John Coombs, Berny and Jon from SEWRT (South East Wales Rivers Trust) visited us at the end of January, to tell us us all about the amazing life cycle of the Atlantic Salmon.
In the past man had polluted the rivers and put up barriers such as dams and weirs for industry, with little thought or regard for the natural environment and the fish in those rivers. There had not been Salmon in the upper reaches of the River Taff and Ely for over a hundred years. But a group of people got together and set up the Salmon Homecoming Project to encourage the return of the salmon. They are supported by the Environment Agency Wales who are the government body who look after the nation’s rivers. Part of that project is educating people about the amazing life cycle of the salmon, which is why they came to visit us and other schools.
Some of the children had done some water tests and looked at the wildlife in the River Ely and down at Cardiff Bay as part of the International project. We hope to take fresh samples and look at the wildlife we find at different times of the year. Often the animals have complicated and interrelated life cycles. One of the reasons that the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel has declined in our rivers is that part of it’s life cycle is as a parasite on Salmon and other fish. Lots of animals like to eat salmon and salmon eggs too, and some of the predators include things like otters, and lots of birds such as kingfishers, cormorant and herons that we see along the river Ely would benefit from restoring the natural balance.
For the children it was great to see that people can use their knowledge and passion to make a difference in our world. We hope that the children will follow the example of John and his friends and continue to try and make a difference when they become adults. Schools get judged on results for tests etc. But we think giving children projects like this allows all the children to get involved and could spark an interest and passion that will drive their education. They may well have a talent for fishing, conservation, biology or constructing eco friendly dams that may have gone undiscovered.
After John told us about the amazing life cycle of the Salmon with lots of new words that were new to us like REDDS, ALEVINS, SMOLT, PARR he and his friends answered some of the many questions from the children. These included:-
HOW MANY EGGS ARE LAYED AND HOW MANY SURVIVE?
A healthy 5Kg salmon can lay about 10,000 eggs, but the survival rate is tiny only the fittest and strongest will be lucky enough to survive and breed. Jon said that another fish the bream lays 100,000 eggs and only 2-3 out of every 1,000 manage to make it back. Whilst that seems a terrible waste, all those eggs and the fish they grow into get eaten by other creatures and so support lots of differnt life. But those that do can find there way back to the same site that they were laid with an accuracy of a few metres- amazing!
WHY DO THE EGGS LIKE TO BE IN THE DARK?
You remember that later on the eggs are called 'eyed egg's and they can detect if it is light or dark. In the wild they would be laid in the gravel where it would be dark and they feel safe then. If its light they feel threatened and get stressed.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE FISH RETURN?
You can see them in the special fish passes/ladder down on the barrage from autumn to December. Some of you saw the fish pass on the barrage when you visited the bay. We build lots of fish passes so that the fish can get upstream. They are very good at jumping over little waterfalls and can jump over 3.5m, it does take them a lot of goes but they keep trying. But however high they jump, they need at least that distance below the water so they can build up speed to jump.
HOW MANY BOYFRIENDS DOES THE LADY SALMON HAVE?
Just the one. The lady salmon is called a hen, and the male has to fight the others to be her 'boyfriend' and is so tired out that he usually dies after spawning.
The hen can sometimes survive and go out to sea again (known as a Kelt) but even those lucky enough to do that, 95% of them will not make it back to spawn again with a new boyfriend, It's tough being a Salmon!
IS IT LEGAL TO CATCH SALMON?
I have shown you some of the ways that people take fish illegally or poach using 'gaffs' or hooks and tridents.
You need a rod fishing license (if you are under 12 we do not need one) and fish on certain stretches of a river. Fishing or Angling is the most popular participation sport in the UK (More people might watch Football on TV etc, but do not actually play it. Estimate say 3.3 million people go fishing). Some salmon are reared in special fish farms too, especially in Scotland. July is 'National Fishing Month' and you can download a leaflet here. We would love to have a special fishing event!
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SALMON CAUGHT?
I think that that was in Canada, there are lots of different varieties of Salmon and the Chinook or King Salmon over there can grow to 1.5m long and some were found over 57kg. But the biggest Atlantic Salmon caught in the UK was caught by Miss Georgina Ballantyne on the River Tay way back in 1922. With all the pollution and over fishing Salmon did not get the chance to grow that big for many many years. You can see some of the biggest fish in the world here.
Then John asked the children WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP US AND HATCH SOME OF THE SALMON EGGS?
As you can imagine they were all very enthusiastic! He had brought along a tank and a special basket to put the eggs in and some matting that they could hide in once they had hatched. He would bring the eggs after half term and we could watch them hatch, and take care of them making sure that they were kept cold. After a while they would come back and take the Alevins up to the Environment Agency Wales hatchery at Cynrig near Brecon to be fed so that they will grow into healthy fry. These will be released back into the wild to help re-establish the salmon. If we have been very good and remember all the salmon facts then we will get to release some of the salmon fry into the River Taff- How cool is that!
CHLOE said “I think it is amazing that the fish travel so far from here across the sea and yet manage to find their way home again.”
SHAKILA said “I really did not know that Fish were so exciting and interesting!”
JADE said “They have lots of different names for the salmon as it grows and changes.”
ANDREA said “I am really looking forward to watching the eggs hatch and the fish grow.”
There is a lovely website by the Atlantic Salmon Trust, of great interest is the lovely animation of the life cycle of the Salmon with all the threats and hazards along its journey. There is a page of Salmon facts too.
This website is for Schools doing similar projects on Salmon in Scotland, it has nice resources.