Many thanks to Richard Wilson for sharing his thoughts on salmon decline with North Devon Angling News. Check out Fish rise on Substack for more of Richards writing. This months article is very apt considering the dramatic decline we are seeing on West Country Salmon populations.

Atlantic Salmon: The Brink of Extinction?

A Red List Endangered Species.

River Ghost

Salmon are in trouble. Ask anyone involved and they’ll tell you how bad it is and who’s to blame (it’s always someone else).

It’s so bad that the Atlantic Salmon is now officially an IUCN Red List Endangered Species in the UK. In Ireland, the population has collapsed by 80% in 20 years. Other places and other salmon species are not far behind, and the word extinction really has entered the debate.

We can see this decline by watching the way the money flows. Just about everywhere the value is slowly ebbing out of salmon fishing, almost no matter how or where we do it, and from mega-trawler to rod & line.

Sure, we can remove dams and nets, replant catchments and clean up pollution to help mitigate the decline, but they’re not enough.

This crisis is universal, which is of note, because not everywhere has nets or fish farms or pollution or management corruption. Indeed, some have none of the above, yet their salmon are in trouble.

One of Scotland’s most exclusive rivers, the Helmsdale, used to be a place where fishing was accessed via dead men’s shoes. Royalty graced its banks and the management was so discrete as to be almost uncontactable. A rod on the Helmsdale was a mark of status. Now the Helmsdale has gaps to fill and is promoting itself in upmarket magazines. It has no pollution and no fish farms to blame. Something else is going wrong.

What salmon everywhere have in common is rising water temperatures. This is happening both at sea and in rivers. High temps impact badly on salmon at every stage of their lifecycle, from squeezed and collapsing ocean food chains to overheated redds and undernourished smolts failing to make the journey back to sea. The salmon lifecycle makes them especially vulnerable to warming water.

This is real and it’s happening everywhere. Check out the Missing Salmon Alliance for a thorough breakdown of these combined threats. Their rallying call is Cold, Clean Water – which is as succinct a summary of the salmon’s plight as you can find anywhere.

And it’s not just salmon: Entire food chains are wobbling. In recent years 10 billion snow crabs have gone missing from Alaskan waters and the most plausible explanation is starvation in warming seas. A few years ago 100m Alaskan cod went AWOL for the same reason: Warmth increases fish and crustacean metabolic rates, so they have to eat more just to maintain body weight. At the same time the warm water suppresses growth in their food supply. So they need more, get less and starve. It’s becoming a regular feature of ocean life.

Worse, the increase in metabolic rate may also increase salmon’s need for oxygen beyond the ability of their gills to fully deliver. If so, that too would inhibit growth and reproduction.

To understand why, we need to do some time travelling because today’s benign weather wasn’t always a given. Our ancestors had a much tougher time than us.

About 17,000 years ago the world was in the depths of the last Ice Age. We humans scraped a marginal existence as hunter-gatherers. Life was freezing and the world was a whopping 5c colder than nowadays.

A graph showing the growth of ice age ends Description automatically generated
Global Temperatures from mid-Ice Age. With thanks to Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M University.

We hit our stride about 10k years ago when the climate warmed and delivered a sweet spot that stuck. We could sow crops, expect to harvest them and feed our expanding population. Great civilisations formed. We could also hunt and fish for nature’s seemingly boundless resources such as the herbivores that roamed the plains and the fish and whales in our seas. The post-glacial world was rich in opportunity.

This is the Holocene Era: The time when the Earth and its climate came good for humans. There were blips along the way: a few major volcanic eruptions that caused cooling and short-term global famines, for example. But since the end of the Ice Age, Planet Earth’s climate has been stable and very hospitable.

Then came the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of the fossil fuel era. We are about 250 years into it now – the red zone below.

The Carbon Era Temperature Spike (closer to 1.4c now): Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M

Current predictions are that temperatures will likely peak at about +2-3C, with growing confidence that it will be a lot closer to 2C than 3C. The hoped-for 1.5C target is surely a lost cause.

We have understood the basic science behind this since the mid-1800s. It’s not difficult – excess CO2 is pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere. We can measure it very accurately. We know the science is good and that what’s happening now is unfolding as scientists predicted it would (my first TV report saying the Holocene could unwind was nearly 30 years ago, and I was in Antarctica reporting established science, not breaking new ground). The scientists even got the speed of change about right, although as a layman I’m shocked by what we’re seeing now:

NASA animation of global temperature change since 1880:

We’re hitting temperatures not seen for 125,000 years and it’s going to get worse. When we finally stop pumping out CO2, we will revert to a long, slow cooling trajectory (business as usual). It will take thousands of years to get back to where we were just 250 years ago ( NASA ). That’s one heck of a hangover from our CO2 party that we’re giving to future generations.

It’s not all bad news (below). Climate scepticism is fading, clearing the way for better political engagement. The graphic below shows that only the 10% or so on the margin are still drinking neat Clorox. This group are mostly hard-core conspiracy theorists and have bucket lists of competing dire consequences they expect to suffer. You’d think climate doomsterism would be right up their victim-centric street, but I don’t think they will ever shift their position by much. I suppose they believe that one day they’ll be proved right and they won’t be the only ones dying of vaccine-preventable diseases or in G3/4/5 radio mast attacks.

The remaining 90% of us are increasingly concerned about climate change. The dial is shifting.

Tracking the decline of Climate Denial 2013-2023

So where does this leave the salmon?

The answer is worrying: We can do a great deal to adapt to and mitigate the impacts, but the bottom line is that we’re stuck in a pattern of decline that won’t end until we tackle the root problem. The Earth is getting too warm and it’s happening too fast for the fish to adapt.

Ask an Atlantic Salmon. If you can find one …

Cold Comfort in a Polar Vortex And the climate deniers reducing global warming.

Many thanks once again to Richard Wilson for sharing his thoughts with North Devon Angling news for more of Fishrise click the link below :-

Cold Comfort in a Polar Vortex

And the climate deniers reducing global warming.

Real Men, Real Cold, Real Fishing and Fake Global Warming?

Extreme weather in the form of a Polar Vortex is hitting the USA, Canada and Northern Europe. I see that while most sensible people are staying indoors, the climate deniers are out in force declaring the death of global warming. One moment it was all thaw and uninsurable ice-fishing tournaments, now they say it’s too cold for the delicate greenies to go outside.

So are they right? On the one hand, they insist climate change is all bull-feathers while on the other it’s ‘Do you remember the good old days when we had real winters’? To try and steer a path through the confusion, here’s a handy little cartoon strip that explains what’s happening:

Zero degrees F = -20C. ©xkcd  

So nostalgia wins. Winters really aren’t what they were back in the day.

Which begs a question: If the climate is getting warmer, and it is, then what does the future hold? After all, these same climate deniers are both stridently pro- their nostalgic old-cold winters and pro-coal, which is where a lot of the warming CO2 pollution come from.

Well, the good news is that our prospects for containing the worst excesses of climate change are improving. We are fast approaching peak carbon (maybe this year, maybe next) and coal is looking a bit, well, limp.

The world’s green energy generation increased by an astonishing 50% last year (IEA). Solar accounted for three-quarters of this. In the US, utility solar power is expected to grow by 75% in the next two years while coal is in steep decline.

Consider also that the amount of energy each of us consumes has fallen sharply. Everything from fridge-freezers and washing machines to TVs, cars and keeping our houses warm is more efficient. We might have more gadgets, but they consume a fraction of the power of what went before.

They may not know it, but the carbon footprint of climate change deniers is shrinking – so give them a pat on the back. Well done! They’re doing their bit (non-consensual wokesterism – whatever next?).

The global flight of investment capital out of coal and fossil fuels and into renewable energy is becoming a stampede. This is not about greenie sentiment. Renewables have plummeted in price while their technologies have become more and more efficient. Simultaneously, the huge and long-term investment needed for new coal mines and oil refineries is very risky. Would you sink $5-15 billion into an oil refinery with increasingly uncompetitive pricing and diminishing demand? How will you get your money back?

The IEA expects a 250% growth in global green power production over the next 4 years. The COP target is 300% by 2030, so it’s starting to look doable.

And while we are now certain to overshoot the 1.5C warming set at the Paris COP, 2C or thereabouts is looking achievable. This is better than many expected, and will still be disruptive. But, even so, we can do a lot to adapt to 2C, whereas the 5C+ we were heading for would have been calamitous.

We’re getting there. To be sure there’s a lot of work to do – but I’ll back us to get it done.  The direction of travel is set, King Coal is fading and the denialists are coming along for the ride (shh…). Just follow the money.

With thanks to Not the End of the World’ by the brilliant Hannah Ritchie. A great read about positive outcomes. Thanks also to Andrew Kessler for using the cartoon before me – which is how I found it.

SEASONS and CHANGING TIMES – A few thought from the waters edge.

Autumn seems to be setting in early this year with the salmon fishing seasons end almost upon us and no prospect of wetting a line with heavy rain bringing a big spate that has come too late to save what has been a lacklustre season as a result of low flows for much of the year. On the plus side the swollen rivers will enable salmon and sea trout to forge upriver and with no anglers or nets to impede their progress they will hopefully successfully spawn ensuring fish for future seasons.

Autumn colours are already showing on many trees on higher ground; martins and swallows are glimpsed as they head south battling the autumn gales as they start their epic journey. In a few weeks they will be swooping over a different landscape in Africa with elephants, lion and wildebeest instead of red deer, foxes and badgers. Each year these natural migrations take place and to some extent we take it all for granted expecting it all to continue year on year. Sadly things don’t always go on and we should watch with concern as nature faces troubled times. I read today of a threat to the Horse Chestnut trees and a shortage of conkers. Ash die back threatens to decimate our woodland.

As I drive around North Devon I am dismayed at the number of houses being built. Have we the infrastructure to cope? How will all of this impact upon the natural landscape and wildlife of North Devon? My recently published book “I Caught A Glimpse” reflects upon a North Devon I grew up in. Each year the stories within its pages seem far removed from the present day.

The coming months are often the best of the year for many anglers with carp already showing from our local lakes at impressive weights their bronze flanks reflecting autumns hues. Stillwater trout are likely to bring exciting sport. On the coast sea anglers will be relishing the chance to catch tope, bass, conger, Huss and grey mullet. In the estuary flounder anglers will enjoy simple fishing as rod tips rattle as bunches of ragworm are engulfed.

These autumn storms will of course pass and warm sunshine will bring reminders of summer warmth. November generally gives those first chill days but even then garfish and mackerel can bring a pleasant surprise on the coast. Part of the joy of angling is not knowing what will happen next and being out there by the water is a constant adventure. What better place to watch the drama of life on earth unfold?