Anglers call for action to tackle River Lune's declining salmon stocks 'crisis'

Salmon catches in the River Lune have plummeted to an all-time low - prompting fears that the downturn could eventually lead to extinction.
Brian James with a wild salmon prior to its release back in the waterBrian James with a wild salmon prior to its release back in the water
Brian James with a wild salmon prior to its release back in the water

The River Lune was once one of the most productive salmon rivers in England. But anglers say a combination of problems including avian predation, agricultural pollution, a rise in sea temperatures and the damaging effects of sea lice from Scottish coastal salmon farms on wild salmon smolts which are migrating to their feeding grounds in the North Atlantic, have contributed to a dramatic plummet in stocks.

Brian James, chairman of Lancaster and the District Angling Association, reported that the number of Atlantic Salmon being counted at the Forge Weir fish counter,ascending the River Lune in 2021, had dropped to just 1,384 compared to 3,474 in 2015. He feels the challenging situation has to be addressed - sooner rather than later.

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"Salmon stocks in the River Lune have been on the decline for a number of years. However, the situation is now extremely worrying," he explained. I fear in years to come the Atlantic Salmon will be extinct in the River Lune!

"All salmon caught by anglers are released safely back into the river, however, urgent action is required for a viable and economic method to restock the river."

In the early 2000s the net fishery in the Lune estuary caught roughly 1,100 salmon per year, while the rod fishery in the freshwater part of the Lune averaged a similar number of salmon per year. In the last few years the net fishery has averaged less than 250 salmon per year and the rods are reporting less than 400 salmon per year. Commercial net fishing for salmon is now closed.

The most noteable change in the salmon run in the last eight to 10 years has been the almost total lack of grilse - the smaller salmon that have spent just one year at sea before returning to the Lune to spawn and previously these formed a large part of the returning run of salmon.

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Mr James added: The Lune is one of a small number of rivers in England and Wales that still has a salmon hatchery. The hatchery is funded entirely by voluntary donations from angling clubs and individuals with an interest in the Lune salmon. Likewise, the hatchery operation is run entirely by volunteers from the Lune salmon angling community. We would like to see the hatchery operation expanded in the very near future as we feel it plays a very important part in helping to secure the Lune salmon for future generations."

Speaking about the decline in salmon stocks in the River Lune, an Environment Agency spokesperson, said: “The decline in the numbers of wild salmon in rivers across England is of great concern and we are committed to preserving this species for future generations.

"In 2021, the Environment Agency introduced new local byelaws for the River Lune rod fishery that require mandatory catch and release of all salmon caught for the next 10 years in order to protect the stocks and help them recover. Across the country and including on the River Lune and surrounding areas, the Environment Agency is working to improve fisheries’ habitats, removing barriers to migration, seeking to address poor water quality and river flows, and clamping down on illegal fishing."

Similar concerns were raised by Tim Pitt, manager at Lune Rivers Trust, who said: "Lune Rivers Trust is very conscious of the significant decline in Atlantic Salmon in the River Lune over the last two decades. Unfortunately, this is happening in many salmon rivers across England. Atlantic Salmon are an iconic species, and as well as being a fabulous thing for any of us to see in the wild, they are an indicator of the overall health of the river. Unfortunately there is currently little funding available to address declining Salmon stocks in the Lune.

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"We are urging all organisations involved to invest more resources into firstly understanding exactly what is happening in the Lune that is causing the decline in Salmon, and then to implement effective interventions to reverse this decline."