Wild salmon stocks are at their lowest on record in England, a government report has found.
Officials said the number of fish was reaching “crisis point” with urgent action required, including removing barriers in waterways and improving water quality.
England’s rivers are traditional breeding grounds for the fish, and seeing them leaping through streams was a common sight some decades ago. But salmon are slipping closer to extinction in the wild.
Of the 42 salmon rivers in England, 37 have been classified as “at risk” or “probably at risk” by the Environment Agency.
The government has blamed warming sea temperatures due to the climate crisis, as well as poor water quality in rivers and estuaries.
Pollution has had grave impacts on the water quality of England’s rivers, with every waterway failing pollution tests in 2020. Sewage outflows and agricultural runoff form a large part of the problem.
Barriers such as weirs also stop the fish from travelling upstream, preventing them from breeding.
Kevin Austin, the deputy director for agriculture, fisheries and the natural environment at the Environment Agency, said: “Today’s assessment for England is of great concern and without urgent action wild Atlantic salmon could be lost from our rivers in our lifetimes.
“We have seen some real successes through our work with partners, particularly on the rivers Don and Tyne, but much more progress is needed. As the climate emergency becomes more acute, we need coordinated action between governments, partners and industry to enable stocks to stabilise and recover to sustainable levels.”
Salmon farming could also have adverse effects on the fortunes of their wild relatives.
Often, the farmed fish escape from their cages and breed with wild fish, which has been found to negatively affect the gene pool.
Studies have found that when wild Atlantic salmon breed with escaped farmed salmon, their descendants grow faster and mature at a younger age, undermining the ability of the species to survive and reproduce in its natural environment.