History of Ure-Yorkshire Ouse Salmon
During the 19th and early part of the 20th Century. The River Ouse system was of National importance as a salmon river. The Annual commercial catch from 91 netting stations sometimes exceeded 30 tons (more than 6000 salmon). Each year salmon over 30lbs in weight were captured and the 'Spring Run' was particularly strong. In 1999 I talked to an old gentleman (Harry Smith) who used to work the nets at Naburn with his late father. It wasn’t uncommon to come across very large salmon and the one in the picture below weighed 54lb.
According to Harry many of the biggest fished used to escape the nets by powering over the float line as they drew the net in. It wasn’t uncommon to see fish of this size and Harry says "bigger," escape!
Rod catches could be impressive too, with individual salmon anglers sometimes catching more than 50 fish in a single season and in one case; 33 fish in three consecutive rod days. Numbers of salmon declined rapidly in the middle of the twentieth century and rod and commercial catches collapsed. This seemed to follow a pattern that also occurred on the Tees, Wear and Tyne. Many theories abound but the close correlation with the start of the Second World War would seem to fit with the theory of increased pollution due to the war effort. It is certain that poor water quality in the tidal Ouse and Humber was the main reason for the catastrophic decline in salmon numbers. For many years this acted as a chemical barrier to the downward migration of smolts and the upstream movement of adults. During some years heavy rainfall helped to dilute pollution pouring in from York and the rivers of the West Riding. If a number of wet years grouped together then numbers of salmon started to increase. These mini-recoveries were only short-lived and things soon deteriorated again. The main problem was low dissolved oxygen and this slug of de-oxygenated water moved up and down with the tide therefore exacerbating the problem.
Since the 1980’s water quality has improved dramatically and this has led to a rapid increase in salmon numbers. This is mainly due to the tremendous work carried out by Yorkshire Water in improving the sewage treatment at Naburn and other Treatment Works on the rivers Aire, Calder and Don. The Trent is also now much cleaner for the same reasons (Severn Trent Water). The Environment Agency has also tightened up discharges from industrial sources and there has also been a decline in some of the polluting industries in the Lower Ouse and Humber. Water quality in the Tidal Ouse since 2000 has exceeded all expectations. During the 1990’s modelling indicated that dissolved oxygen (DO) in Tidal Ouse wouldn’t be expected to exceed 5mg\l. During 2012 the DO exceeded 10mg\l for sustained periods and rarely fell below 5mg\l. There are now no fixed dissolved oxygen probes in the River Ouse.
Salmon numbers continued to increase throughout the 2000's and are still expanding steadily. Ure Salmon Trust aim to consolidate and build on this recovery to bring the Ure\Ouse back as a major UK salmon river. Making sure that the returning salmon have good access to nursery and spawning areas is key to what we are trying to achieve. However, there is no room for complacency and further improvements to water quality will be needed. Particularly if droughts become more common as global temperatures rise. There were some worrying dips in dissolved oxygen in the Lower Ouse during the exceptionally warm summer of 2013.
Juvenile densities of salmon at some survey sites on the River Ure have increased to rival those of the UK’s best salmon rivers. However, there is considerable variation between years and this is very common in recovering salmon rivers. We are carrying out extensive habitat work on important spawning tributaries and this will help to speed the recovery.
Frequent captures of salmon by coarse and trout anglers in recent years; do not show up on the declared rod catch as there is no formal mechanism on the coarse fish licence to record capture of migratory fish. This has, in effect, hidden the natural recovery of salmon stocks in the Ouse system. The Ure Salmon Trust has made a concerted effort to get anglers out fishing for salmon. The catch per unit effort achieved by these anglers is comparable to that from some of the UK’s recognised salmon rivers. Many more anglers are now fishing the Ure for salmon and we strongly advise that they adopt a voluntary catch and release policy (see salmon catch and release protocols). The positive economic benefits of this are considerable and many local businesses have already seen an upturn in business linked directly to salmon tourism. Based on data from the River and the River Tweed, the local economy could benefit significantly from salmon tourism. That is, anglers and their families staying in the area and using local businesses and services.
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