Historically, humans have exploited most of the fish species that inhabit the Wye and Usk to varying degree.

Brown trout were and still are taken for the table, while grayling and coarse species such as pike and barbel only occasionally so. Before the dramatic decline in their numbers, eel traps used to be commonplace on weirs throughout the catchments. Other migratory species, such as shad, quite often used to end up as by-catches, especially in estuary nets.

But it is the Atlantic salmon that has most been affected by human exploitation.

The crash in the Wye salmon population in the early part of the 20th Century was largely due to over fishing. Then,  even the juveniles migrating out to sea (smolts) were netted for human consumption (nowadays juveniles must be returned unharmed). However, it has always been the adult salmon that has been most likely to end up on the dinner plate.

The plight of an adult salmon

When we consider the predicament of a salmon returning to the Wye or Usk before the year 2000, it is perhaps a wonder that any survived to spawn.

Those that were fortunate enough to escape capture being netted on their feeding grounds in the north Atlantic then had to run a gauntlet of drift nets off the Irish coast on their way back to the rivers. They then faced a barrage of putchers and nets in the Severn estuary.

Once in the river, rod fisheries and poachers awaited them. Even if a salmon made it to the spawning grounds high up in the tributaries, it might then still be removed by a “traditional” lamp and gaff poacher.

It hardly needs saying that leaving more fish to spawn would increase the number fish for future generations. However, this only holds true when fish numbers fall below a certain level. This threshold is termed the 'Conservation Target'.

If adult salmon numbers are above the target the excess number may, by and large, be safely taken without fear of reducing future generations, since only a core of spawning adults is required to regenerate the run.

The situation todayReleasing a Wye salmon

Nowadays, all adult Wye salmon have to be returned to the river by rod and line fishermen, as do all Usk fish caught before June 16th. It is likely, however, that mandatory catch and release at all times will be imposed on the Usk (and all other Welsh rivers) soon.

A small number of salmon are still permitted to be taken by “heritage fisheries” in the Severn estuary, such as lave netters and putchers.

Salmon Conservation

The Foundation has strived to protect the Atlantic salmon in both rivers at a time when Conservation Targets are not being met.

Read more about the Foundation’s salmon conservation work.