SALMON fishing will be brought within reach of a million people on Tyneside with the launch of a £500,000 venture.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon yesterday opened a new fish pass at Swalwell in Gateshead, heralding the return of salmon and sea trout to the River Derwent for the first time for 300 years.
The pass has been installed on a man-made weir which dates from the late 17th Century and was built to provide a water supply to the Crowley ironworks.
The weir barred the passage of spawning fish to the River Derwent and in 1890 it was extended.
A wooden promenade was built so that people could take a stroll at the bottom of the weir and children paddled in the water basin.
The fish pass is a joint venture by the Environment Agency and Gateshead Council.
Agency project manager Jon Shelley said: “The Derwent is the last significant tributary of the Tyne which salmon and sea trout could not access.”
The land is council-owned and the agency has been talking to the Derwent and Axwell Park Angling Association. The aim is to provide people with low-cost day fishing tickets for salmon and sea trout. An agency licence would be needed to fish the area.
“This is on the doorstep of a million people on Tyneside and is well within reach travelling-wise and financially for a few pounds,” said Mr Shelley.
“It is a pleasant wooded area and you would not guess that you were within a few minutes of a major urban area.
“By building this fish pass we are creating an affordable salmon and sea trout fishery within easy reach of Newcastle and Gateshead.
“We have the reintroduced red kites in the Derwent Valley and now the salmon and sea trout will return.
“The Derwent is clean and healthy, but what is missing is the salmon and sea trout.”
The return of the Derwent as a spawning river will further boost the status of the Tyne as the best waterway in England and Wales for salmon rod catches.
There were 6,000 rod and line catches last year.
“We would also ask anglers on the Derwent to report their catches to help monitor fish numbers,” said Mr Shelley.
The pass will also be monitored by underwater cameras to see how many fish are using it.
There is also the potential for a hydropower scheme in the future, should funds become available.
Mr Benyon said: “I am delighted to be opening this fish pass. Our rivers are vital for our environment and we’ve all got a role to play in making sure they are as healthy as they can be.
“By allowing salmon and sea trout to return this fish pass will create exciting new opportunities for fishing in the area and benefit the local economy.”
Mr Shelley said: “We hope that by including a special eel section in the fish pass we will help boost the number of eels in our rivers after a dramatic decline over the last 25 years.”
Gateshead Council cabinet member for transport and environment John McElroy said: “The River Derwent is at the centre of our plans to grow Gateshead’s rural economy.
“People think of Gateshead as being about The Sage Gateshead, Angel of the North or Metrocentre, but actually we’ve got some fantastic countryside teeming with wildlife.
“This fish pass will not only be the latest in a long line of major improvements for wildlife, it also opens up exciting new opportunities for fishing.”