Last week, we fished the upper gravel extraction site on the Glenmuir whilst waiting on the backpack equipment to be repaired. ART has fished this site annually since 2006 and this years results were poorer than any other. With this in mind, I looked at the results more closely to identify exactly what the trend is and to see what other information may be included in the results. All the numbers and statistics quoted relate to salmon only and no assessment of the trout population is inferred. (The trout appear to be relatively stable at this site but it is principally a salmon site).

The lower end of the Glenmuir gravel extraction site. Habitat is good for both fry and parr but to ideal for trout.

The lower end of the Glenmuir gravel extraction site. Habitat is good for both fry and parr but not ideal for trout.

The site is above opencast influences and apart from a small amount of forestry, there are no other obvious influences that may affect results. Angling exploitation is reported as low in this area but pressure is high. This site and entire area is important for spawning.

The image below shows several graphs which illustrate the current declines on the upper Lugar catchment. The graph on the left in purple illustrates the total number of fish caught during each survey. The blue graph illustrates the number of fry caught per 100 square metres. The graph in red illustrates the number of parr caught per 100 square metres. The blue and red chart is a combination of both fry and parr and the green chart illustrates the area fished each year. Trendlines are added to each graph. 2006 results are on the left hand side of each chart progressing to 2014 results on the right.

Glenmuir results illustrated in graphs. The description of each graph is in the text above the image.

Glenmuir results illustrated in graphs. The description of each graph is in the text above the image.

The area fished is relatively stable and fluctuations are largely explained by changes in water levels (increased width) and slight variance in the length of the site (+/- 1m approx). As results are fully quantitative and calculated per 100 square metres, these variables become insignificant.

Anglers regularly comment that the fish aren’t coming back to the river in numbers and these graphs appear to confirm this. We has been warning of falling numbers for years. No longer can these statistics be ignored. Fry numbers are naturally much higher than parr and subject to great mortality in their first year. Parr at this site are generally 1+ year old at the time of survey and their numbers are showing a slight decline. There are always one or two 2+ year old parr and this remains relatively stable. The parr numbers appear to be more stable than the fry numbers but the trend line indicates that overall they too are in decline. This is worrying. This years poor fry results indicate that spawning success was poor last year. There could be several reasons for this but with few salmon seen on the reeds at the back end of last year, then most likely there were fewer salmon surviving to spawning. Anglers reported poor catches in 22013 and this seems to be confirmed by these results. Marine survival is implicated in poor stocks around the country so why shouldn’t it apply to the Ayr system too? With increased angling activity on the upper Glenmuir, this may have had a slight influence on the results too but catch returns wouldn’t support this so we can’t be certain. Similarly, poaching may be taking it’s toll too.

A few fat and golden parr from the Glenmuir site. I did comment to Gordon that on the whole the parr were leaner than we had seen elsewhere in Ayrshire so far but this selection were doing well.

A few fat and golden parr from the Glenmuir site. I did comment to Gordon that on the whole the parr were leaner than we had seen elsewhere in Ayrshire so far but this selection were doing well.

Further down the Lugar and Ayr catchments, water quality reduces and so too does egg survival and spawning success. Over the years, the upper Glenmuir has been the saviour of the Lugar stocks. With this now obviously declining, this is a very worrying development. Let’s hope it is just a short term blip and next years results buck the trend, but I fear this is unlikely.

The call to stock the river should be resisted as parr numbers although down, haven’t declined at the same rate as the fry population. What would be much more beneficial would be to return all fish rather than kill them. Ensuring that adequate numbers are available to stock the river is the easiest and most natural form of managing stocks without all the potential problems associated with hatchery reared fish. Given the opportunity, the fish will stock the river much more effectively than any hatchery.

This is just one site and as yet ART hasn’t completed their survey work for the season. The timed results across both Ayr and Lugar were also disappointing but have yet to be analysed. If this result is an indication of what to expect at other sites, then we should all start to consider the implications of killing any salmon. We ignore this information at our peril.

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14 Responses to Glenmuir electrofishing indicates worrying trend

  1. ian radburn says:

    i have said for a number of years that the glenmuir should close above the red bridge on the last day of September a month earlier than the rest of the river this is my opinion i believe that a month would make a slight difference at very least it would give what salmon he have there a greater chance of survival if undisturbed. and a strict catch and release on all hen salmon on the months of September/October and people taking more interest in the welfare of our rivers and help the bailiffing force instead of turning a blind eye

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      All very pertinent thoughts Ian, but not everyone will be convinced. If our stocks continue to drop as the trend appears to indicate it might, then I’d be in favour of mandatory catch and release throughout the season for all salmon. There can be no excuse for any exploitation if stocks are plummeting but lets bear in mind that this is only one site and we will look closely at the others once the results are in. Incidentally, Andrew Thin is perhaps going to recommend mandatory catch and release of salmon with an agreed exploitation rate implimented through a tagging system. It will be interesting to see how the Government proceed.

  2. davie says:

    I agree with ian,as a boy living in ochiltree in the early 80s,the salmon going over the dam were in abundance,yes it was poached,but 1 out how many got over the dam or up the ladder,i was there when good fishermen caught knackered salmon an lifted them too the top off the dam and let them free,what a delight too watch,then ochiltree dam was closed as it was blamed for the declining salmon stock,the decline in the salmon is due too the so called fishermen that stand pocket too pocket up the past the glenmuirs red bridge where there are salmon laying eggs and getting slaughtered,this is a disgrace art sort it oot

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      Davie, the dam will hold some fish back but it certainly isn’t the problem. I don’t blame exploitation solely for the decline either but it may well contribute to the poor results. Exploitation becomes increasingly detrimental as stocks decline. The problem lies once the numbers fall below a sustainable level. In Ireland the authorities set conservation limits after which angling is prohibited. In Scotland, Marine Scotland Science haven’t yet developed a tool to allow conservation limits to be identified and set but I expect they would like to do this sooner rather than later.I recall Brain Shaw (my predecessor) telling me that if the Ayr was in Ireland, then it would be closed to fishing to conserve the stocks. It is a tight rope we are walking at the moment. The sooner anglers realise that the stocks aren’t good and take steps to release their catches, the better. Things are improving but the Ayr and Lugar are still behind the Doon, Girvan, Stinchar for C & R and on the Irvine where no Board exists to offer guidance, it is the anglers who have led the way. The Ayr (including Lugar) more than any other river in Ayrshire needs to improve their performance.
      I hope to have analysed some of the other results by the time the board meeting takes place this week. As I stated before, we have yet to complete several sites and will endeavour to fish these this week if possible. I don’t like guessing but from what I’ve seen so far this season, numbers are down on previous years almost across the board so far!

      • ian radburn says:

        i totally agree with both davy and stuart but i still think poaching is a major contribution to the decline in our salmon stocks the shaw/gelt was getting ravaged year after year for salmon roe which is now selling for as much as £15 a jar more than a salmon its self is if you where to sell it
        which may i add is illegal i remember years ago a certain chap was buying colored fish as much as £2 from boys at a certain dam to men who made roe to order tell me is that not a disgrace where the roe can be worth more that the salmon

        • Stuart Brabbs says:

          Ian, I agree that it’s a disgrace that anyone would exploit salmon for their roe. ‘Putty’ as its known, its preparation and use is illegal but there are those out there willing to obtain gravid salmon and prepare putty for sale. Anglers willing to use putty are just as guilty of those involved in obtaining and preparing the stuff. At this point in time, every single salmon taken for this purpose is highly detrimental to future stocks. Anyone with information on those involved (in any way should report this to the Bailiffs through the Ayr DSFB website at http://www.ayrfishing.co.uk

  3. George McPike says:

    Stuart, the huge spates of last winter must have had a detrimental effect on the spawning areas as well wouldn’t you agree. It certainly moved very large amounts of gravel in the lower reaches. Not what we wanted after a poor spawning.
    I know you take the view that salmon hatcheries are not the way forward, and that seems to be the line adopted by all the river trusts. Yet countries like Iceland appear to have had considerable success with hatcheries. The Tyne is another success story where salmon hatcheries appeared to play a major role.
    Annbank AC ran a successful hatchery for many years and our members have noticed a steady decline in salmon stocks since we lost this facility. If hatcheries are only using locally caught broodstock, then surely the genetic issues are minimised. Hatchery reared fish would also bypass the high egg mortality stage which affects the river at the present time.
    I’m not a scientist Stuart, I would just like to know why the scientific community doesn’t value hatcheries as a viable management tool, even in the short to medium term. Is catch and release the only thing we can do?

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      George,
      follow this link and the instructions at the foot of the page to access the full IBIS stocking conference held in Glasgow last December. http://www.ayrshireriverstrust.org/blog/2013/12/20/ibis-salmon-stocking-conference/ Watch all the videos (it will take a while) and then I’m sure you will understand why stocking isn’t the panacea that some claim. I’ll be happy to discuss this in more detail with you if you wish but face to face as the blog isn’t the forum for this length discussion.
      The Ranga in Iceland has been having a terrible season this year by comparison to previous years. Locally, hatcheries have been operation for years and still are on all but the Girvan and Garnock. Why if hatcheries are so successful are we experiencing poor results in areas where fry have been stocked for 20+ years? It would be better to solve the habitat issues within the catchment before we lose any more of our stock rather than proceeding to rear fish that won’t add to the system, but in fact they may detract from it. If you notice, the Glenmuir results indicate that large numbers of fry doesn’t necessarily equate to more parr! Why then increase competition for those that will survive naturally to stock the river. Aside problems within the catchment, one of the main issues appears to be marine survival (again consider the Ranga’s poor results this year). Ranga fish are released as smolts straight to the sea pools. How could they have they suffered a catastrophic decline this year other than due to poor marine survival?
      Closer to home, the Spey haven’t found stocking to be cost effective or contribute to increased catches. The Tweed stopped all stocking in the 70’s yet their numbers have greatly increased. They spend their money on habitat improvements. Would anglers, Clubs and the Board agree to paying for habitat works to the Ayr. I expect that there would be discord should anyone suggest increasing levies to cover such costs. Bearing that in mind, what else can we do easily to help conserve stocks other than C & R?
      As I stated in the blog post, these results were from just one site so we can’t jump to conclusions on that alone. I’ve looked at the other results in from the Ayr today and it makes very interesting reading. I will be updating the board meeting tomorrow evening before I release more detail of the trend I see.

      • George McPike says:

        Thanks for the link Stuart. Hopefully I’ll be more enlightened after watching the vids.
        Regarding habitat improvement, I would certainly back and pay extra to fund this type of work. However, I doubt clubs would back further levy increases.
        Would volunteers be useful to the ART for any future habitat projects? I would gladly volunteer my time and labour for work of this nature. It’s the same old story though – some people always expect things to be done for them and won’t lend a hand themselves. Even in our club with 200 members it’s the same wee handful that do all the work.
        Would have liked to attend the board meeting tonight, but will be starting my night shift!

        • Stuart Brabbs says:

          Good news George. The Board agreed the purchase of a leaf blower to allow Bailiffs, volunteers and ART to undertake some experimental gravel cleaning this year. We will take help from whoever is willing to assist. I’ll be establishing stock levels at a few particular sites in the next day or two before any gravel is cleaned. This time next year we will be able to return to monitor whether these sites have improved or not following the work.
          The Board agreed not to increase the levy this year so clubs can rest easy.

  4. keeth says:

    Problem with glenmuir water is not with the so called fishers as Davie says fish dont get slaughtered by them . Most fishermen release coloured fish and hen fish myself included. Thé problem is poaching every time thé waters low the fish get taken out . If you want to close anywhere after september then what about muirkirk water that is a disgrace a lot worse than glenmuir for slaughtering gravid fish!

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      ART hasn’t suggested closing any water to angling. Control on killing is the responsibility of the Board, Clubs and anglers but in light of these result, I’m sure readers will recognise the need to return fish to protect the stocks in spawning areas regardless of where they are in the system. We have fished more sites on the Glenmuir since this post went up and results are poor, very poor across the area. Let’s hope the bailiff team manage to curtail poaching activity and are supported by every responsible angler on the system.

  5. mark Boyle says:

    in the past 20years the salmon have been running the river Lugar in good numbers,Every november to mid january,I have saw salmon going over Ochiltree dam! water levels permitting.then you have the summer runs of salmon that never even get a chance to spawn! as they are removed as soon as the water drops,(clears up). i have saw it every year for the past 25-30years,sad but true,The glemuir water,becomes a free for a few,poachers,with snares & nets,a few with rods, & its the same after water meetings,most pools in lugar,up from meetings to wallece’s cave get netted at least once a week,same from penny fadjents,barny& garden pool at dumfries house, oh theres 6 salmon in the dub pool,& well was 6 at dalblair,?&nothing in between ? 8-10miles with no salmon left ! plentyBrown trout&”RAINBOWS”?(WHY IS THERE RAINBOWS IN RIVER ?) aswell & Im glad to say alot of sea trout.oh i am an X-BAILIFF,&I Do walk the river after the fishing season is finished & it would supprise you just how meny salmon there is!

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      Mark,
      I completely agree with you that poaching and illegal activity accounts for large numbers of salmon being removed throughout the season. It’s not just poaching but there are a few anglers are also guilty of taking fish that should be returned. Anyone with information about illegal activity should contact the Ayr Bailiff force either by email or on a 24hour mobile number, both of which are available on the Ayr Board’s web page at http://www.ayrfishing.co.uk
      Regarding the trout population, I have already highlighted concerns over the rainbow trout that appeared in the Ayr in the last few months. If the Board knew for certain where they came from and who was responsible, then they could and probably would take action against them but this is a Board matter and nothing to do with the Trust. Of great concern to the Trust is why anyone would want to stock trout of any type into the river when it’s boiling with trout in every pool. I’ll be posting a blog on the trout stocks later this evening. The excellent trout numbers that we see across the River Ayr catchment at present can only be good for future sea trout stocks and in the last 2 years we have seen a slight improvement in these fish although they aren’t appearing on the catch returns yet!