Remember the Burbot?


This article has been contributed by Phil Carey on behalf of Exmoor Rivers and Streams Group (ERaSG), the co-ordinating body for the riparian owner associations; the group, works to promote the wellbeing of Exmoor’s rivers in general. Phil’s article focuses on the salmon, an iconic Exmoor species which is an important indicator of the health of our rivers.

Image courtesy of BBC website

Remember the BurbotLikely now extinct in the UK, this curious freshwater fish is a reminder of what has been lost in a lifetime.

The salmon is (currently) an iconic Exmoor species which provides a very significant sporting socio-economic benefit to the local area.  It is also under increasing pressure from a variety of factors, in continuing population decline, and therefore of growing international concern.  In November 2015, following alarming results from countrywide stock assessments, DEFRA and  the Environment Agency hosted a `Salmon Summit’ –  attended by George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment –  to raise awareness and trigger greater effort amongst the public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and  fisheries’ interests to improve England’s wild salmon stocks.

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Key among the actions put forward for discussion by the Environment Agency were those to improve the salmon’s survival at sea during its transition from migrating young smolt to returning as an adult fish from its distant feeding grounds; improving river habitat via the removal of disruptive artificial barriers, the safeguarding of river flows, and the improvement of water quality; and the possible further regulation of the taking of wild salmon by all means including licensed netting.  Rod anglers already return most of the fish they catch.

photo-1On Exmoor we are fortunate to have maintained fairly good salmon stocks but, because they (and their sister sea trout) are subject to so many threats to their survival throughout their migratory life cycle, it is essential they have opportunities to breed successfully in the National Park unhindered  The Exmoor Rivers and Streams Group and its component river-related and angling associations work closely with the National Park Authority to achieve this and for the wider benefit of other river species.

Outstanding examples of these activities, often based on the support and funding of a very wide range of public agencies and voluntary bodies, include the following:

  • habitat improvement work and extensive monitoring of both fish and invertebrate populations under the River Exe Project;
  • the Headwaters of the Exe Project aimed at improving water quality through changed land management practices;
  • facilitating easier fish passage over weirs on the Exe and Taw river systems.

Although often unseen and overlooked by visitors to the area, the salmon’s continued presence is an important indicator of the health of our rivers, which itself would not be possible without the continued support of landowners, public agencies, and volunteers to carry out the numerous monitoring and habitat improvement activities.

Although it undoubtedly remains true that migratory fish, both salmon and sea trout, are less visible and appreciated than Exmoor’s emblematic mammal species – after all Henry Williamson’s `Tarka’ is better known than his book `Salar the Salmon’ – the National Park would be very much the poorer in all senses for their loss.  This must not be allowed to happen.

Anyone seen a burbot lately?

Click here for more information about Exmoor’s rivers and streams.

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