The picturesque Gaula River boasts a stunning landscape featuring rocks and trees, creating the perfect setting for the renowned Gaula Fishing Week.

The Fight for the Soul of the Gaula River

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Gaula Rule Changes Pose Multiple Threats

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that there are some proposed new rules for Gaula which the Gaula River Board are voting for on Thursday night.

In effect, the board proposes to lift virtually all catch and kill restrictions by abandoning current quotas (by scrapping the one week limit), allowing the killing of female fish (currently prohibited in the second half of the season), increasing the classification of a large salmon to 89cm, increasing the number of salmon that can be killed to virtually no limit and subjecting the river to a potentially catastrophic increase in angling pressure

The unspoken truth about Gaula is that there are already too many anglers chasing too few fish. This is not a unique case: it is the same the world over but Gaula is already rocking under a deluge of over 5000 anglers in a short, 13 week season. Desperately in need of a cool down, it faces instead the free-for-all of all free-for-alls…

The new proposals will ensure that anglers wishing to catch and kill will return to Gaula in droves, thus ratcheting up the pressure on already critical stock and probably resulting in a spawning collapse shortly thereafter.

These rules fly in the face of reality and the multitude of pressures that the salmon already face. This is especially so since the past two autumns have delivered poor spawning yields and lice infestation of wild fish from salmon farms is increasing.

Indeed, the rules pose such a threat to the long-term future of our beautiful river that it begs the obvious question ‘why would someone do this?’

I have heard that a discussion to shorten the salmon fishing season is being considered to offset, presumably, the effects of declaring open season on the salmon. Taken in isolation, the argument for the shortening of the season is one that I am open to but I fear that its effects under the proposed regulations will be boy-with-finger-in-dam stuff. 

Gaula is a precious resource that provides huge financial value to the local area. Moreover, its status as a world class salmon river is one that draws admiration from all over the world, apart, it seems from some of the locals.  Managing the Gaula is a huge privilege and a moral responsibility to maintain a river that hitherto has been a bastion of big, aggressive salmon.

The financial sense in increasing the number of people on the river that want to steal the crown jewels is obvious. You’ll get away with it for a season or two but the long-term price could be catastrophic. The lifeblood of this river are the anglers who respect her and the salmon. Anglers who understand that the time of plenty is over and want to enjoy good fishing in the future, know that we must protect the prime resource first and foremost. 

What we need is a five year plan, mapping out the future for Gaula and stabilising stocks while at the same time maintaining its status as a fine salmon fishing river, arguably the finest of the major rivers of the world.

 

The Risk

I am genuinely baffled as to who these new rule changes benefit. In short, it’s the folks who want to kill as many fish as they can. The river can and should accommodate harvesting for locals but only for as long as it is sustainable. We need to balance the interests of all angling groups on the river: wormers, spinners and fly-fishers. One of the roles of the handful of Gaula’s ‘fly fishing lodges’ is to create areas of sanctuary for the fish where fishing pressure is lighter, fish in good condition are released and this is, in turn, rewarded by improved spawning. The result is that there are more fish for the day or season card anglers to catch. We all need each other and Gaula works best with checks and balances which ensure that the river does not overheat with angling pressure. This is not about the price that folks pay to fish here, it’s about balancing interests and getting the best outcome for the river. Ultimately I think that we all want to enjoy good fishing on the river for as long as possible and the influx of a large number of anglers looking to kill as many fish as possible could well be the death blow for a river that is already hugely overfished.

The likely effect of the massively increased pressure on the fish in 2024 will be that spawning is likely to very poor and there are those who predict that the river might close within a season or two to allow it to recover. 

At this stage I would like to thank Ann Brit Bogen of the Gaula Fly Fishing Friends. She is more passionate about the future of this river than anyone I have come across in recent seasons. She has provided me with insight into the proposed rules in a passionate and persuasive email which has also been sent to several other lodge owners.

Her fear that Gaula could be forced into closure is more than a possibility when these rule changes are made in 48 hours time

To put this decision into clear focus, consider that Gaula is truly a jewel among salmon rivers. It copes already with a huge amount of angling pressure and it does so by limiting the harvesting of fish. Like all salmon rivers it is in decline but it is robust and that rate of decline, until now, has been slow compared to most salmon rivers

It is our duty to protect the river. These proposed rules, in my opinion, are heading in the exact opposite direction and  could well critically damage our prime asset

What we need is a five year plan that is driven by passion for the river and a determination to keep the salmon run going for a s long as possible. In short, we need to be part of the solution, not the problem. I would urge anyone voting on Thursday night to consider seriously whether this is the right direction to go in. 

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A man is standing on a grassy hill next to a river, fly fishing.
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