UPSTREAM EFFORT:  The Tees Barrage is only one of the factors impacting fish numbers
UPSTREAM EFFORT: The Tees Barrage is only one of the factors impacting fish numbers

NEW regulations which came into force on January 1 could boost salmon and sea trout stocks in the Tees and other north east rivers.

Among the restrictions drawn up by the Environment Agency and confirmed by Defra is an end to drift net fishing off the coast which, it is claimed, could save more than 15,000 salmon and sea trout in the region’s rivers.

Mandatory catch and release will also be introduced on the Tees, which is classed as “at risk” as far as salmon stocks are concerned.

The new bylaws come into force following a consultation by the Environment Agency which sought views on how to better manage salmon fishing in England. Reducing the salmon take by rods and nets is one part of the agency's larger programme to protect stocks.

Other measures include removing barriers and improving water quality.

The dire situation on the Tees is highlighted by official fish counting statistics for 2018 released by the Environment Agency.

The count, taken at the Tees Barrage fish pass, in Stockton, showed that last year just 217 salmon and sea trout were spotted, the lowest total for the past eight years.

This compares to a high of 1,661 in 2012, when more than double the number of fish were counted in August of that year than in the whole of 2018.

Kevin Austin, the Environment Agency's deputy director for agriculture, fisheries and the natural environment, said: “It is only through continuing to take concerted action and with co-operation of others, that we will successfully protect this iconic fish for future generations.

“We are not implementing these changes lightly and have consulted widely with those affected.

“There is no single solution to protecting salmon stocks. Reducing the catch can only partly contribute to the recovery of stocks.”

The situation was discussed by members of the Barnard Castle Angling Club at their annual meeting just before Christmas.

Sam Turner

Among those at the meeting was the Environment Agency’s Andy Naylor, who suggested the Tees Barrage was just one of the reasons why salmon numbers in the upper reaches of the river were so low.

“I have worked every stretch of the Tees,” he said.

“The Tees has not done very well this year (2018). Many years ago, the Tees was a great river. In 1894 there were 980 salmon caught. That is tremendous. They had fish locks and netting stations.”

Then the river was badly affected by industry and more or less ignored, he added.

But he said it was the construction of reservoirs in the second half to the last century which had just as great an effect on fish stocks.

“Nobody thought about salmon and sea trout. They cut off the major tributaries. They put the reservoirs there and all the gravel (spawning grounds) got washed away. It is all gone. That is the biggest problem. The only decent places for spawning are Low Coniscliffe and Dinsdale.”

Mr Naylor said attempts to rectify the situation by adding gravel to the river had drawn a blank.

“We did try to do something about it. I suggested between Gassholme and Mickleton Caravan Park but they decided to do it in Deepdale Beck. It lasted a year and was washed away. There was no controlled flow.”

Mr Naylor said until spawning grounds were re-established in the upper Tees, salmon and sea trout stocks would not recover.

Other more recent problems include the invasion of crayfish into the river.

The Mercury has previously reported how the non-native species is “sucking the life” out of the river, with anglers barred from trapping or netting them by the Environment Agency because crayfish numbers are not deemed high enough to warrant official action to curb the population.

Incidents of pollution affecting tributaries of the Tees have also affected fish stocks in recent years.