Salmon on the Derwent: Dispelling a few myths

As I’m sure you are all aware, the river has recently seen the completion of a new fish pass at Derwenthaugh on the Axwell Park club’s water. This pass is on the very lowest beat of the Derwent and was put in place to comply with European and British legislation to allow free movement of all species up and down the length of the river. Unfortunately, at present it appears to be having a few teething problems, but it will soon come online, allowing all species to bypass the obstruction.

A number of articles have been written in the local papers applauding the return of salmon to the river and claiming that eventually all obstructions (weirs) will receive a similar pass. We can’t help feeling a little alarmed at the fanciful claims made that it will soon be a thriving salmon fishery though as we have been informed by the Environment Agency that no seeding with parr is to take place and that it will take many years for the fish to gradually inhabit the lower stretches of the Derwent to spawn, with little or no effect on our own association’s water.

The other major factor is, of course, the Derwent reservoir, which controls the flow of water entering the river. A study was carried out which looked at the potential effects of changing the flow to the river to allow releases from the reservoir during the spawning months of migratory fish to the detriment of water levels for the rest of the year. This was found to be unworkable and was considered to have an overall negative impact on the river. Presumably, people originally thought that releases on the Derwent might happen in the same way as they do from Kielder on the Tyne. Unfortunately, one glance at an Ordnance Survey map would show Kielder is just a tadge bigger than the Derwent so the idea was disregarded.

All things considered, and bearing in mind the nature of the river, the Derwent Angling Association does not envisage any major runs of migratory fish into club waters, if any. Despite the new Derwenthaugh fish pass, there still remain two major obstructions on the Axwell Park beat that can only be passed in high water. This probably wouldn’t be a problem if all summers were as wet as 2012 but on average the river tends to flood in the winter months, and even when it does flood, it usually drops quickly. And due to the reservoir the river does not naturally spate.

The Derwent Angling Association is most certainly not opposed to the free passage of all species throughout the entire length of the Derwent, we’re just a bit alarmed by the way the project has been so sensationalised in the press. It’s annoying to read incorrect articles from people who really should know better, but I suppose you need justification when spending over a quarter of a million pounds on a fish pass that does not at present work. (And if they really want free movement over the whole length of the river, someone’s going to have to build a pass to get the fish over the reservoir!)

So, in a nutshell, yes, a fish pass has been completed, but it will have little or no effect on the river fished by the association. In exceptional circumstances, we might see the occasional sea trout or salmon in our water, but one swallow does not make a summer and the odd fish does not mean syndicates will take over our water like they have the Tyne.

We will of course be monitoring the situation and will add further information as it becomes available. So, despite some wild rumours to the contrary, we will be remaining a trout and Grayling association, because if nothing’s broken, then why fix it?

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