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Call for salmon conservation to become a national priority in Scotland

By Gavin Musgrove

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Leading figures in salmon conservation were meeting with key politicians at the Scottish Parliament today to address a looming crisis in wild stocks.

Experts have said that environmental change, and a range of human impacts across the Northern Hemisphere are placing salmon at risk across their natural range.

Today's event was being held to explore what can be done to reverse this trend and ensure a healthy future for Scotland’s salmon.

It was taking the form of a roundtable discussion and evening reception, sponsored by Michelle Ballantyne MSP.

A range of other national stakeholders will also take part in the event, seeking agreement on the collective efforts required to save the species.

The River Spey is protected in part because of its importance for Atlantic salmon.
The River Spey is protected in part because of its importance for Atlantic salmon.

Dr Alan Wells, Chief Executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “Salmon catches in Scotland have reached the lowest levels ever recorded, and nature is sending us some urgent signals about what could happen next.

"Official catch figures for recent years, confirm this iconic species is now approaching crisis point.

“Some of the factors impacting on wild salmon stocks may be beyond human control.

"But Scotland’s Government and regulatory authorities now have a historic opportunity to do everything in their power to safeguard the species in those areas where they can make a difference.

“Put simply, salmon conservation must become a national priority. Our leaders will be judged by their actions in meeting that challenge.”

Declining rod catches have a knock-on effect on fragile rural economies and reduce the ability of managers to raise money to support management and restoration activities.

The most recent Scotland-wide economic impact assessment of wild fisheries indicated around £135m of angler expenditure, 4,300 full-time equivalent jobs and £79.9m Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2014 – the monetary value of the contribution to the economy made by an industry.

Karen Ramoo, policy adviser at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Scotland has world renowned fishing which significantly contributes environmentally, socially and economically.

"The environment and the rural economy are at risk if we do not act now to tackle declining salmon numbers.

"We must aspire to maintain and improve our rivers and lochs to provide good breeding stock whilst a sustainable harvest can be made.

"Mechanisms to conserve these vulnerable stocks and encourage sustainable economic growth must be encouraged and it is imperative that the right balance is struck between conservation and the interests of those whose livelihood relies on fishing for salmon.

“It is important that we recognise current positive management already taking place and seek to build on this while allowing reasonable steps to be taken where stocks are considered unsustainable.”

Michelle Ballantyne MSP said, “As LINK species champion for the Atlantic salmon, I am honoured to be able to sponsor this event in Parliament in the hope of contributing to the conversation on solutions to the threats facing Scotland’s most iconic fish.

“With wild salmon stocks approaching crisis point it is now more crucial than ever that we, as politicians, listen to the experts and have a constructive conversation about what can be done to protect and replenish stocks.

“Much work is still needed, but by raising awareness of the scale of the challenge, and by bringing together organisations and stakeholders from across the country for this roundtable meeting, we are turning our attention to what can be done legislatively to support wild salmon.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “It is fitting that today’s round table about the future of our iconic wild salmon is taking place at the beginning of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters.

"I am pleased also to announce £750,000 of funding for an innovative project between the Scottish Government, Atlantic Salmon Trust and Fisheries Management Scotland to work in partnership to track smolt migration on the west coast of Scotland and thereby seek to improve our understanding of this important fish.

“The decline in the numbers of wild salmon returning to Scottish rivers is of great concern, and caused by a range of complex factors. That is why the Scottish Government has committed, in its latest Programme for Government, to develop a Wild Salmon Strategy by September 2020.

“We will continue to work with key stakeholders such as Fisheries Management Scotland, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, District Salmon Fishery Boards and Fishery Trusts to do everything possible to safeguard the future of Scotland’s wild salmon.”

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