Please note: Any questions on the content of this newsletter, suggestions or comments, please contact our Secretary, Jim Henderson, on mobile 07900897650
Newsletter No 2
Welcome to our 2nd Newsletter! The response to the initial publication was positive with a number of owners asking to be including in any future publications. So here we are, nearing mid-August and fishing again on the river well under way, with some pretty impressive catches.
COVID and its EFFECTS
The recommencement of fishing left many beat owners, and those who lease fishing, breathing a sigh of relief knowing that, finally, an income stream would be made available again (albeit much reduced).
The TGA has Ghillies who lease beats and it has been a juggling act to try and meet all the necessary payments and basically stay afloat.
The Scottish Government grants for small businesses were applied for but some found the process complicated. Hopefully, we will have more on this in our next newsletter when we will hear of what one Ghillie and his family went through.
Bird Counts. The TGA believes that predation from birds is a major issue, and since June 2019 TGA has been attempting to find out the extent of the overall problem on the Tay system. A report on the 12 months up to and including June 2020 is included at the end of this newsletter. We apologise for the missing “key” on the chart in the last newsletter – we rectify that in this issue.
Scottish Natural Heritage has made it very clear that any licence to scare birds next year must be accompanied by a robust bird scaring plan for the Tay and tributaries – no robust plan will mean no licence! The TDSFB has asked the TGA if they will cooperate on any bird count over the next 12 months and, of course, we have agreed to that provided we are treated as equal partners. Another proviso is that the Board must come up with an acceptable scaring protocol in time for the next licence applications. Again, we will help with this in any way we can.
Wheely Boat. The Chairman and Secretary recently took a trip to Loch Leven to view the Coulam 16 Boat as supplied by the Wheelyboat Trust to allow disabled anglers to fish the loch. The TGA would be keen to see something similar being offered on the Tay but Cohn quickly identified the landing platform was critical to allow safe access. There are a number of beats on the Tay which could be suitable for this boat but, with safety a priority, we need to ensure that access is safe and secure. Further discussion is to take place with Jim Coulam, the builder of the boats, to see if something suitable has been designed that could be modified for the Tay. We are also in discussion with Capability Scotland and Fishing for Heroes to better understand their needs.
Upper Tay Issues
The Upper Tay catchment is crucial to our salmon numbers and Cohn and Colin McFadyen are going to visit the upper stretches of the Tay, as a guest of Alex Stewart, to see first-hand the issues on this important spawning ground. A report on the visit will be included in our next newsletter
PROJECTS WITH THE TDSFB
Below is a list of 5 projects we submitted to the Board at the start of the season. We were asked for our input on what projects we would support. The list follows:
1. The Tay Counter proposal which the Association proposes is sited between Rome Croy and Almondmouth. The Association is keen that the Board supports this project, with us funding the initial Bathymetric Survey of the river. It is interesting that Dr Branding, of Marine Scotland highlighted counters in her recent input to the Scottish Parliament (dated 28th January 2020). Her suggestion was that stakeholders must come together to optimise success on Scottish rivers and she used investment in Fish Counters as an example. We have engaged with Perth and Kinross Council on the potential of some funding coming from the Tay Crossing project and we await a conclusion to those discussions. Again Covid-19 has delayed matters here. We believe there is a real opportunity to push this project forward and seek your support.
2. Bird Predation Project and the Board’s willingness to collaborate in the current bird count, is welcomed by the Association and this is a project the group see having positive outcomes for everyone.
3. Challenge to the Stocking Policy – the Marine Scotland Stocking policy released last year sounds the death knell of stocking on Scottish Rivers and was issued with no consultation of people on our river with real knowledge. We were fully supportive in the definition and issuing of a Scottish Gamekeepers Association petition demanding consultation on stocking and we await a Government response. We also wanted a project with the Board to examine the spawning levels on the main stem of the river and, if at critical levels, restoration stocking could be necessary.
4. Pitlochry Counter. This was a suggested project to place a counter at the bottom of the Pitlochry fish ladder, which would then be used to compare the count at the top of the fish ladder by the current counter. Note: Dr Summers believes the current fish counter is under counting. We also asked that consideration be given to the placing of cameras near to the turbine outflow at Pitlochry to investigate potential damage to fish, specifically smolts.
5. River Ericht issues. For almost 20 years there have been significant issues with smolt passage downstream and fish passage upstream because of the Blairgowrie Lade, the Fish Farm and the Hydro turbine. We have been to see the issues and believe that there are solutions which could be implemented to vastly improve this situation, and sort them once and for all. We are very willing to work with the Board, SEPA, Blairgowrie and Rattray District Angling Association and the Fish Farm and Turbine owner to sort out this mess.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
The Hatchery and the promised Marine Scotland Salmon Strategy
The Almondbank Hatchery which is owned by either the Board or the Tay Rivers Trust (we are not sure which!) faces close scrutiny shortly when the Scottish Government through Marine Scotland issues the long-awaited Salmon Strategy for Scotland. We hope that this will include a review and update of the stocking policy across Scotland.
The former representative from Marine Scotland Simon Dryden was open to discussion on the subject and indeed met the Board and Ghillies to discuss the many views. Prior to leaving his post he made many recommendations but his successor, Dr Anjte Branding, has not engaged with us, or the Board, since November 2019. We understand that she had the view that adjustments to the policy could be possible, but, like all things coming from busy Government departments, until the final policy is formally issued, we remain unconvinced.
A negative review on stocking could be the death knell for the Almondbank Hatchery. The Ghillies believe strongly in the retention of the hatchery and we believe that the Board has developed a strong argument for keeping the Hatchery. We hope that engagement with Marine Scotland happens soon.
Latest news on the Scottish Government Wild Salmon Strategy is that it will be issued by the end of the year. With Lockdown being eased, the Scottish Government departments are slowly returning to “normal” work practices and, hopefully TDSFB will engage Marine Scotland on the stocking policy as soon as possible.
With Dr Summers furloughed, engagement has been minimal. However, he is now back to work and we hope to engage soon. We have conflicting information on the Pitlochry counter and would like this clarified. An ongoing issue which remains unresolved is the use of the river for other sporting purposes eg rafting, and the interaction between them and fishing.
A Middle Tay Beat Owner has submitted the following piece on the effects of Covid:
“The lockdown announced by the UK Governments in late March caused us to cancel our salmon fishing operations with immediate effect. We offered our clients the equivalent date in 2021 and thankfully most of them were very understanding and took up the offer.
The situation was more complicated for our Syndicate, and it will take a lot of discussion to come to an agreed view on how management charges for 2021 will be affected, as some Members have been unable to fish this year; others on an un-ghillied basis with reduced facilities and services; and others more or less as normal, with fewer restrictions.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was a lifesaver for us, in that we have been able to retain our ghillies without too much of a financial loss. Unfortunately, we seemed to fall down all the cracks when it came to obtaining a grant from the local council, due to the multi-faceted nature of the Estate, which was very frustrating. However, the biggest decision for us will be whether or not the TDSFB decides to charge any more than 40% of the levy this year. As our levy amounts to almost £30,000 a year, this decision will have an effect greater than any other.
We were able to resume fishing for local Syndicate Members on an un-ghillied basis in early June, and for all rods in early July though, in line with Scottish Government guidelines, and for the sake of protecting our ghillies’ health, we are still unable to offer a full service. I do not envisage this situation changing until there is a vaccine for Coronavirus.
The greater concern in the medium- to long-term remains the lack of fish in the river, and how this will affect the viability of ghillied fishing in time. I expect that the Board will also have to revisit its cost base should the current lack of numbers continue.”
Iain Kirk, the ghillie at Fishponds, has some interesting observations from earlier this year.
Iain lives on the edge of Stormontfield, at the side of, (and indeed over!) the Stormontfield lade, in a converted mill. He says that from the end of March to the first of June he saw literally thousands of smolts every day. They came “skipping” down the lade in waves, past his house and then back into the main stem via the hydro. At the hydro, the owner had created a really good screen to ensure the smolts used the ladder to access the main river. Iain said it was hilarious to watch the smolts – some seemed to be enjoying themselves so much they would go back UP the ladder! He has never seen so many. So…… why? Was it because of lockdown or something else? Answers on a postcard please!
RIVER EARN MUSINGS
It has been difficult to remain upbeat on the banks of the Earn over the last month or so. Despite good tides and several useful spates both Salmon and Sea Trout stocks in the pools remain meagre at best. This is particularly galling in that many rivers elsewhere are enjoying much enhanced news of fish and remarkable catches have been registered.
The problem on the Earn seems to be caused by the operation of a commercial netting station on the lower section of the river. This is one of the last operating netting stations in Scotland and at present there is nothing that can be done to curtail their activities. The netting season expires in some two weeks’ time and it will be interesting to observe if there is an upturn in sport thereafter. The latter part of the season has often seen the start of the Autumn run on the Earn particularly if we have some water.
Meetings and moves are afoot to discover a means of obtaining a closure of the netting station and hopefully significant progress will be made during the close season period 2020-2021. Watch this space….
Meantime there have been a few fish landed on the Earn beats. Trinity Gask have had a handful of fish up to 18lbs. Dunning AC have also enjoyed some success with a few salmon, sea trout in some numbers and even finnock.
There is little information emanating from Crieff and Comrie in the upper sections, Lochlane and Laggan are posting the capture of a few sea trout from time to time. Kinkell has had some little sport over the last month or so with a few salmon up to the late teens and a scattering of seat trout in various degrees of freshness. It has however been very hard work as elsewhere on the Earn. Perhaps the glorious twelfth of August will bring a change as it has sometimes in the past.
You will recall we mentioned in our last newsletter that the Chair and Secretary had visited the Ericht and reported on the problems facing the river at Blairgowrie. We were delighted to hear that, following our discussion, the Westmill Fish Farm Manager, contacted SEPA and got agreement to open the lade at Smedley’s pool, place a pump in the pool and oxygenate the water using tablets he provided, thereby saving the stranded fish trapped there.
Well done, John! – partnership work in action and a willingness to identify a problem and find a solution.
We report however the Turbine has started operations again in the Lade. The turbine noise has been described as akin to having a Boeing 737 parked in Tesco Car Park !!!