We started our time electrofishing surveys today and intend to continue on all the rivers next week, weather permitting.
The River Ayr results have been disappointing for several years and 2014 results don’t look very encouraging so far, either. We start at the lower end of the river and work upstream, fishing the same sites, each year. We fish for 5 minutes exactly, covering as much habit as time allows. The sites have been chosen by successive biologists over the years and replaced by better ones as we saw fit. We now have 16 regular sites across the catchment. When I first started with the Trust we fished 12 sites and most of them in one day. Today we fish 16 and it will take 2 days to get round them all but I feel this is very worthwhile and allows us to get a quick picture of how the rivers are performing.
The Stepping Stones site is the first site on the Ayr. The habitat is good but salmon numbers are always very poor. Last year we caught just one salmon fry in 5 minutes and very few parr. Today’s survey produced 4 fry and quite a few parr so I hoped that this may be the first signs of a recovery but that was to be short lived. As we headed up the catchment, results were very poor at all sites and invariably down on last season’s.
The river looked in better condition than I’ve seen it for several yeas and algae wasn’t as bad as I though it may be or have seen it before during warm spells with low flow. Why then should numbers be down? This is a million dollar question and whilst I may speculate, I’m not certain. I suspect the huge spates of last winter may have reduced spawning success through redd wash out, but I am only speculating. The survey hasn’t finished yet so I need to see the bigger picture before I draw conclusions and things may improve further upstream. I hope so.
What does concern me is the proportion of salmonids to pollution tolerant species such as stone loach. This year we are counting minnows and stone loach as well as salmon and trout. These species have been introduced and compete to some extent for space and food (studies have been done on this elsewhere and I will look into this further). At several sites on the Ayr, we have noticed that salmon and trout are far outnumbered by these other species.
We also recorded quite a few eels today which is encouraging as they are classified as critically endangered by the IUCN and are a red list species. The Scottish Government has banned fishing and taking of eels as a conservation measure. Like it or not, no killing of eels is allowed in Scotland. We highlighted this last season when ells were found dead at Muirkirk hanging from a branch. Today we discovered an eel at Catrine dead on the bank with line sticking from it’s mouth. Two forked banksticks were also found at the same pool and it seems obvious to me that putting a static worm into a pool is likely to catch eels. Apart from constituting set lining which is a poaching offence, deliberately fishing for and/or killing eels is also prohibited.
The site below Stair Dam was difficult to fish today due to the low water levels. Finding adequate depth and flow proved a challenge but we just managed to fill the full 5 minutes of electrofishing. Not for the first time at this site we caught a good trout from below a particular boulder. It wasn’t as large as the last big one we caught from the same lie in 2012 but maybe by next year it will be. Trout like cover and that makes them a wee bit more predictable. It’s always a thrill to catch a good trout in the net.
We will be back out on the river on Monday if water levels permit.
Hopefully by Friday we will have also fished the Doon, Girvan and Stinchar to complete the timed surveys. I’ll post results as and when I can as I’m sure there is great interest amongst anglers to see how their waters are performing.