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Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust

December 8 2008

Brian Marshall is Chairman, Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust

The River Hampshire Avon

The high levels of activity and co-operation described in the last edition continue and begin to achieve results.

The formal complaint to the European Commission by Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, contending that the Irish mixed stock salmon drift net fishery was illegal, has succeeded. As a result of this, and international pressure from all the north Atlantic salmon nations’ individuals and NGO’s, the Irish Government has closed the fishery with immediate effect. Displaced fishermen will benefit from a Government €30 million compensation and community development scheme. The SAC River Hampshire Avon, with the Rivers Test and Itchen, were scientifically proven by tagging projects to lose the highest percentage of their returning spawners to those nets. Allowing these fish uninterrupted passage home will progressively enhance the breeding stock, and be an important contribution to the river’s long term recovery.

Even so the Avon produced 147 salmon to the rods in the 2006 season. A season shortened by most laudable voluntary suspensions of fishing when high water temperatures threatened fish welfare. All of these fish were returned alive, as were those caught by the Mudeford seine netsmen fishing for sea trout, bass and mullet. We look forward to the contribution these extra returning fish will make, but must continue the existing restraints for some years yet.

A coalition of riparian owners, angling clubs and the Environment Agency are supporting a Wessex Salmon trial of ‘in stream’ incubation using egg boxes, to test if juvenile salmon production can be enhanced by circumventing compacted and silted gravel stream beds.

A similar co-operative effort by WS&RT, The Roach Club, Christchurch and Ringwood & District Angling Clubs and riparian owners have funded the restoration of two major ox-bows, and the construction of a number of coarse fish fry bays on the river.

Initial dip net monitoring of one of the ox bows by Sparsholt College Fisheries Science Department shows very encouraging populations of juvenile roach, chub and dace. The shelter they have found is most timely with the river in almost constant flood conditions since December.

Trials to assist roach production by installing fontinalis boards in appropriate sites are also underway, together with the monitored transfer of juvenile roach from an existing, prolific lake breeding population into carefully selected river habitat.

Whilst the tasks are varied in complexity, duration and cost the objectives are the same; the restoration to historic abundance, and conservation of this wonderful river’s habitat for all the resident species - salmonids, cyprinids, invertebrates, flora, terrestrial and avian fauna.

I mentioned earlier that at last our river flows have moved above their long term average and, for the first time since 2003, the groundwater levels are reaching their long term averages, all filled by the repeated rainfall events of the past four months. It delights me to see the wet meadows covered and the water meadows all heavily populated by huge flocks of wading birds

Those river anglers who have ventured out to find slacks and areas of calm water are catching some of the Avon’s superb specimens of barbel, roach and chub whilst, during the mild weather, the lakes continue to offer impressive bags of bream, tench and carp including an impressive 46lb specimen.

This illustrates that, whilst a great deal of conservation work is underway, our aim is to further improve an already outstanding river that continues to offer quality angling in beautiful countryside whatever discipline individual anglers prefer.