SALMON catches on the Tweed have continued to plummet.

And an increase in fish-eating birds such as goosanders and cormorants are being blamed.

It is estimated that salmon fishing generates over £20 million for the Borders economy each year with anglers from across the world flocking to its famous beats.

Although the Borders river continues to produce the highest number of rod-caught salmon in the UK, numbers have continued to fall drastically since the all-time high of 2011.

Six years ago, a total of 23,219 rod catches were recorded between Tweedsmuir and Berwick Upon Tweed.

But the annual figure has continued to tumble ever since.

During 2017 only 6,577 were caught by rod – down 15 per cent on the previous year’s catch of 7,680 – and only marginally above the previous worst years for catches in 1980 (6,400) and 1977 (6,200).

The River Tweed Commission reported that headwater tributaries and smaller burns were ‘stocked to capacity’ last year with juvenile salmon.

And detectable poaching during the past 12 months has also declined with only 10 illegal nets removed from the lower end of the river along with several warnings being issued in the Upper Tweed for ‘foul hook fishing’.

Many believe the increased numbers of fish-eating birds are to blame for the encouraging numbers of juvenile stock not being replicated in returning adult rod catches.

Former River Tweed Commission chairman Andrew Douglas-Home, who runs the Tweedbeats salmon-fishing agency, is sure that an increase in both goosanders and cormorants are at least partially to blame for the continued reduction in catches.

He said: “The number of fish eating birds in the UK has increased hugely over the last 35 years.

“For the first 30 years of my life on the Tweed, I do not recall ever seeing a cormorant or a goosander while fishing for salmon.

“Their numbers are still increasing, and it is reasonable to assume their range, and the numbers coming inland, will expand as overall populations increase.”

Changes in adult salmon behaviour have been recorded across the UK which has affected seasonal fish runs.

Scientific studies are also being carried locally by the Tweed Foundation into further conservation methods.

But for many who have witnessed the rapid decline in rod-catches, birds are at the top of their hit-list.

Mr Douglas-Home added: “The recent prevalence of large cormorant flocks here on the Tweed, from 60 to 200 birds per flock and extending well above Kelso, is a very visible demonstration of the trend.

“Moreover, they are not daily visitors, for they have established resident roosts here over the long autumn, winter and early spring months.

“Most salmon anglers would be horrified at estimates of the young salmon eaten by, say, 150 resident cormorants from October to March… but it will be 10s of 1,000s of juveniles, which could have smolted and come back as salmon, but now will not.

“And many more still are eaten by goosanders, both resident and overwintering.”

Mr Douglas-Home is now leading calls for unrestricted licences to be available to control the number of goosanders and cormorants who feed in the Tweed.