Letter: Change needed to save Cree

I note with interest the letters in The Galloway Gazette recently regarding the lack of fish in local rivers.

I have fished the Cree for more than 60 years and have never known a year to be as bad as this. We all know there has been a steady decline of salmon over the years but the river is now in a critical state, and I lay the blame firmly at the door of the Galloway Fisheries Trust (GFT) and the Cree District Salmon Fishery Board (CDSFB).

For approximately 25 years, the GFT (previously the West Galloway Fisheries Trust) has been in existence. It was formed when local riparian owners noted a decline in salmon running the local rivers (the Luce, Cree, Bladnoch and Fleet). It was formed to enhance and promote the health of Atlantic salmon in these rivers.

In those years it has had large amounts of public money, but still the trend is downward. The time has come when we have to ask if we have had value for money. The answer is “no”.

The CDSFB is meant to be the leading light in helping to sort this problem but its hands are tied when the board is made up of at least 50% of the riparian owners wearing two hats: GFT as well as riparian owner.

The tributaries of the Cree have become choked and neglected so fish returning from sea cannot successfully spawn. Silt has been allowed to build up, redds have become inaccessible, burns have become overgrown and so on. Should this not be included in the habitat work which the GFT is meant to be doing? If the current trend continues I predict the Cree will be devoid of salmon within five years.

Having helped the GFT for a number of years – voluntarily, not as a paid member of staff – I used to put in a vast number of hours fishing the last fortnight of the season for broodstock for the Bladnoch hatchery. On one occasion I had caught three fish and put them in a keep net and followed the normal procedure for collection of the fish. To my horror when I returned three days later to try to catch more broodstock I found those I had put in the keep net for collection washed up dead on the bank – still in the net. I know for a fact this was not the only time this happened. I received no thanks whatsoever for this and I am certainly seeing no benefit now.

When planting out fry from the hatchery (when they managed to successfully hatch some) these were always put in at easily accessible places. When I asked about putting fry in other areas I was told the water was too acidic, which amazed me, because it was the same water that was flowing through the areas being stocked with fry. When electro-fishing for broodstock, again the easy accessed pools were the ones that were fished.

Are there any figures available as to how many broodstock were captured each year, the number of eggs taken from them and the number of fry successfully hatched and planted out each season? If so, are they available for public scrutiny? It would make interesting reading!

The GFT places obstacles in the way of volunteer groups, preventing them from trying to make a positive approach to assisting the salmon; the GFT can’t do it and tries to stop those who want to do it. Where is the sense in that? If the river is allowed to become devoid of fish, a large part of Newton Stewart will die alongside it, as jobs will go in the hotel, B&B, restaurant and pub trade. The local tackle shop (already having to diversify) will almost certainly close. For years the GFT has been the tail wagging the dog, but now the dog must be put back in charge. The GFT must step aside and allow others to try saving the Cree.

On a more positive note, I have been working as a volunteer with the recently formed River Cree Hatchery and Habitat Trust and I have seen more action in the past year from it than I have in the past 20 years from the old regime. Hopefully the tide is turning. It will probably not benefit me any but it would be nice to think we could get the river back to its former glory as one of the finest spring run salmon rivers in Scotland.

R B Strachan,

21 Ghyll Crescent, 
Newton Stewart.