The Taw, the Torridge, and the Lynn are the rivers of a Fishery District comprising the whole northern watershed of Devonshire and a small portion of Somerset. Taw and Torridge fall into the sea through the same estuary, and the Lynn finds its way to the sea nearer the boundary between Devon and Somerset. The rivers hold salmon and sea-trout. Of salmon, I am informed by Mr. J. M. Pope, of Spence Combe, Coppleston, there is perhaps a larger stock than there was a few years ago, and the run when the rain came last autumn was ampler than had been seen for years. Still, the fish are sadly fewer than were those of the 'seventies. The spring run has improved during the last twenty years. An excellent fisherman, one who has lived all his life on the banks of the Taw, well remembers the first spring-run salmon he ever saw caught or had heard of. The size of the fish is apparently becoming larger. One of 26½ lbs. was caught early last year. As to the increase in the number of spring fish no satisfactory explanation has been found. The slight improvement in the number of autumn fish is probably accounted for by a decrease of poaching in the estuaries. The rivers above their estuaries are practically unpolluted; but the net fishermen complain that when the rivers are low the sewage of Barnstaple causes the salmon to return to the sea. Sea-trout, locally called peal, also have multiplied in recent years. They have partially recovered from the depletion of their stock caused by a bye-law fixing the size of the net-mesh at 1½ inch from knot to knot. The bye-law was repealed many years ago. As drift nets, which are particularly successful against these fish, have been prohibited, a further increase is hoped for. Passes should be built at the weirs on the Torridge just above the estuary. Two fixed engines on the Taw take a large proportion of the summer-running salmon and peal.
The Severn affords practically no rod-fishing. "This," I am informed by Mr. Willis Bund, an eminent authority on the habits of the salmon, " is the result of the great distance the fish have to go before any water fit for angling is reached. The canalisation of the river has tended to drive the angler upwards, and the abstraction of water by the Liverpool Corporation has made it more difficult for the fish to ascend. The idea of sport may be dismissed. As to the stock of fish, it is hard to give a clear answer. Certainly fewer fish are bred in the river. That is because the spawning season has been greatly shortened by the absence of floods, which the waterworks have prevented. The fish are unable to reach the spawning grounds, and the spawners, instead of being spread over the river, are concentrated in a few places. Thus many of the ova are lost. The abstraction of water produces another result. The salmon ascend in shoals of sexes. It is found, when the females arrive on the beds, that the number of males is often not sufficient properly to impregnate the ova. From both these causes the number of salmon bred is less now than before 1890, when the waterworks were set going. It is difficult, however, to say that the actual stock of salmon is less. There is an increase in the number of "gillings,' salmon on their second return from the sea. These are fine large fish; but the medium fish, from 8 to 20 lbs., are more plentiful. On the whole it may be said that, in consequence of the abstraction of water for Liverpool, fewer salmon are bred, and the total number of salmon in the river is smaller than it was. There are no grilse, and only a few old salmon. Whether the increase of salmon on the second return is enough to compensate for the decrease in the two other classes it is almost impossible to say. Where the fish now taken in the Severn are chiefly bred is one of the questions on which no trustworthy information has been found. The change in the river is, I believe, wholly, or to a very great extent, due to the abstraction of the water by Liverpool." Mr. Willis Bund, however, is not, I take it, quite certain that the change is to be eventually ruinous. He is pleased at the increase of "gillings," and seems to feel it possible that as regards salmon of other classes remedies may yet be found.
The Wye, like the Severn, has come under the influences incidental to municipal enterprise in supplying a great town with water. It seems far, however, from being ruined. In a bright and informing letter, Mr. L. J. Graham Clarke, of Glan-rhos, Rhayader, Wales, who has fished the river for thirty-five years, says :-
" The Upper Wye may be roughly considered to be the stretch of water between Three Cocks and Rhayader, and comprises the finest angling water of the river. For many years-say from 1880 to 1900-the river had been steadily going back, until, with excessive netting in the summer, and poaching in the winter on the spawning beds, it seemed as if the Wye would cease to be a salmon river at all. The Board of Conservators, however, under their able chairman, Mr. J. Hotchkis, have gradually been acquiring the netting rights, and four years ago the nets were taken off a long stretch of the river for three years. The second year after that was wet, and the results were most encouraging in 1902. Some wonderful bags of salmon were made with the rod all over the river. 1903 and 1904 were not so good. There was little rain, and the fish came up late. Still, in certain portions of the river the sport was so brisk as to show that immense benefit had been done by the diminution of netting. This last year, 1905, has been an exceptionally bad one here; but I have heard of some of my neighbours, only a few miles lower, having done well. On the whole, the deterioration of the river in the first instance is due principally to the two causes I have mentioned, excessive netting and excessive poaching on the spawning grounds: few fish that pass above Rhayader ever return to the sea. There are several other causes-(1) pollution, (2) loss of water, (3) coarse fish, (4) otters. (1) The Birmingham Corporation have, in making their new reservoirs, introduced an enormous floating populace of between 2000 and 3000 men, with their wives, children, and hangers-on. The engineers (to do them justice) stringently forbade anything in the way of refuse being thrown into the river; but the regulations, unfortunately, have not been carried out. The consequence is that the bed of the river for miles is covered with a collection of old meat tins and boots, while every bush has its fringe of filthy rags and tatters, old trousers, coats, petticoats, even beds; and it is easy to conceive what the result is on the fish in a hot summer when the water is low. Added to this is the sewage of Rhayader, Builth, and Hay, besides what comes down the Ithon and Irvon from Llandrindod and Llanwrtyd. Thus, pollution may be said to have something to do with the downward course of the river. (2) Loss of water must be attributed to the Birmingham works. All the flood water that should have come down the Elan has been stored to fill the reservoirs. Consequently, the fish that could get to the upper reaches were very few. (3) With the progress of pollution the coarse fish, such as dace and chub and pike, have greatly increased. Owing to the rough and rocky nature of the bed of the river, it is very difficult to net them. Our Conservancy Board contracted the river out of the Coarse Fish Protection Act. Consequently, there is no close time for pike or other coarse fish; yet, in spite of this, the increase is enormous, and in many parts of the river trout have almost disappeared. (4) The Upper Wye is seriously overstocked with otters. I think these kill more coarse fish than salmon; but they do undoubtedly injure the sport, far more than people are aware of, by putting down the fish and preventing them rising. If an otter has been through your pools in the morning not a salmon will you raise. This place is infested by otters. The H.O.H. hunt the river; but, as they give on the average only one day in the year to each section of it, and have too much ground to go over, they do not greatly mitigate the evil. I have, as far as in me lies, given you my opinions, which must be received quoad valeant"