About the Project
2012 will herald a first for the Ribble and the Rivers Trust. For a number of years the idea of having our very own fish tagging scheme had reverberated without getting off the ground. Owing to the invention of our trustee Dave Wilmot, we will be undertaking a tracking of spring salmon on their upward migration of the River Ribble. Anecdotally, ‘springers’ are known for their limited run upriver although this was not always the case. Since an outbreak of the fish disease UDN (Ulcerative Dermal Necrosis) depleted stocks nationwide mid last century, the Ribble retained a small steadfast run after healthy numbers had been previously reported during the 1940s (Houghton, 1942). Now we wish to learn more about these fish so that we may propagate their numbers, and with very restricted funds to do so, it is crucial that this is done through specifically targeted habitat improvements which we are certain will yield results. To achieve this will require greater understanding of their migratory routes and spawning locations to be most effective. this will then tie into our various improvement projects on the catchment such as the Catchment Restoration Fund projects (http://www.ribbletrust.org.uk/projects/diffusing-the-issue/, http://www.ribbletrust.org.uk/projects/limestone-ribble/ and http://www.ribbletrust.org.uk/projects/colne-water/), and keeping rivers cool as well as feeding information into the Ribble Life Project. This will require our greater understanding of their migratory routes and spawning locations to be most effective.
Whilst this is our primary goal, the activity will provide a unique opportunity to monitor levels of angling effort on our targeted fish. Each salmon containing a transponder will be marked externally with a tag to reveal them to any angler who captures it. As always we are reliant on your support and for anglers to notify us of their captures. We strongly appeal to anglers to return these fish too, because this will help to prolong the study. Over the longer term we hope to give springers the best chance of successfully spawning in the Ribble Catchment. To do this will also require an accurate knowledge of the levels of angling effort upon this stock and inform our local clubs.
A project team was assembled in November 2011 comprising of our partners and sponsors within the Environment Agency and the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association. This team is now driving the project forwards.
Our Progress so far…
18th April 2013
Clitheroe Advertiser Press Release:
SCUBA diving trainers, Reefers and Wreckers of Clitheroe, have teamed up with the Ribble Rivers Trust in a pursuit that turned the heads of Sunday strollers. Walkers were greeted by the unfamiliar sight of wet-suits and snorkels in river between Sawley and Edisford last weekend. Donating their own time and skills, the divers performed a ‘search and recover’ of the Ribble depths to seek out a series of fish tags.
The tags were originally used to track the movements of spring salmon as part of a conservation study being undertaken by the Trust. The three-year study has seen local angling groups and landowners help identify where these fish go to spawn. The mercurial ‘springers’ have reduced in number over recent years prompting the fact finding mission. The salmon, which naturally die after spawning, have dispensed the tags and these could potentially be re-used rather than lost to the river bed.
Using a combination of the Trust’s tracking gear and a team of five SCUBA divers, the river bed was tirelessly searched by eye. Recaptured tags will now be re-used over the remaining two years of the project. Despite the gusting winds and driving rain, the day was hailed a success that will lead to the collaborative benefit of the river in future. There was even time to retrieve one novel treasure at Edisford, an old Victorian iron!
Gareth Jones, Fisheries Scientist at the Trust said, “The day was a great success thanks to the good will, co-ordination and desire of the divers, angling clubs, Environment Agency and landowners on the day. All have been pivotal so far and we hope to rely on their continuing help.”
Reefers and Wreckers (www.reefersandwreckers.com) have been involved in a range of conservation works, helping to reduce litter problems in a range of aquatic environments and in making a generous donation to the Trust. By forming a new link with the RRT, they hope to contribute to the improvement of their local watercourses.
20th March 2013
The recent flood conditions have yet to bring any fish through the trap with no recent movements registering on the counter. The trap has been set over the course of the last weekend and in to the middle of the week during which, recorded temperatures did not exceed 4 degC, presumably due to ice and snow melt. The question marks raised about when we commence trapping appear to favour a later start particularly given the dry conditions. In preparation for the first springer’s to arrive a new monitoring station has been positionned which will enable us to monitor their early movements following trapping. For our second year we will redeploy our kit to keep a closer track on the tagged fish. This will also help to hone our active tracking work.
The low water has presented a good opportunity to locate and try to retrieve the radio tags used during the first year. Their retreival represents a financial opportunity to recapture tags which could be reused to save money next year. All tags have been traced following down movements. Of the twenty-six tags implanted last year, thirteen have been retrieved, three will be unobtainable and ten remain in the river. The ten tags remain in deep sections of the main river which we have been unable to obtain in our chest waders and we will be appealing to clubs who have the associated waters as to whether they would consider allowing a small dive team to continue the search underwater. The diagram below presents that the tags are located down river.
In bringing our first year to close, and for those who were unable to attend our recent salmon tracking open evening, we have produced the following flyer which provides a brief overview of the findings of our first year. The outcomes of this where described in my last posting and it will certainly be interesting to learn whether the same observations are made over the coming year. Surely, we won’t encounter the same river levels as last year?
11th March 2013
It has been sometime since the blog was last updated but this has corresponded with some busy times for the project. The findings of the first year were relayed to a full house at the Swan and Royal in Clitheroe on the 21st February. If you were unable to attend a summary flyer of the main results can be found on our website. The event was well received with some great support for the project shown. The main outcome of this first year was undoubtedly the identification of spawning locations from 15 springers. After remaining almost dormant throughout the course of the summer, 12 springers pushed upwards from mid-October before spawning in the main river in mid-late November. The main spawning locations were a series of main river riffles above Sawley and up through to Arnford. Three tags were also discovered in middle Ribble tributaries namely, Long Preston, Skirden and Stock beck. This information will be and is now being used to inform where the RRT undertake remedial works in the hope of increasing the survivorship of the spring run.
The second year of the project is now underway with us looking to put into place the improvements outlined from our January review. We recommenced trapping on the 11th February to no avail. The recent low water has restricted our use of the trap to just three days during which time there has been little or no movement through (either in terms of captures or movements over the counter). In preparation for 2013 we have been retrieving the tags from spent fish and most of our tags are below West Bradford now. We will be continuing to walk the banks in search of them whilst we know at least one of our tags is in live fish last seen down at Ribchester early on the year. It will be interesting to learn of whether we have our first returner in the times ahead. As an improvement on 2012 we will be looking to reduce the handling time when tagging the fish by ceasing dart tagging. Instead, we will be tipping the aerial with a coated orange paint. Further direction on these plans can be found on this page.
16th December 2012
The tracking team has been out regularly throughout the back end of the season through to spawning with seventeen fish being accounted for. The frost in early to mid-November really got these fish going with a number of sudden and large scale upward movements being observed. Before this time movement was comparably restricted. It is now believed that the majority of these fish have spawned after witnessing their activity firsthand and in close proximity to strong signal strengths upon our mobile tracking units. The presence of large numbers of redds within both the main stem, and to a lesser degree in tributaries, has also confirmed this. Three of the seventeen fish have been recorded in small becks with the majority appearing to spawn in main river. The post spawning carcass of one of the three was discovered last week and the tag retrieved. During the hectic last few weeks the importance of the fixed monitoring stations has been realised as they have informed where amongst the 860 square miles to set out. This has not been without its tribulations with unexpected losses in power and breakages in our circuitary owing to the elements. Running repairs and calibrations have proven vital and I would thank Vince Edmondson for his expertise and response to such issues.
It is expected that more post spawning carcasses will be found washing up on the banks in the weeks to come and as we follow the fish to the end of their journey. If you should find any of tagged carcasses whilst out on the river then we would be grateful if you would get in touch to let us know on your return home.
Now that we are beginning to reach the end of the first year we will be reviewing the project in January leading into an open evening event. This will be held on the 21st February at the Swan and Royal in Clitheroe. Details will follow shortly.
Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to wish all supporters of the project and readers of the blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I also offer my personal thanks to all of the project board, our dedicated volunteers and landowners that have all positively contributed to enable us to reach this point.
11th September 2012
The shortage in recent updates reflects a busy period of electrofishing surveys with all attempts being made to utilise dry weather periods. A supporting cast of active trackers have given their spare time to maintain pace and leads us in to the business end of the season. Despite the wet summer the behaviour of our tagged fish has been relatively benign. The large scale movements first encountered seemingly reducing with time. Since my last blog update, only a limited number of short reach-scale movements have been noted with most bedding down throughout of the river (see the updated schematic below). In preparation for the spawning run the re-calibration of fixed-monitoring stations and added capacity building has now been undertaken. This work has incorporated the observation of signal strength patterns emitted from beeper tags to ascertain fine scale movements from the fish in-river and the results have been positive. All this helps to improve data acuity.
In the last eight weeks, two further fish have been lost to the project leaving nineteen tagged fish in-river from the original twenty six. With increasing tales of salmon captures in recent weeks and expected increases in angler efforts likely to ensue, the project is reaching it’s moving into its busiest phase and is more reliant than ever on the co-operation of anglers in support.
8th July 2012
Since the last blog, the tagged fish have remained relatively sedentary during a period of exceptionally heavy rainfall and high river levels. This is reflected in the first of our updates to the schematic below. It is worth noting that the locations correspond to those at the start of last week and whilst we continue to track throughout the current flood.
Of the tagged fish that have recently moved, their dispersal has been over a limited distance and in multiple directions through the mid-Ribble area. The recent stormy weather has also created havoc with large amounts of spurious data being recorded by our data loggers. This can be deceptive as readings may register as tag IDs that at first glance appear genuine. Fortunately, these are readily discernible with the passage of the storm and some careful intervention.
With the onset of our electrofishing programme the project has now moved into a transitory stage. The involvement of the wider project team has provided the necessary cover to service all of our data logging stations. After some Excel-induced headaches, we look to be getting there with thanks offered to Dave Wilmot and Vince Edmondson in particular. The low degree of movement has enabled us to take the time to calibrate our fixed monitoring stations to ensure that they are working effectively.
During this time we have also received reports of the first captures of tagged fish, with four reports received to date. These have been in the middle of survey area whilst catch reports further up the system being slim. Their discovery spells the importance of reporting any such catches back to the Trust. Please may we appeal to Club Secretaries to spread the message to their members to report in their catches or sightings of tagged fish?
There was also a report of a natural mortality of an UNTAGGED salmon on the river which was retrieved with damage to the inside of the mouth. The cause of this was not established. Following our May reports, we sought the opinions of a scientific leader in the field of fish migration who suggested the theory over the most likely causes of mortalities observed were natural: The combination of sudden water temperature rise, decreased oxygen saturation and likely bacterial infection, which has been experienced on other migration studies. Although the current weather seems cool, there was a sudden rise in water temperatures during the end of May which saw a rise of 9 degrees Celsius in little over a week. In additon to the support of friends at the Environment Agency and other Rivers Trusts we are being guided and supported throughout this exploratory year and we shall continue to share in our experiences.
19th June 2012
Trapping for 2012 has officially come to a close with the passage of our deadline and twenty-six fish tagged for the first year. The last of the springers was tagged on the last major flood of May prior to the prolonged dry spell. During this flood the smallest springer to date was captured and released offset against the largest at ~24lbs. The last trapping also heralded the appearance of an early running sea trout. With trapping now brought to close we have taken the opportunity to review this element of the project and capture as many improvements as possible whilst they remain fresh in the mind. Since the first trapping in mid-April the people and process involved has developed no end with the level of fish handling reduced to the bare minimum.
Interest from the river bank has increased as our active tracking activities have escalated with questions ranging from ‘How do the transponders work?’ to ‘What’s in that pool over there?’. Whilst we have attempted to answer as many as possible it has been impossible to foresee the level of interest from not just the local angling community but from the general public. Therefore, to provide more public information two proposed maps were drafted using the last known locations. These were put to the RFCA at last Wednesday’s annual meeting. The numbers relate to the locations of fish following of the last major flood (10th of June) and are not intended to be a ‘live’ map. A straw poll opted for the map below which provides their locations in relation to Waddow Hall in Clitheroe. The coloured bars show different sections of the river, but are not based on physical landmarks, and are not to scale. Those to the left of Waddow weir represent the lower Ribble with those to the right representing areas above. This currently demonstrates that we have a good spread of fish above our trapping site in the mid-upper Ribble. In a couple of instances we have observed tagged fish dropping below the weir at Waddow only to move back through the trap. From here on in we will keep you updated of tagged fish movements through update of this map. We hope this will be well received and shall be glad of your feedback on this.
Come the back end, the project as a whole will be reviewed for its first year and we will be looking for angler’s input via the RFCA’s forum down the line. Over the weeks ahead, my own attentions will be turning towards our annual electrofishing survey programme and so, different faces from the RRT and EA will begin to emerge. However, if you do see us out and about on the river please feel free to ask us any questions about this or any of our current projects.
22nd May 2012
Following the flood of the 10th May our trapping activities extended through to the end of the last week. The flood was the largest seen since the project began (see below) and during this period a dozen fish were tagged and released. Subsequently, the tagging elements of the project are now within a hair’s breadth of completion for this year. Meanwhile, the tracking of the tagged fish has continued with the recent flood eliciting the largest collective movement to date. This has kept the active monitoring teams on their toes in maintaining their whereabouts to seek their future spawning locations.
With the river level now falling our attentions have turned towards other areas of the project, namely the servicing of our fixed monitoring sites. Renovation work at one of our site has meant that we have re-situated and re-installed our hardware. A data logger was also recently returned to Canada following some minor configuration issues that the manufacturer has since resolved. Gladly, both stations have been reinstalled with no loss of integrity to the data collected.
Underpinning our trapping, tracking and installation work is a new system of data management. Since they were first switched on, our data loggers have generated over a third of a million rows of data. Making sense of these huge rafts of data has been no mean feat and with the guidance of Mike Parfitt, of the EA Wales, this has been achieved. This means that we can quickly view the tracking histories for each tagged fish in future and reduce the amount of data we need to store without reducing its quality. Mike has undertaken radio tracking studies down on the River Taff and has been of great assistance. Our thanks are offered to him.
Last week, two tagged fish were reported dead by local anglers. As a result an autopsy was held, overseen by the Environment Agency, which found there was no causal link between the trapping activities and the death of the fish. This is the first instance of this kind to happen during our investigations, however we will continue to monitor the situation closely.
4th May 2012
A brief update following on from last evening’s Ribble Fisheries Consultative Group meeting: In response to some criticisms for being too forthcoming and too hesitant to publish information about the project, a straw poll was undertaken amongst those present. The vote was cast as to whether or not the locations of tagged should fish be disclosed to interested anglers and groups. This included the possibility of generalising the information to return numbers of fish present in a river section. The attendees unanimously rejected this idea, so for the foreseeable future the project team aim to retain this information. If you are by the river bank, please feel free to ask any (other!) questions you may like?
26th April 2012
The re-branding of the Trust’s 4×4 has brought about a good opportunity to report back on what has been the busiest month for the project team. March’s frustrations were soon a distant memory following the arrival of the kit in early April. This quickly propelled us towards the installation of our fixed monitoring equipment on the bankside at nine of our intended ten locations. All within a week of receipt! Arriving from Canada via our partner’s (Environment Agency) Preston office, the project team received a brief crash course supported by our suppliers Biotrack and Lotek to quickly get to grips with the hardware. The installations have been unique to individual sites requiring independent assessment in order to fine-tune this gear to account for radio signal attenuation and interference. All of the related landowners have been very accommodating in bringing us brews and letting us drill aerial brackets on to their property! Despite the expense of the kit, completing the job to a professional standard and finish has required a further £1500 worth of outlay. Typically we have scrimped and scraped and wherever possible, utilised local independent stores for this ancillary kit. Similarly, the practical skills and equipment donations of project team members, their wives and supporters deserves special mention for their contribution in maintaining the momentum during a time where river levels were conducive towards tagging. The floy tag tool whittlers and custom salmon carrier stitchers know who they are.
So, on to the tagging…. Nobody could have anticipated the successful start experienced. Twelve of the targeted thirty fish for our first year have been tagged with a radio transponder over four (non-consecutive) days. Those captured have been 11lb to 25lb in weight, highly silvered, deep bodied multi-sea-winter fish. To date, all have been returned to the water in healthy condition under the auspices of our EA Welfare Officers, Mark Rudd and Neil Handy. Subsequently, the fish have been successfully detected via our fixed monitoring stations and active tracking equipment. Whilst the team has been duty bound not to reveal the precise locations of the fish, even in these initial stages, we are getting a good handle on the fishes’ behaviour with some surprising results. Dispersal both up and down the river has been recorded with some exceeding distances of 8 miles over the brief surveillance period. The onus will increasingly shift towards active tracking activities and maintaining a handle on fish as they spread through the catchment. We also hope to provide some more news on where fish are moving in the months ahead. The level of active tracking activity has been limited to date and yet, there has been a healthy interest and a few quizzical looks from the general public. Being by the river regularly has given us a good opportunity to hear the viewpoints of regular river users and capture these under our Ribble Life objectives.
To angler readers of this blog, who may capture these fish, I would encourage you to get in touch with us to report these in. Whilst this will help us continue our surveillance, we have also incentivised the return and reporting of tagged fish by offering free fishing on the Trust’s passport beats next year. All individuals reporting their captures will be entered to the hat to win a day’s free fishing. For more details follow the link here. Furthermore, if you encounter any club members that have not heard about our project please spread the word about our project.
16th March 2012
My latest post brings news of both anticipation and frustration. We are poised to take receipt of the first batch of tracking equipment from the manufacturer any time now. Our project team is busily paving the way towards our first tagging by planning the hardware installation and acquiring the ancillaries. Landowners and angling clubs spanning the length of our study area progressively reached. This is no mean feat given that we will track the springers along forty miles of river. If you are aware of any clubs or individuals that have not heard of our plans and fall into this category, I would urge you to get in touch.
Whilst it has seemed odd to pass on details of the project without first tagging a fish, a communications brief was circulated around the clubs last month. This was in the hope that as many Ribble anglers are informed of our plans and encouraged to report (and return) captures of tagged fish. Interest in the project has been far and wide and without much publicity. Yet, we are keen to get up and running before we invite this on board. If you are an angler and have yet to read our brief then please see this below. The brief may also be viewed in some of the club houses along the Ribble. Again, any clubs that may find it useful to post the brief on a club noticeboard should get in touch and we should be happy to supply you with laminate copy.
All but all of the angling clubs have consented to supporting our activities and without this we would be truly scuppered. A round of thanks is due to each who has taken on the mantle of informing their club members and landowners. Likewise, we have met with many landowners and small businesses for the first time, whose intrigue in the project and good nature has culminated in their support. We do not wish to diminish the faith shown in the project and will adopt all practical measures to avoid disruption to landowner or angler’s activities.
With the anecdotal tales of spring fish now entering the river we are eager to get started……
31st January 2012
A belated Happy New Year on behalf of all of us on the Tracking Project Team. Things have moved up a gear since the last post with all of the tracking hardware now on order with our Canadian manufacturers and the semblance of a project that is underway. The arrival of the equipment is anticipated to be mid-March further to the arrival of synthetic alpha quartz crystals in Canada! Owing to the generosity of Len and Mary-Beth Morris, the Ribble Fisheries Consultative and Lancashire Fly we now have the initial funds to progress. Our gratitude and warm thanks is offered to them. This now provides us with the platform to start up whilst funding will be needed to keep the project moving along. If you feel that your club may be able to contribute then please get in touch.
Since the turn year we have been scoping out locations to monitor the river for tagged fish. Whilst we cannot say too much about them, we have liaised with many of the landowners to seek access permissions and will be continuing in this vain. I have been a taken by level of enthusiasm shown by these individuals and hope the same positivity will be extended along the banks of the Ribble in support of our handheld tracking efforts.
The team met last Friday to run through the finer details around the trapping and tracking exercises. Courtesy of the Environment Agency’s Ops Delivery Team, the fish trap was serviced earlier that week. As the sky greyed in the afternoon and the hailstorm teemed down, conditions were optimal to pay a visit! A brief role play, led by the Environment Agency’s Rebecca Tinsley, enabled our willing new operatives to learn how to reset the trap and consider the practicalities involved. All were in agreement that these opportunities would be vital if we are to become operable in the coming weeks. We hope that a balanced team of experience and committed people can be reactive in capturing a healthy sample of this year’s spring run.
Greater details are now filtering out via our angling contact Fred Higham in to the associated angling press and will be across the clubs as the new season approaches. Hence, look out for us in Fred’s article in Trout and Salmon each month. We are continuing to seek a special type of volunteer for a range of activities associated not only to tracking but for all of our projects for 2012. It is increasingly likely that we need to respond to suitable river conditions and therefore are unable to plan too far in advance for the tracking. Therefore, volunteers that are reactive whatever the conditions will be particularly important to us. If you feel that you fit this bill then please contact us through the usual channels.
19th December 2011
Commencing with our plans led to a search for the correct tracking equipment and development of a new project team. The former has been based upon past experiences leading to our trialling some acoustic equipment after visiting a related EA project on the River Mersey. Unfortunately this did not yield the results we would had hoped for and thus paved a way north to visit our partners on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire. Here, Dr Lorraine Hawkins has successfully led a successful radio tracking scheme delivered via collaborative partnership working. Using local ghillies to capture fish and implant transponders they have tracked fish since 2008 to inform decision-makers on the length of the angling season (see http://www.riverdeetracking.com/ for more details).
One broken Vauxhall Corsa and 19 hours driving later it felt good to say that I had brought home some knowledge of radio tracking salmon and of its practical tribulations. By using a series of tags located on the river bed I was able to hear how transponders were detected via increasingly audible bleeps on receiving devices. Stronger beeps were detectable when nearing the transponder, helping to pinpoint their locations down to within tens of metres. Once detected from the roadside, the ‘detection team’ wellied to walk the river bank armed with a handheld aerial. Within a few simple button pushes and paces upriver we were able to pinpoint the fish and recorded their whereabouts. These details were even conveyed online via their web-based tracking map! Whilst we will not be replicating a map, it was great to see how the operation could translate to our plans for the Ribble springers. The trip provided chance to acquire some trial equipment and I’m glad to report that this proved more successful than our first.
With the support of our partners at the Environment Agency, the RFCA through Fred Higham and trustees Dave Wilmot and Vince Edmondson, we will be acquiring the new radio tagging kit for 2012. Fish tagging is scheduled to begin in February and once in place our team on the ground volunteers will begin tracking efforts until the end of the year. Their efforts won’t just stop there though, as there will be further opportunities to monitor invasive species, otters and incidences of pollution whilst on site. The former activity will directly inform our INNS (Invasive Non-native Species) Project whilst we plan to repeat the project in two further years. All told, there will be a lot of work to meet our ambitious plans and if you would be interested in lending your support we would be very happy to hear from you. Contact me (Gareth Jones) on 01200 444452 or email me at email@example.com.