SALMON and sea trout in Wales are at their lowest levels since records began, according to the latest figures.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has this week published the 2021 salmon stock assessments for 23 principal salmon rivers in Wales (including three cross-border rivers) based upon the latest available data.

Salmon and sea trout (sewin) are both iconic species in Wales, requiring high-quality freshwater habitats to thrive and are a key indicator of the environmental quality of river catchments.

In 2021, Wales recorded the lowest catches of both salmon and sea trout since consistent records began in 1970s. 

The main indicators of the state of salmon stocks are the catches taken by net and rod fisheries.

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The number of salmon caught with rod and line by area of England and Wales (the blue section of each bar represents the percentage of fish released once caught) Picture: NRW

Ben Wilson, principal fisheries officer for NRW, said: “This represents the worst level of salmon and sea trout stock performance ever recorded in Wales and is of major concern, indicating that many stocks are now in serious trouble and at risk of failing to maintain sustainable populations in the future.

“This is a clear indication that we must redouble our efforts to tackle the decline in fish numbers.

“These declines are replicated in most other countries across the North Atlantic distribution of salmon and their European range, where populations have declined over the past few decades.

“This has been most evident for salmon, but recently a sharp decline in Welsh sea trout stocks has also occurred.”

Wales has 23 principal salmon river catchments for which stock assessments are undertaken and reported upon annually.

The results from the latest assessment have shown that 91 per cent, 21 salmon rivers in Wales are now categorised as being 'At Risk' - and the remaining nine per cent 'Probably at Risk'.

No rivers were categorised 'Not at Risk' or 'Probably Not at Risk'.

In addition, Wales has 33 main sea trout rivers.

None of these rivers were classed as ‘Not at Risk’ , four rivers (12 per cent) as 'Probably Not at Risk', eight rivers (24 per cent) as 'Probably at Risk' and 21 rivers (64 per cent) as 'At Risk'.

Mr Wilson said: “In 2020 we introduced catch and release byelaws to help protect for salmon and sea trout across Wales, and we have seen anglers and netters react positively to these."

Since 2020 all salmon caught in Wales must now be released.

Rod fisheries have achieved a release rate across Wales of some 86 per cent of sea trout through both voluntary and mandatory controls.

"Unfortunately, there is no single ‘magic’ solution to protect and re-build vulnerable stocks and we must continue to work on a wide range of initiatives to make our rivers healthier and safer for salmon and sea trout," he said.

“We need to improve river water quality and stop acute and diffuse agricultural pollution,  as well as tackling water industry incidents.

"We must also remove barriers to migration and protect stocks from unsustainable predation.  

“Given the further risk from climate change ensuring that our rivers have clean, cool water to support salmon and trout is essential

“Many partners have important roles to play when stocks are at such low levels and any additions to the wild spawning stocks in our rivers are particularly valuable when stocks are at such low levels.”