Project delivers ways to protect threatened salmon and sea trout

The Salmonid Management Round the Channel (SAMARCH) project, set out to deliver new information to improve the protection of our threatened wild salmon and sea trout in estuaries and coastal waters, has drawn to a close this week in Southampton.

Part-funded by the Interreg France England Channel Programme and with significant contributions from the Missing Salmon Alliance (MSA), SAMARCH has been a collaboration between scientists and those involved in the protection and management of threatened wild salmon and sea trout with a particular focus on stocks in the rivers of the France England Channel area.

Wild salmon, in particular, are under threat, having declined significantly over the last 40 years. Now, most populations in our rivers are classified as “at risk” by the government.

The reasons for the declines are complex and a combination of climate change effects and more direct man-made issues in freshwater, estuaries and at sea. SAMARCH focused on the more direct anthropogenic impacts.

The effective protection of these fish has often been hampered by a lack of information, evidence and data. SAMARCH aimed to fill this gap. The project was led by key MSA member, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), and brought together a partnership between those involved in the management and research of wild salmon and sea trout on both sides of the Channel.

It undertook a number of research projects to collect information on the behaviour of juvenile and adult salmon and sea trout in the estuaries of four rivers and the Channel’s coastal waters.

Partners in the SAMARCH programme included the GWCT, Environment Agency, WildFish Conservation (formally Salmon & Trout Conservation) plus Exeter and Bournemouth universities and several groups in France.

The Missing Salmon Alliance, founded in 2019, is a group of Britain’s leading conservation-focused organisations including the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Angling Trust with Fish Legal, Fisheries Management Scotland, and the Rivers Trust.

During its lifetime, SAMARCH achieved the following:

  • Collected information on the timings, movements and survival of 900 juvenile salmon and sea trout through the lower river and estuary of 4 rivers.
  • Tagged 314 adult sea trout in 3 rivers and collected data from 84 of them on their marine movements, swimming depths, survival and reasons for mortality at sea.
  • Individually tagged nearly 100,000 juvenile salmon and trout on two rivers to assess marine survival rates
  • Collected data from 24,000 juvenile salmon and trout (called “smolts”) as they migrated out to sea in spring
  • Used molecular genetics to sex 9,500 juvenile salmon and trout
  • Read 10,000 sets of salmon scales for changes in the ages and growth of fish at sea since 1971.
  • Developed genetic data bases for salmon and trout from all rivers flowing into the Channel’s waters
  • Assigned sea trout caught at sea back to their rivers of origin
  • Published 17 scientific papers thus far
  • Two PhD projects
  • 12 MSc projects
  • Over 200 students have received experience over the project’s six years

Day one of the closing conference presented the findings of the project’s research with recommendations of what needs to be changed to better protect our threatened populations of wild salmon and sea trout in estuaries and coastal waters.

Day two provided time for discussions and debate between policy makers, managers, scientists and key stakeholders.

Dylan Roberts, Head of Fisheries for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, who pulled together the SAMARCH application and managed the project, said: “It’s been a fascinating journey into the salty world of these amazing fish, and we have provided a huge amount of new information and recommendations for change for managers.

“One issue which has caught my attention during this journey is that despite our iconic wild salmon and sea trout having swum between the sea and our rivers since the ice age and spending up to two thirds of their life at sea, they are poorly considered in marine protection at all levels. If we are serious about ensuring that these fish survive for future generations, this has to change.