The Axe and the Yarty have been falling off. In the belief of Mr. W. H. B. Knight, Chairman of the Fishery Board, one of the chief reasons is that there is now no expansion at the mouth. The river where it enters the sea is only a few yards wide at low water. "Another reason, I think, is agricultural drainage, the effect of which is that the water comes down at once instead of coming gradually. In small rivers such as these this means that there is but little water running the greater part of the year, and that the fish are not eager to go up.
Yet another reason, probably, is that the spawning ground is limited, only a few fish being able to get above the weirs at Axminster, Weycroft, and Coaxdon."
The Otter also is in a bad way, and the Fishery Board is defunct.
The Exe salmon fishing has been going from bad to worse. Mr. H. Ford attributes this to "overfishing, both in the tidal and in inland waters, by nets; bad conditions of flow, the result, to a great extent, of the abstraction of water for towns and the large drainage operations which have been going on now for so many years, resulting in the river being after rain in heavy flood for a brief period, which used not to be the case when the land held the rain in suspension, and gradually gave it off instead of discharging it at once, as is now the case; and pollution. Within a comparatively recent time, however, a slight improvement has been noticed. This is ascribed to the taking-off of certain nets in more or less inland waters during the early weeks of the season, and to the lessening of pollution. What the future will bring forth it is impossible to say; but if further restrictions on over-fishing could be enforced, and the condition of the river, as far as pollutions are concerned, further ameliorated, we should have, practically, conditions of flow only to act as a hindrance. I have no reason for thinking that the stock of fish is otherwise than good."
The Teign fishery records for the past twenty-five years do not disclose such a falling-off in the stock of fish as need cause any serious concern. Mr. Harold G. Michelmore writes :-
"The total catch has varied considerably from year to year, and it is not always the year which has been most fruitful to the net fishermen that shows the best results for the anglers. For obvious reasons a dry season is usually best for the nets, and a wet one for the rods. During the period under review the season of 1888 was the first exceptionally good one. In that year the river held a better stock than it had held at any time in the preceding twenty years. The catch of 1888, however, was eclipsed in 1893 and 1895. In the later year a record, which has not since been beaten, was established. The two worst years were 1900 and 1905; but, as against this, the season of 1903 was the fourth best in the twenty-five years. As to the future there is cause for anxiety. The improved methods of agricultural drainage render the river liable to sudden and heavy floods, which, whilst they do not last long enough to be of much benefit to the rod fishermen, disturb and damage the spawning beds. Pollution increases. The town of Newton is growing rapidly, and with its growth the condition of the Teign below the sewage outfall becomes yearly worse. Other towns within the watershed are adopting sewage schemes, in the fulfilment of which the river is to have a share. There is another trouble. By a remarkable piece of engineering many years ago, the adventurers in the East Vitifer Tin Mine contrived to abstract nearly all the water of the North Teign, and, after passing it through their stamps, to run it by means of a leat into the Dart. This leat has recently been cleaned out and rendered more capacious. The Corporation of Torquay has nearly completed the construction of a third large reservoir at Hennock. The object is to impound another tributary of the Teign. It is feared that the next water-scheme of some great city may mature on Dartmoor and consume the few tributaries that remain untapped."
The Dart has a very good stock of salmon; but the sport varies. In 1904, owing to frequent freshets, many fish were caught; but next season, being dry, was not half so prosperous. Mr. Colin M. E. May attributes the increase in the stock mainly to the Board of Conservators having made passes and kept down pollution.
The Avon and the Erme are small streams rising in Dartmoor. Mr. A. J. Pitman, Manor House, North Hulsh, writes :-
" The Erme hardly comes under the category of salmon rivers. Salmon rarely ascend it; but peal are very plentiful in the lower reaches. Unfortunately, the upper water is much polluted by the working of a paper mill, and the stream itself is too small as a rule to allow the fish to run. The Conservators have done their best to grapple with the pollution; but the analysis of the water shows that it contains nothing actually deleterious to fish life. The smell and the discoloration lead one to an opposite opinion. The Avon, which escapes pollution, is too small, and does not contain sufficient pools, to enable rod-fishing for salmon to be carried on successfully; but if there is a flood in November or December salmon to a very large number run up to spawn. The net fishers in the tidal waters have benefited by the working of the Fishery Act and the better preservation of the spawning fish. Details of results are not supplied to the Conservators. Rod-fishing begins on May 1 and ends on November 29; but fish can hardly ever ascend in the summer, when usually the river is low. In 1905, I believe, only one fish was taken by the rod. Formerly rod-fishing used to begin in February, and I myself used to take many in that month, March, and April; but I never caught a fresh-run fish. Peal run up in the summer, and the Conservators are making improvements in existing weirs."
In a pleasant letter the venerable Vicar of Mod-bury, Mr. G. C. Green, author of Collections and Recollections of Natural History and Sport, says:-