Two hundred year wait is over
The discovery of young salmon in the River Goyt marks an historic moment for the North West’s improving environment
Salmon are breeding in the Mersey catchment for the first time in living memory, according to ecologists from the Environment Agency.
Environment Agency officers found three young salmon during fish surveys on the River Goyt, a tributary of the Mersey in Stockport—proof that salmon are breeding successfully.
The discovery raises the tantalising prospect of a return to major salmon runs on the Mersey - at least in the long term.
Environment Agency spokesman Oliver Southgate said “ The River Mersey has a fishing history dating back as early as the twelfth century. In the 1700s salmon and sea trout were so common in the Mersey that the fish supplied markets as far away as London.”
Bill Darbyshire, an environmental manager at the EA said “ I don’t think the public realise how big a deal this is. It’s massive. It’s the first time in hundreds of years we’ve seen baby salmon anywhere in the Mersey catchment.”
Only 20 years ago the Mersey was so polluted that few fish could survive in it for long. Since then, however, organisations
including United Utilities, the Environment Agency, the Manchester Ship Canal Company and the Mersey Basin Campaign have worked to bring about a remarkable transformation of the river.
Jeff Lang, United Utilities chief operating officer for wastewater, said “This is wonderful news and a real endorsement of our £1 billion wastewater investment programme throughout the Mersey Basin over the last fifteen years.”
As Bill Darbyshire explained “Salmon tend to like lovely clean rivers so it tells us that the water quality really is improving.” “We appear to be getting to the point where the adult salmon can make it all the way to the breeding grounds at the headwaters of the river.”
One of the main barriers to the had been thought to be the low water quality in the Manchester Ship Canal, a stretch of which the fish must pass through. Although much better than in the past, water quality in the canal remains poor compared with much of the rest of the Mersey system.
Whilst it is now clear that some salmon are making it past the Ship Canal, they still face a difficult journey ahead —many of the Mersey’s tributaries are blocked by weirs that are impassable to migratory fish such as salmon and sea trout. The route up the Mersey to where the young salmon were found is very unusual because it is not blocked by weirs. According to Bill Darbyshire, one of the next big challenges is to build fish passes on these weirs. Without them, there will be no return to major salmon runs. The problem is that fish passes can cost around £100,000 and there is no direct government funding available to pay for them.
But as Bill Darbyshire says “Its now possible to imagine salmon on the Mersey* and it’s tributaries. Imagine salmon in
Manchester. You couldn’t have thought that even ten years ago.”
( Mersey Basin Campaign magazine—Source, Autumn 2005)
Salmon puts in an appearance and causes a stir - in 1989!
Most modern reports put first appearance of Salmon as quite recent but a Salmon was caught in
the River Mersey in 1989.
The 5 lb female caught below Woolston Weir was thought to be the first up the R. Mersey in a very long time. The ‘catch’ - verified by the Environment Agency, was caught by ecologist and founder member of the Woolston Eyes Conservation group - Rob Smith.
The catch hit the headlines at the time, appearing in both local and national papers and the Angling Times!