Fisheries Board moves to conserve grilse numbers

 The opening of the River Tay salmon fishing season will take place at Meikleour on Monday 15 January. The 2018 season comes at a time of change, some positive and some very concerning, for fish runs into the Tay.

On the positive side, early-running spring salmon are getting bigger. The mean weight of salmon caught between January and March 2017 was 12.8 lb. This is almost 3 lb heavier than the average weight at the turn of the millennium and, in all probability, indicates that the majority of salmon entering the Tay in the first three months of the year have spent three winters at sea when previously two winters was the norm. Comparable average weights to those recorded in early 2017 have not been seen consistently since the 1960s.

On the negative side, the Tay (in common with many east coast Scottish rivers) experienced a marked decline in grilse numbers in 2017. Grilse spend one winter at sea and they are the traditional mainstay of fishing from July onwards. The river’s salmon catch (normally mostly consisting of grilse) between July and October 2017 was 3196, compared to an annual average for this period over the previous ten years of 6502.

The Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board is now, in line with its statutory responsibilities, taking affirmative action in response to the considerable decline in grilse numbers.

Iain McLaren, interim chairman of the TDSFB, explained: “There is little doubt that we are experiencing a period of major changes in the Tay’s salmon runs. It is the Fisheries Board’s responsibility to act whenever necessary to protect and conserve our valuable wild salmon stocks. Accordingly, after due consideration and in line with the precautionary principle, we are introducing new restrictions or limits on the number of fish that anglers may kill in the summer and early autumn. Previously we advised anglers not to keep any fish at all in the spring and no more than one fresh-run male grilse per day after 1 June. As that could add up to a significant number over a season, we are asking anglers now to keep no more than the very occasional fresh-run fish during this period, unless of course there happens to be a sudden recovery in grilse numbers this year.”

The ceremony to mark the beginning of the new salmon season will be held at 9.30 am on January 15 at the Meikleour boathouse (by Kinclaven Bridge) and hosted by Meikleour Fishings. The traditional blessing (with a quaich of Glenturret whisky) of the boat and river ceremony will be performed by Provost of Perth and Kinross Council, Dennis Melloy.

The first cast of the season will be undertaken by Marina Gibson, well-known UK and international fishing guide.

The event is supported by the Perthshire Chamber of Commerce. “Goody bags” for anglers are being generously provided by Glenturret Distillery (Scotland’s oldest distillery), Pol Roger Champagne (the late Odette Pol Roger was a renowned Tay angler) and The Meikleour Arms (which has been serving anglers for almost 200 years).

At the opening the 2017 winner of the Tay Foundation’s Malloch Trophy – for one of the largest salmon caught by an angler on a fly and safely returned during the year in Scottish waters – will receive his award. The successful angler was Tom Bonniwell, who caught a salmon, estimated at 40 lb plus in the River Awe in Argyll on 2 September.

On January 15 anglers compete for the Redford Trophy (on display at Crockart’s of Blairgowrie), awarded for the biggest spring salmon caught and safely released in the River Tay.