2018 Buckland Professor
The Tweed Foundation’s senior biologist, Dr Ronald Campbell, gave his first lecture on the history of Salmon management in the British Isles – as part of his year as the Buckland Professor. Ronald now works part-time for The Foundation enabling him to undertake other areas of fisheries research, which is a passion.
The first lecture was held at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and entitled “The evolution of science and management of wild Atlantic Salmon: past, present and future”, with speakers Dr Ronald Campbell – focusing on the way fisheries management has evolved, and Dr John Armstrong, a trustee of The Buckland Foundation and Head of the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory, Marine Scotland Science, explaining the current position and the techniques now being employed in Salmon management .
Dr Campbell’s lecture was on the history of salmon management in the British Isles and how that has been informed (and mis-informed) by the knowledge of the day. The first part of the talk was on the early legislation administering salmon fisheries, which for Plymouth was English legislation from the 13th century to 1861 when all existing laws were repealed and a system of river board Conservators set up. The confirmation, by rearing experiments in the 1830s, that parr were part of the life-cycle of the salmon had a major impact on management as it showed that there was a one to three year freshwater phase in the life of salmon and that they did not smolt and go to sea in the same Spring that they hatched – which had been the general (though not universal) opinion previously. This required new legislation as the old had only mentioned salmon adults, fry and smolts. The second part of the talk was on how the discovery of how to breed salmon artificially in hatcheries in the mid 19th century seemed to offer a new hope for the salmon, which had undergone a massive decline in the 1850s throughout its range (this decline was actually of grilse, salmon were much less affected). However, the use of hatcheries and stocking was controversial from the start, some saying that better management and protection of wild stocks and their rivers was the best option, others that hatcheries made the conservation of wild stocks and the protection of rivers from pollutions and obstructions unnecessary, the fisheries could be maintained purely through stocking. By the end of the 19th century though, questions were being asked as to why salmon were still declining in the British Isles, despite all the stocking that that been undertaken, and there were million egg capacity hatcheries on the Spey and the Helmsdale by that time. A Royal Commission on salmon set up in 1901 examined the question thoroughly, especially the great claims being made for the success of hatcheries in Canada, the U.S.A. and Germany and found these were not valid as there were other measures, such as the restriction of fisheries, being undertaken at the same time as the stocking. Yet another government inquiry in 1932 found no evidence still for the value of stocking and recommended a very large scale experiment on a river to settle the matter once and for all, but though the details of this were worked out, government cut-backs meant it did not take place. The whole situation changed in 1937 when work in New Zealand showed that fertilisation in the wild was actually highly efficient, well over 90%, though the previous assumption was that only 10 or 20% of eggs got fertilised and that most eggs were therefore “wasted”. This belief, for which no actual evidence had ever been produced, was the main foundation for people in the 19th and early 20th centuries thinking that spawning grounds were “empty” and therefore that stocking would be beneficial. That the spawning areas were actually well stocked by wild reproduction was confirmed in the 1950s and 1960s when electric-fishing surveys started. These two new pieces of knowledge showed that the whole foundation for hatchery work, the belief that most eggs were wasted and that therefore the nursery areas were “empty” and needed stocking had been false and, in fact, all that the massive time and effort put in to hatcheries and stocking from the 1850s onwards had done had been to over-stock already fully-stocked areas, which explains why no one could find the increases in adult returns from their stocking work that they expected.
Ronald will be undertaking several lectures around the country over the next few months and will be giving his Buckland Lecture in the Borders at 7pm on Monday, 3rd December 2018 at The Tweed Foundation’s base at Drygrange.
The Buckland Foundation is based at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Frank Buckland was a Victorian naturalist who was amongst the first to realise that making the most of the resources of the sea required a comprehensive understanding of the biology of the main commercial species and of the world they inhabited.