Sea trout conservation limits anyone?

Now that conservation limits for salmon are sorted….. attention is reputed to be turning to sea trout. In comparison with sea trout salmon are a complete doddle. No confusing and varied life strategies to worry about with salmon, they all go to sea, end off. The parts of the catchment used by salmon are straightforward to define as well, just look for the easy to identify juveniles. Things are not so clear when it comes to establishing the areas of the catchment used by migratory trout. Juvenile trout are found throughout the catchment, even in tributaries inaccessible to migratory fish. There is also a big stock of resident brown trout in the Spey and they don’t look too different to sea trout when on the redds.

During the establishment of salmon conservation limits rod catches were used as the measure of stock abundance. Is that an appropriate measure for sea trout stock abundance, or salmon for that matter? The Spey rod fishery is, nowadays at least, primarily a salmon fishery. Sea trout are caught incidentally by salmon anglers, especially during high or coloured water but the culture of night-time sea trout fishing seems to be in decline. Also, in times of greater salmon abundance the salmon anglers were usually satisfied with their days sport and returned home, or back to the lodge, at the end of the afternoon, leaving the opportunity for sea trout anglers to fish in the evening. Very few beats follow such a system nowadays, often the salmon anglers return in the evening for a last cast but it not possible to burn the candle at both ends by fishing into the night for sea trout and routinely make the 9am start for salmon. Of course there are still some genuinely mixed fishery beats on the Spey where the fishers will balance their effort to get the best from both species but I think there is general consensus that sea trout angling effort has declined.

A nice sea liced sea trout for a daytime salmon angler

A nice sea liced sea trout for a daytime salmon angler

It does take an effort to stay out and fish into the night for sea trout and if there is a perception that the rewards are not there then it is easy just to make the decison to go home to bed. Night-time sea trout angling is, I suspect, highly susceptible to rapid swings in effort making rod catch an unreliable indicator of stock. Over the last few years the sea trout catch has been low in a historical context but in the autumn the size of the sea trout stock can be seen in the Spey spawning burns.

Our results from the 2015 electrofishing rota in Spey burns are shown in the table below.

It can be seen that downstream of the Aviemore area the troiut results are generally in the good or very good categories (SFCC Moray Firth classification).

It can be seen that downstream of the Aviemore area the trout results are generally in the good or very good categories with just the odd exception (SFCC Moray Firth classification). The burns in the Grantown area are exceptionally good for trout. In 2013 the situation was similar in the River Avon surveys with a predominance of good to excellent trout densities.

These results provide some support for the view within the Spey Fishery Board thatthe river upstream of Aviemore is not really used by sea trout. There are spawning trout upstream of that point of course but this area is perhaps more important as a spawning ground for the river trout e.g. the Truim is a famous brown trout spawning river. Therein lies a complication for establishing conservation limits for sea trout – how do you indentify the wetted area used by spawning sea trout? Some trusts have been working with isotope analysis to try and identify marine origin trout fry but this work is still at the development stage.

Some have suggested that given the difficulties ahead for the setting of sea trout conservation limits, the precautionary approach should be taken and blanket catch and release implemented. I would argue that the Spey sea trout stock is in a relatively healthy state and that the percieved reduction in proper, night-time angling, effort is a contributory factor in declining catches. Night-time fishing is essential if big catches are to be made and this type of fishing is also highly susceptible to conditions; the lack of warm evenings in the summer of 2015 for example being an example of poor sea trout fishing conditions. There is already a very good voluntary sea trout, and salmon, conservation policy in place on the Spey and the last thing we need are further restrictions arising from top down management.

The sea trout is a fine sporting, and eating fish, the best of all according to many, and night-time sea trout angling is one of the ultimate angling experiences; especially on the Spey where the sea trout run big, as does the river. Conservation of this asset requires considerate, dare I say it local, management. I consider that the implementation of a blanket catch and release approach for sea trout will not be good for the Spey, nor is it required. This issue requires very careful managment.

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