Crisis Point For Wild Atlantic Salmon
With climate change and the water crisis now taking its toll on rivers around the UK, it seems that one casualty of the climate emergency is the Atlantic salmon, one of our most iconic species but whose numbers are now sadly dwindling in the face of all this environmental pressure.
The latest stock assessment report from the Environment Agency shows that wild Atlantic salmon stocks are now approaching crisis point, with estimates showing that they’re now at their lowest levels on record.
There are many factors having an impact on fish numbers at marine and freshwater sites, including rising sea and river temperatures as a result of climate change.
Overfishing is another big issue affecting salmon stocks around the world, as is water quality in estuaries and rivers, and barriers preventing fish from travelling upstream.
The report showed that, in 2020, 48 per cent of salmon rivers were considered to be at risk, meaning that salmon stock was no longer at a sustainable level. But now, this has climbed to 74 per cent, with rivers in Wales, the north-west and the south-west of the country considered to be the most affected.
In fact, there is now only one river in England – the River Tyne – that continues to remain not at risk and it has even improved in recent times, with better water quality in the estuary and more action taken against migration barriers. These include fish pass improvements and habitat restoration along the River Don, allowing salmon to return.
Kevin Austin, deputy director for agriculture, fisheries and the natural environment with the Environment Agency, commented: “Today’s assessment for England is of great concern and without urgent action Wild Atlantic Salmon could be lost from our rivers in our lifetimes.
“We have seen some real successes through our work with partners, particularly on the rivers Don and Tyne, but much more progress is needed. As the climate emergency becomes more acute, we need coordinated action between governments, partners and industry to enable stocks to stabilise and recover to sustainable levels.”
Further research from Radboud University in the Netherlands, published last year, found that freshwater fish habitats are now being threatened by global warming, predominantly down to rising water temperatures.
For example, a 3.2-degree C rise in global mean temperature would put more than half the habitat for a third of all freshwater species at risk. But if we limited warming to 1.5 degrees C, the number of threatened species would be ten times smaller.
Part of the problem is that global river systems include manmade barriers such as weirs, dams, culverts and sluices. These reduce the number of opportunities that fish have to respond effectively to climate change by shifting ranges and moving to other parts of the watershed.
As such, if freshwater biodiversity is to be safeguarded, it is becoming increasingly necessary to limit global warming, the study authors concluded.