Information relating to adult run size is an essential management tool for any district salmon fishery board. Catch returns are the main indicator of adult run size available for the Ness system. Catch statistics are collected annually by Marine Scotland Science (MSS) for all fishery districts in Scotland. In addition to this district salmon fishery boards are able to collect data directly from proprietors twice per year.
As a considerable historical data set exists (1952 to 2013), the size of the run can be used as a measure of its status by comparing the annual run against a long-term average run size. Please note that the data used throughout this section are Crown copyright, used with the permission of MSS, who are not responsible for interpretation of these data by third parties.
Salmon Rod Catches
The Ness district has enjoyed its best salmon catch in eight years. A provisional total of 1,222 salmon were reported to the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board, an increase of 33 per cent from the 815 fish record in 2014 and above both the five and ten year averages (946 fish and 1,057 fish respectively). This is an extremely encouraging result, particularly given the general trend for decreasing catches experience in recent years.
Total Ness district rod catches of salmon (salmon and grilse combined) 1952-2015
The 517 grilse reported across the district (smaller salmon that spent just one year at sea before returning) was the greatest number for five years and made up 42 per cent of the total salmon catch. This was 37 per cent higher than the 324 grilse recorded in 2014 and above both the five and ten year averages (379 fish and 461 fish respectively). Once again this an extremely encouraging result, particularly given the general trend for decreasing catches since the peak of 746 fish in 2007.
Ness district grilse (1SW salmon) catches over the last 64 years (1952 to 2015)
The 705 multi sea winter (MSW) salmon reported in 2015 was the highest for eight years and made up 58 per cent of the total salmon catch. This was a 30 per cent improvement on the 491 MSW salmon recorded in 2014 and above both the five and ten year averages (568 fish and 596 fish respectively). We have seen a long-term decline in MSW salmon catches since the peak of 3,079 fish recorded in 1964, with a particularly pronounced fall after 1995. The latest five year averages indicates the very early signs of improvement, with year on year increases over the last two years.
Ness district multi sea winter (MSW) salmon catches over the last 64 years (1952 to 2014)
Splitting the MSW catches into their ‘spring’ (January to May) and ‘summer’ (June to August) and ‘autumn’ (September to October) components provides further detail regarding their current status. In should be noted that spring, summer and autumn caught fish tend to belong to populations in the upper, middle and lower parts of a catchment, respectively.
The Ness district has enjoyed its best ‘spring’ salmon catch in 20 years, with the 322 fish recorded being the highest since 1995 (427 fish) and before that 1984 (328 fish). This is a real success in terms of the voluntary conservation measures introduced by the Ness DSFB in partnership with fishery proprietors and anglers.
Ness district ‘spring’ MSW salmon catches (January to May) over the last 64 years (1952 to 2015)
Spring catches were above both the five and ten year averages (234 fish and 188 fish respectively) and a 36 per cent improvement on the 206 recorded in 2014. An overall trend for increasing ‘spring’ salmon catches since 2010 continues.
The Ness district enjoyed its best ‘summer’ MSW salmon catches for 10 years, with the 284 fish recorded being the highest since 2005 (487 fish). This is encouraging, particularly given the decline in this component in recent years, however the numbers remain significantly lower than we would like.
Ness district ‘summer’ MSW salmon catches (June to August) over the last 64 years (1952 to 2015)
An ‘autumn’ MSW salmon catch of 99 fish was reported across the Ness district in 2014, compared to 119 fish in 2013. This is below the five year average catch of 123 fish and the third lowest annual summer and autumn salmon catch in 64 years. Only those recorded in 1952 (78 fish) and 1955 (69 fish) were lower. This suggests a long-term decline in autumn salmon, with no sign of recovery at present.
Ness district ‘autumn’ MSW salmon catches (September to October) over the last 64 years (1952 to 2015)
When interpreting this year’s summer and autumn catches, it should be noted that river levels were particularly low between August and October. Fishing conditions during this period were less than ideal and may have resulted in lower catches, particular during the ‘autumn’ period.
NASCO Rod Catch Tool
The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) recommends that all DSFBs utilise the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation’s (NASCO) rod catch tool in order to assess the status of salmon stocks. The results of our assessment confirm a problem with the autumn salmon catches in the mid to lower system (River Ness and Loch Ness). Further to this, the summer catches were also close to failing the assessment.
The NASCO rod tool recommends that if a problem is identified, then steps should be taken to reduce exploitation on the relevant stock component. An investigation should also be carried out to determine whether there is a specific local problem impacting upon the stock component. Furthermore, catch monitoring should continue on an annual basis and the management action should be continued until the assessment is passed.
Catch and Release
Voluntary conservation measures, introduced by the Ness DSFB in partnership with proprietors and anglers, have resulted in a significant improvement in the overall release rates. Unfortunately, the proportion of fish released dropped from 87 per cent in 2014 to 84 per cent in 2015, the first fall in five years. This is believed to be in reaction to the Scottish Government’s Kill Licence proposals, with anglers wanting to take a fish while they still could.
Proportion of salmon and grilse released on the Ness system (1994 to 2015)
Particular effort has gone towards protecting the vulnerable ‘spring’ component of the Ness district salmon populations. The ‘spring’ release rates across the Ness district have increased from zero per cent in 1994 to 72 per cent in 2009 and an excellent 99.5 per cent in 2014. To put this in perspective, only two of the 322 spring salmon captured in 2015 were retained.
Proportion of ‘spring’ salmon (January to end of May) released on the Ness system (1994 to 2015)
Estuary Net Catches
A conservation agreement reached by the Ness and Beauly DSFBs with the Rosemarkie and Longman net and cobble operators in 2013 meant that these stations remained closed for the entire season. As a result the total Ness district net fishery catch reduced from 545 fish in 2012 to zero in 2013. This was the first time in at least 61 years that no fish were recorded by the net fishery. An extension to the agreement in 2014 and now 2015 means that salmon have had free passage through the Inverness Firth and into the rivers of the Ness district for a third year in a row.
Total Ness district net salmon catches (salmon and grilse combined) over the last 64 years (1952 to 2015)
Ness District Sea Trout Rod Catches
The Moray Firth once supported a prolific rod and line fishery for sea trout, with the total annual reported Ness district catch peaking at 3,540 fish in 1960. Since that time reported catches have steadily decreased. A total sea trout catch of just 99 fish was reported during the 2015 season. Although this was an improvement on the previous year when just 47 fish were reported, the catches are much lower than we would expect.
Total Ness district sea trout catches (adult and finnock combined) over the last 63 years (1952 to 2014)
Overall, 2015 was an extremely encouraging season on the Ness system. The total catch of 1,222 fish was the best for 8 years, with ‘spring’ fish being caught in numbers not seen for 20 years. This was largely due to the exceptional seasons experienced on the River Oich and River Garry, despite a major breach of the Caledonian Canal and disturbance associated with repairs throughout the season. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Catches of grilse also improved significantly after a recent decline, producing the seventh highest catch since records began in 1952. ‘Summer’ MSW catches were the best for 10 years, following a significant decline in numbers since the mid 1990’s. Unfortunately, ‘autumn’ MSW salmon catches were down on the previous year and the third lowest since 1952. This may in part be due to the prevailing river conditions; however there has been a long-term decline in ‘autumn’ salmon catches with no sign of recovery at present. This is a concern for the Ness DSFB and may require further management actions on the mid to lower reaches of the system.
Voluntary conservation measures have now been in place for some time in the Ness District. The overall release rate exceeded the 80 percent mark for the first time in 2014, reaching an impressive 87 percent. Although remaining above 80 per cent, the overall release rate fell to 84 per cent in 2015, the first fall in five years. This is believed to be a reaction to the Scottish Government’s kill Licence proposals, with anglers wanting to take a fish while they still could. Unfortunately, the vulnerable ‘autumn’ MSW salmon component saw a seven per cent decrease in release rate. ‘Spring’ release rates were retained at an excellent 99 per cent, with just two of the 322 fish captured being retained.