Salmon Poaching In The Solent Region – Tim Sykes

An Itchen Salmon: Picture Courtesy of Linda Pitkin 2020Vision

Catching Salmon on the fly, is something that has been part of the fabric of British angling for hundreds of years.

Even though Salmon numbers are lower than in the past, many still flock to the traditional English chalk streams in the hope of a Salmon or Sea trout. And although most will fail, the art of presenting a fly, on a mild spring evening, with the chance of catching one of these beautiful fish, is what keeps them returning for more.

Compare that if you will with the poacher! A creature that doesn’t care how he catches, as long as he does. Because where as the angler catches for the love of the sport and with respect for his quarry, the poacher catches purely for commercial gain.

Tim Sykes is the Fisheries and Biodiversity Team leader for the Solent area. So concerned is he by the recent Salmon poaching activity in the Solent region, that he is appealing for people to be extra vigilant, in order to curb these illegal activities.

In Tim’s own words:

Solent Salmon WATCH

Beneath the Solent’s waves, primal urges are taking place in our migratory salmonids : Sea Trout and Salmon are on the move. To some people that is an awesome wildlife spectacle whilst others will wistfully dream of warm dusky evenings angling. But others are intent on cashing-in by illegally harvesting these fish, using any means possible, and selling them on the black-market.

A high priority for the Environment Agency is to conserve the local stocks of wild Salmon and Sea Trout, including tackling poaching, and you can play a part.

Salmon eggs hatch in May and the juveniles spend just one year in freshwater before migrating to the sea, the following spring. They migrate to Iceland and Greenland, putting on weight at an astonishing rate whilst covering about 50km a day! After one or two years they return to their home rivers , congregating in our estuaries in the spring and spending much of the summer in the lower reaches of the rivers before spawning near Christmas.

a Year old Salmon Smolt, picture courtesy of Adrian Fewings Romsey
a Year old Salmon Smolt, picture courtesy of Adrian Fewings Romsey

At the time of writing (mid-May) Sea Trout are returning to all our Solent estuaries whilst the rarer Salmon are heading towards the Test and Itchen estuaries.

Whilst in the estuaries Salmon are legally protected from exploitation but where there’s a will there’s always a way, and poaching is locally common.

The Test and Itchen Salmon population is estimated to be only 1,570 returning adult fish. This is well below their ‘conservation target’. A large female Salmon can carry over up to 15,000 eggs, so if these fish are removed on a large scale it will remove their progeny from the future population, resulting in a long term decline in the size and ecological integrity of the population.

It is estimated that a single rod caught Salmon is worth over £7,000 to the local economy : a poacher might get £200 for that fish – the same (farmed) fish species that is available for £20 at the supermarket! Poachers cheat the community and make us all poorer.

We urge those who value the Solent to report any suspicious fishing activities to us. Look out for nets in estuaries or nets strung between moorings in our local harbours and marinas; traps or set-lines; or if you see someone shining a light into the water at night.

A snatch is a weighted treble-hook on a hand-held line which is used to deliberately ‘foul hook’ or impale fish – with this poachers can catch the fish faster than with a rod and line but it causes a lot of damage to the fish.

A Snatch used by Salmon poachers
A Snatch used by Salmon poachers

Look out for individuals leaning over bridges and suddenly jerking a hand-held fishing line or, if they have successfully hooked a fish, landing a large silver fish without a fishing rod.

Poaching on a large scale is only financially worthwhile if there is a commercial demand. That is created by a few unscrupulous local food outlets which are prepared to buy illegally caught Salmon and Sea Trout through the back door.They are themselves committing an offence when they purchase a wild Sea Trout or Salmon. The uncertainty in daily supply means that these outlets are unlikely to offer local wild Sea Trout or Salmon in their standard menu. We need people to be on the lookout for ‘Daily Specials’ offering local wild Sea Trout or Salmon, and to call us immediately.

If you are a local business, restaurant or gastropub and are approached by individuals offering to sell you local wild Sea Trout and Salmon, please call us immediately.

If anyone thinks that they have seen any illegal fishing or illegal selling of wild Salmon and Sea Trout, they should phone the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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