Severn Estuary Salmon Protection Emergency Byelaw

Closed 15 Dec 2020

Opened 8 Jul 2019


Emergency byelaw to protect salmon stocks throughout the Severn

March 2021: Please visit our consultation webpage


UPDATED June 2020: emergency byelaw extended to 15 December 2020

In 2019 the Environment Agency introduced an emergency byelaw to protect salmon in the River Severn and its estuary after a review of recent data showed a significant reduction in salmon stock levels in the Severn.

Under the emergency byelaw, which took effect on 15 June 2019:

  • Draft net and putcher fishing in the Severn estuary will be prohibited
  • Lave net fishing will operate on a catch and release basis only.
  • Catch and release for rod and line fishing will be compulsory on the whole of the Severn for the remainder of the current rod season, which lasts until 7 October.

A sealed copy of the byelaw (pdf document) is available in "related documents" below.

How critical is the current salmon stock level?

The 2019 salmon stock assessment shows stock levels for the River Severn catchment, continue to be significantly below conservation limits. The number of returning adult salmon continues to decline despite the current protection measures we have in place.

Salmon stocks in the River Severn, River Usk and River Wye catchments which contribute to the River Severn net fishery and rod and line fisheries continue to be poor and are all assessed to be “Probably at Risk.” This situation will not change within the near future. The provisional 2019 declared rod catches on the Rivers Severn, Usk and Wye are the worst on record despite good angling conditions and the removal of all nets operating in the Severn estuary. The anticipated and then observed critical decline in salmon stocks had justified the need for implementation of the emergency salmon protection byelaw in 2019 and continues to justify the need to prevent harm to salmon stocks in 2020.

The Rivers Usk and Wye are both Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and include salmon as a designated qualifying feature. The Severn Estuary is also a designated European Marine Site which includes salmon as a qualifying interest feature of the RAMSAR and sub-feature of the SAC. There is a need to develop and implement longer term management actions that seek to enable recovery of these stocks back into a favourable conservation status.

Why extend the byelaw?

The Environment Agency fisheries technical team have spent the last 12 months reviewing and analysing the salmon stock assessment evidence to inform and consider the most appropriate longer term measures to protect the future of the Severn, Wye and Usk salmon stocks. This includes consideration of extending and expanding the current restrictions to enable a better recovery.  

Winter flooding and Covid-19 have prevented us from engaging with fishermen on proposals and options.

After considering our application for an extension of the emergency byelaw, the Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has extended the emergency byelaw for 6 months - pursuant to paragraph 7 of Schedule 27 to the Water Resources Act 1991. This will allow more time to consult and continue to protect the fishery from harm.

What next? – we will continue to engage with fisherman and partners as soon as it is practical to do so.

All fishermen should continue to adhere to the 2019 Byelaw restrictions (below) – thank you for your support.

Why was this byelaw introduced in June 2019?

The move to protect this salmon population came after figures on the stock levels for the Severn, Wye and Usk, which salmon from the Severn estuary migrate to, showed numbers were extremely low. An updated salmon stock assessment for the River Severn indicated that the Severn salmon stock was in a far worse condition than had previously considered to be the case. The decline in numbers means that every fish returned safely could contribute to improving the spawning population this autumn. 

The Emergency Byelaw sought to decrease levels of exploitation and enhance adult survival with the following measures:

  • Mandatory 100% catch and release of all salmon caught by the river Severn rod and lave (hand held) net fisheries for the 2019 season.
  • Closure of the River Severn salmon draft and putcher net fisheries for the 2019 netting season.

The Environment Agency did not take this decision lightly. We examined the evidence, considered options and discussed the situation with partners and fisheries representatives.  

We understand the impact this has on fishermen, but only by the use of immediate and robust action, with cooperation from others, can we prevent the collapse of salmon stocks in the Severn in the future.

What else is the Environment Agency doing to help salmon stocks?

Reducing the taking of salmon is only one part of the Environment Agency’s larger national programme to protect salmon stocks. Actions taken by the Environment Agency and its partners that contribute to protecting salmon stocks include removing barriers, improving water quality, minimising predation and implementing better agricultural practices and addressing unsustainable water abstractions.

The Environment Agency takes these actions because of the need to protect salmon stocks that have declined to unsustainable population levels in many of our rivers. The decline in the numbers of wild salmon seen not just in English rivers but throughout the North Atlantic is of great concern and we are determined to protect the future of this important species.

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Unprecedented extreme weather and flooding incidents within the River Severn and adjoining catchment areas from the end of January 2020 until very recently have delayed, interrupted and prevented progress in the development and discussion of longer term protection measures.
  • Informal stakeholder consultation processes that are necessary to inform and develop future fisheries management measures have also been delayed by responding to these incidents.
  • Re-scheduling these meetings has been interrupted and postponement is unavoidable due to the current Covid-19 guidance on group gatherings.
  • We are committed to undertaking informal stakeholder consultation to inform the development of future fisheries management measures and are considering suitable methods of engagement.
  • The additional time afforded by this extension will allow more thorough engagement.

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  • This byelaw was introduced as an emergency measure.
  • The Environment Agency is sorry there was not more time to notify individual fishermen ahead of the emergency byelaw being issued.
  • We attempted to engage with as many representative angling bodies and riparian owners as possible on the Severn in the weeks prior to implementation of the byelaw to discuss the latest issues regarding the salmon stock and the need for additional protection.
  • Our decisions were not taken lightly and were evidence based.
  • Throughout April and May 2019 we worked with Natural Resources Wales and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) to reassess the salmon stocks and to implement the right measures to protect them.
  • Our decision to make an emergency byelaw was also agreed at the highest levels of the Environment Agency.

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  • We use the predicted status of salmon stocks to decide on what measures we apply to manage fisheries to ensure that these stocks remain at sustainable levels.
  • This prediction is based upon the overall performance of the salmon stock within the previous 10 year period.
  • We also take into account other fishery and fish population evidence in determining the need for protective measures.
  • The need for protective measures reflects the fact that we wish to ensure that we allow the salmon stock to recover over the coming years.
  • On the basis of the Severn stock assessment calculations, the salmon stock was assessed to be “Probably at Risk” in 2023 and this suggested the need for protective measures to give this stock the best possible chance of stabilisation and recovery.

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  • We will not be able to reduce the cost of the rod licence, as it is simply an authorisation to use a fishing rod to catch salmon, trout and all other freshwater fish species.
  • The licence provides an authorisation to use a fishing rod to fish for the species within the provisions of any regulatory measures that are designed to protect stocks to ensure that they remain sustainable.
  • The rod licence does not provide anglers with the right to take salmon.
  • The emergency byelaw still therefore allows you to catch and release salmon, but prevents you from taking them home.
  • Our intention is to protect salmon fisheries to enable them to remain at healthy, sustainable levels in the future.
  • We fully appreciate that the prevention in taking salmon may be frustrating and we are keen to ensure that any byelaws are only in place for as long as is absolutely necessary. We certainly do want to encourage fishermen to pursue their sport and enable local economies to still benefit from this important rod fishery.

Text of the byelaw

More Information

Environment Agency

Water Resources Act 1991

Environment Act 1995

Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975


The Environment Agency in exercise of its powers under Section 210 of, and paragraphs 6(1)(b) and 6(2)(c) of Schedule 25 and Schedule 27 to, the Water Resources Act 1991 and all other powers enabling it in that behalf, makes the following emergency byelaw for the protection and preservation of the fisheries within the River Severn and the River Severn estuary.

Byelaw 1 Application

This byelaw applies to the River Severn estuary and the River Severn as defined in Byelaw 2 below.

This byelaw shall come into force on 15 June 2019 and shall expire one year after the date when it first came into force.

Byelaw 2 Interpretation

In this byelaw-

“the Agency” means the Environment Agency;

“River Severn” means the area of the natural catchment of the River Severn and of all watercourses draining or flowing, directly or indirectly, into it, reaching an imaginary line drawn between Beachley Point (NGR ST 548 903) and Avonmouth (NGR ST 512 797) and which passes through both the Shoots (NGR ST 516 865) and a point offshore from Avonmouth (NGR ST 498 806) which are wholly within England;

“River Severn estuary” means all of the tidal waters of the Severn estuary upstream of the M4 road crossing in a direct line drawn from the high tide mark at Severn Beach in England (NGR ST53971 85851) to the foreshore near Sudbrook Point in Wales (NGR: ST50333 86895) and then upstream to the tidal limit at Maisemoor Weir (SO81806 21669).

“Salmon” means the species Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar);

“Lave net” means a single sheet of netting of mesh which measures, when wet, not less than 50mm in extension from knot to knot or 200mm round the perimeter and which shall be constructed to form a bag or purse attached to a yoke in the shape of a ‘V’, the widest part of which shall not exceed 3 metres and which shall be fitted with a handstaff to the apex of the yoke.;

“Draft net” means an unarmoured net, without bags or pockets, worked by more than one person during any portion of the time of its use, and drawn out of the water onto the bank, whether from a boat or otherwise, for the purpose of securing the fish, and consisting of a single sheet of netting which measures not more than 185 metres in length in the waters of the River Severn below or downstream of the Lower parting, Gloucester (SO816 189) and 95 metres in length in all other parts of the River Severn estuary, such measurement to be made when the net is wet;

“Putcher basket “means a single or multiple tier or rank of putcher baskets that are designed to capture salmon and which have historically been licensed for use within the Severn Estuary and shall be conical in shape with a round mouth measuring a maximum of 75cm at its widest point across.

Byelaw 3 Catch and release of salmon taken by means of lave net within the River Severn estuary

  1. No person shall retain a live or dead salmon that has been taken by a licensed lave net within the River Severn estuary.
  2. Any salmon caught when operating with a licensed lave net within the River Severn estuary must be returned immediately to the water with the least possible injury at the point of capture or removal.

Byelaw 4 Prohibition on catching salmon by draft net within the River Severn estuary

No person shall fish for salmon within the River Severn estuary by means of a draft net.

Byelaw 5 Prohibition of catching salmon by putcher within the River Severn estuary.

No person shall fish for salmon within the River Severn estuary by means of a putcher basket or rank of putcher baskets. 

Byelaw 6 Prohibition on the retention of salmon from the River Severn taken by rod and line

  1. No person shall remove or retain a salmon that has been taken by rod and line in the River Severn.
  2. Any salmon that has been taken by rod and line shall be returned immediately to the river at the point of capture with the least possible injury.

Byelaw 7 Exemptions

This byelaw shall not apply to any employee of the Agency acting in their official capacity or to any other person who with the permission in writing of the Agency and acting in accordance with any conditions attached the permission carries out work connected with the maintenance, improvement or development of the fishery or for some scientific purpose.


What happens next

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at:

For more information on how we will use and share your data, please see our Privacy Notice below and our Personal Information Charter


  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Fishing clubs and representative associations
  • Members of the public with an interest in the river, the species and conservation
  • Businesses
  • Statutory organisations
  • NGOs
  • Members of the public
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Local councils
  • Environment Agency customers
  • Net fishing license holders
  • River based salmon angling owners/fishing clubs/organisations
  • Individual migratory salmonid licence holders
  • Business that buy salmon/supported by salmon net and rod fishing
  • Angling trade contacts
  • National based fishery, conservation and landowner organisations
  • Government family organisations
  • Environment Agency colleagues


  • Fishing and boating