River Ythan Trust

...protecting the River Ythan for all our futures

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History of the fish stocks on the Ythan

The Ythan supports rod and line fisheries for two species of migratory fish, thumb salmon and sea trout.

Since 1952 all salmon and sea trout landed by anglers should have been recorded and reported annually to a government department.  The two diagrams below show what anglers and/or proprietors have entered in their annual catch return forms for the river Ythan and its estuary.


Graph of Ythan salmon catches

The salmon landed by anglers are likely to be almost entirely fish which hatched in the Ythan.  Juvenile salmon, tadalafil a few inches long and called smolts as they head for the ocean, go far to the North and return as adults to breed in their home river.  However, the numbers of salmon caught are almost certainly under-reported, as understating fishing returns can be financially advantageous to both the angler and the fishings owner.  It’s difficult to know what might have been the scale of under-reporting for salmon on the Ythan.  For example, in 1985, a year of good angling conditions, the reported catch was 903 fish, but local opinion suggested a catch of over 1000 fish was more likely.  For the years from 1952 up until the early 1980s the reported catches might well be half or less of the actual catches.  More recent figures will not include every salmon landed, but the missing fish are probably only a few percent of the true figure.

As has taken place throughout Scotland the run timing and mix of sea ages of salmon returning to our rivers changes over time.  An era with many salmon returning before about the end of May (known as spring fish) tailed away in the late 1960s while numbers returning later in the year increased.  Another change accompanying the move to later running fish was an increase in the number of grilse.  These are salmon which have been at sea for one winter and return to the river from summer onwards.  In recent years a large proportion of the salmon landed on the Ythan have been grilse.  However the last two or three years point to the proportion of grilse decreasing and an increase in the number of salmon which have been in the ocean over two winters, or occasionally even three winters.

The low catches in some recent years (eg 1997 and 2003) are genuine and are a result of lengthy dry autumns with fish remaining off the coast until higher river flows attract them.  At present the numbers of salmon returning to our coasts are well down on those of twenty five or more years ago and angling catches are being maintained only because the commercial salmon net fishery now takes only one fish for every twenty or more it took in the past.

Sea trout

Graph of sea trout catches in the Ythan

Sea trout are brown trout which have spent time in salt water.  As smolts they head to the ocean, but forage more locally than salmon and many visit estuaries and fresh water before finally returning to fresh water to breed.  When these visits take place within months of migrating to salt water the fish are called finnock in North East Scotland.  Such fish can be present and caught in considerable numbers but not on a consistent year to year basis.  Until the government asked specifically for numbers of sea trout and finnock separately, it appears that the returns made in the earlier years of the data sets have sometimes included finnock and sometime not.  This makes the data less reliable and harder to interpret.  Present day returns are now consistent with the separation of sea trout and finnock but it’s clear that the numbers of sea trout are well down on those of the early years.

The Ythan Estuary has been a noted sea trout fishery for over a century.  Its post WWII heyday lasted up until the late 1960s with a brief recovery in the 1980s.  During these prolific periods the fishery probably benefited from sea trout belonging to other rivers visiting the estuary, possibly attracted by shoals of their prey species.  Even more notable, although less well known, were the commercial net catches of sea trout during this period.  With the near demise of the net fishery, mainly for economic reasons, the recreational fishery has stabilised but at a level below that of when it was in competition with the commercial net fishery.

So where have all the fish – both sea trout and salmon – gone?  The answer appears to lie in the ocean, probably due to a combination of factors.  However numbers of fish are not in a terminal decline as sea trout in 2009, and reportedly also in 2010, are finding good feeding, numbers are modestly up and the fish, including finnock, are in excellent condition.  Salmon numbers also seem to be relatively stable and we hope that numbers will recover rather than decline any further.

Most of the figures included in the two charts are courtesy of Marine Science Scotland.



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