River Axe Salmon Boost


The River Axe will receive a welcome boost, this week, when the Environment Agency releases thousands of young salmon into its clear waters.

The re-stocking is part of an ongoing programme to improve salmon numbers on the Axe and follows the successful completion, last year, of a new fish pass at Wilmington Weir near Axminster.

The benefits of re-stocking were clearly demonstrated in 2006 when salmon reared by the Agency returned to the Axe for the first time. The fish had been ‘fin-clipped’ which made them easily identifiable when they returned to their home river to spawn.

The latest batch of 7,000 young fish are the offspring of adult salmon that were taken from the Axe in 2006. The fish were stripped of eggs and milt (sperm) before being returned to the river unharmed. The fertilised eggs were taken to a hatchery in Wales and reared as fry before returning to Devon, last autumn, as ‘fingerlings’.

Salmon SmoltThe fish have been kept over the winter in a ‘holding pond’ to grow into smolts. At around 5 inches long, they are now ready to be released into a tributary of the Axe. The rearing of fish in this way ensures a higher survival rate than would occur naturally.

Like many salmon rivers, the Axe has a Salmon Action Plan that pinpoints the main threats to local salmon stocks and helps the Agency decide how best to improve fish numbers.

One of the biggest threats is the silting up of spawning grounds. Fine soil particles washed into the river from surrounding farmland can clog gravel beds and reduce the breeding success of salmon by preventing eggs from hatching. The Environment Agency is working closely with local land owners and farmers to tackle siltation as part of the Axe Project that includes various habitat improvement measures.

Anglers are helping conserve salmon stocks by supporting a catch and release scheme that operates throughout the fishing season and increases the number of adult fish available to breed.

‘The new fish pass at Wilmington Weir has opened up some prime spawning grounds on the Axe. The re-stocking will give an additional boost by increasing the number of fish available to breed. Once in the river, the young salmon should benefit from the improved habitat and conditions with more surviving to adulthood,’ said Andy Locke for the Environment Agency.