number of fish which were destined for the Spey.
      The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a new approach i.e. conservation limits and the Spey, thankfully, is in Category 1; from which we can conlude that the conservation limit had been achieved in at least four out of the last five years. This approach is sensible but entirely new for Scotland and should I believe be treated with a degree of caution as it relies on a number of assumptions and extrapolations from very few closely monitored rivers/tributaries. There is an urgent need to refine the conservation limit model to be more river specific and in the future this method may be able to generate more robust stock estimates.
      Our own electrofiishing shows that not all of the catchment is fully stocked with salmon fry every year, far from it actually. The core habitat is generally well populated but current and historic monitoring in the more peripheral areas shows that carrying capacity is reached infrequently. Anecdotal reports from periods of high stock abundance show what the catchment is capable of supporting, although of course these observations were from periods of higher marine survival.
      You are right to identify rod exploitation estimates is a key factor and I have seen much higher estimates than you quote, indeed the only Spey estimate we have produced higher figures. There is an urgent need to produce current rod exploitation data for the Spey. I mentioned above that a mainstem counter on the Spey is not a realistic option. In reference to Bryan Herberts comments about Canadian counters, Marine Scotland are working with a Canadian company on a feasibility study for an expanded counter network for Scottish rivers and whilst the Canadian team were in Scotland we hosted a visit to the Spey. It was clear from that visit that counter technology has not moved on significantly since the time of last Spey trials with a mainstem counter. In Canada/US the run of fish is compressed into a shorter season and flows seem to be more stable than we experience in Scotland. Can you imagine building a cross river counting fence in the Spey? So in the absence of counter data we will need to use alternative methods such as mark/recapture to quantify the size of the run.
      In answer to some of your other points; yes the Spey does have the spawning capacity for 60,000 fish and whilst the feeding availablilty varies enormously it would sort itself out through density dependent mortality anyway. Evidence for impact on stocks from too many spawning fish is scarce but in any case I don’t think anyone is making that particular claim for the Spey at present. Pacific salmon have a different ecology and run in huge abundance when conditions are good. Such apparent over capacity is viewed as hugely important for the whole ecosystem and I’m sure the same must apply here to some extent.
      Like you I like taking a fish home and I look forward to the day when stocks increase and we are sure there is a harvestable surplus. But we are not in that position at the moment. 2015 was a better year but catches were still below the ten year average. For most anglers on the Spey salmon stocks are not what they used to be and most would like to see the continuation of the current precautionary principle.

      • michel spencer at 5:58 pm

        Brian ,

        thank you for your detailed response . i would say without a counter we just do not know and its all a bit guesswork but i do understand the problem of installing one ,although like anything this can be done. a couple of things .one periods ” of higher marine survival ” how do you know this ? you dont count fish in or out and never have done so what is that based on .another thing the protection of spring fish ,i can find nothing to suggest that springers spawn springers or that we even have much understanding of why some fish return in spring an others do not .i would be interested in what your views are on the catch % by anglers the highest ive seen suggests 10% most around 4 to 6 ,what do you think. the other important factor that i think need addressing is how many people are fishing an for how many days .all the above can only lead to a better understanding of what is really happening on the river and then informed decisions can be made and this needs to be done over a period of many years .until then i will tend to disagree with measures that might or might not conserve fish as i am simply not satisfied that they help. please prove me wrong . well all the best and dont let my mail make you think i dont appreciate your work as i do ,you do a fine an important job on a great river.

        • Brian Shaw at 9:41 pm

          Hi Michael,
          You are correct, there are no figures for marine survival for the Spey, that it not easy data to obtain. The only long term set for Scottish rivers is from the North Esk see http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/295194/0099741.pdf. This link suggests that marine survival was as high as 50% in the 1960s, an incredible figure; it is difficult to imagine that half of the litle smolts leaving the river returned as adults but that is what the science tells us, as do other data sets. From the same river the average marine survival in the 1980s was 13.7% decreasing to 9.4% in the 2000s, with the 17.6% return by the 2009 smolt year class boosting the decadal average by 1%. In the absence of Spey specific data we can only use the figures from the North Esk. Unfortunatly due to a sequence of high water springs (when it is difficult to count smolt output with any degree of confidence, and now the breach in the Morphie Dyke, the North Esk data set has been discontinued.
          The question of springers begetting springers is one of considerable debate but there is evidence that genetics exert a strong influence on the characteristics such as juvenile development rates and smolt timing, indeed poineering work on the Spey by the late Walter Polson on the characteristics of freshwater development in stocked fish of known spring and grilse origin demonstrated differences. Surely a genetic influence in factors such as run timing would be little surprise to anyone? Spring rivers tend to be spring rivers and in larger rivers e.g. the Tweed, one particular tributary is known to be the source of many of Tweeds spring fish. This all suggests that the genes passed on by parent are highly influential for factors such as run timing. Work continues at present to establish if there is such a thing as a “spring” gene in the salmon genome, although that is only part of the story, it is the combination of environmental and genetic factors that really matter.
          The Spey itself has switched from being an autumn river to a spring, then partly back again. There is a lovely quote in one of the old Spey minute books about a ghillie (professional estate fishers in these days) who on his retirement was asked what was the biggest change he had see on the Spey in his lifetime – his reply – the switch for the Spey being an autumn river to a spring river. So the situation is always fluid and when inheritance and environmental factors combine to favour a switch in run timing it will occur in its own time. My own view, one which is supported by lots of observations from around the country, is that we are on the cusp of a switch to spring dominance; historically the Spey run has responded strongly in that direction during these periods – here’s hoping anyway!
          I totally agree that we need better information on exploitation rates in this country. When I look around at figures from other countries; Norway, Canada and Iceland for example rod exploitation rates are much higher than the limited data available in Scotland suggests. It may well be that within Scotland exploitation rates vary regionally, indeed data I have seen for a north Scotland river indicates that rod exploitation rates reach almost an order of magnitude higher that you suggest. This issue should be a real priority with the proposed conservation limits measures placing additional emphasis on good hard local data.
          Good CPUE data would be helpful but it is not the be all and end all. The Spey does actually have a lot of cpue data, we ask for it in our catch return forms and some beats provide it. There are also several beats on the Spey that are fished by almost the full compliment of rods from opening day to the season end; we have a long and consistent season in the prime areas of the Spey, so we could do some analysis of the data we have at hand, although it has been done before.
          C&R is not a panacea, as a friend of mine says it needs to be part of a package of measures – whole river management is the term he uses, an approach that has a lot of merit. As I outlined in my earlier reply there is, and has been, considerable concern over the status of the Spey spring run. The strength of that run is driven by influences we have already discussed; big influences largely outwith our control but it is surely a natural reaction to adopt a precautionary stance and try to conserve what is returning. Maintaining the diversity of the gene pool (the number of breeders contributing to that stock) will almost certainly be beneficial when conditions are right again for spring fish to dominate.
          I realise that this reply is like War and Peace Mk II, so apologies for that but thanks for the kind words at the end. I look forward to meeting you in a fishing hut one day.

  3. michel spencer at 6:52 am

    i very much enjoyed your weekly reports an look forward to next seasons .
    i do not understand what is “excellent” about a 94 % release rate ? you an i have no idea if that might actually harm the river , what we do know by looking at rivers in england an wales an closer to home the dee,that releasing 1% or 94 % makes not one jot of difference to future runs .i fished the spey this year and although nothing was said directly ,i felt pressure to release fish and its not the first time on the spey ive felt this .i would have thought that a 94 % release rate would lead to a high % or repeat captures ,which if true do not make catch returns so rosy !. i hope we have another good year in 2016 on the spey and that common sense based on fact prevails .
    kind regards,

    • Malcolm Newbould Author at 9:16 am

      Michael, I am not a scientist just an angler and scribe so I will leave Brian Shaw to explain the scientific bits about recapture rates and so on.
      From my point of view the result is excellent as so many anglers are willing to do as the Board asks them and return their fish. In these troubled times having a high C&R rate puts the Spey in a good light with the Scottish Government, the review and subsequent categorisation of rivers has left the Spey in charge of its own destiny. Anglers have to show restraint, we cannot ask the netsmen to give up their livelihoods, reduce the sawbill duck populations, and control marauding seals if we continue to take all we catch, restraint is important.
      I am sure when the river continues to improve it will be possible to take one for the pot.

    • Bryan Herbert at 3:21 am

      Michael That is a rather sweeping statement that catch and release makes not one jot of difference to future returns. One thing for sure is if we kill 100% then we have a severe impact on future returns. You mention the Dee but we don’t know what has happened out at sea as we now know salmon are a pelagic species and all it takes is one or two boats accidently catch them and in theory 50-60 % of your run can be gone. As an angler I for one will keep returning fish as I still want the opportunity to catch salmon on the Spey when I am retired or still alive and kicking. Yes we would all like fish counters like they have in Canada on our rivers so decisions are made on fact and not estimation off overall salmon run.

      Best Regards

      Bryan Herbert

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