Mounting public anger at Scottish Government’s decisions to allow increased commercial exploitation of salmon stocks

The Esk District Salmon Board Fishery Board (EDFSB) has been urged to consider all its options in response to the Scottish Government’s failure to back spring salmon conservation measures and its intention, in an unprecedented move, to extend the salmon netting season into September. This follows a packed public meeting, attended by over 100 including all major wild fish interests as well as local angling associations, in Brechin on October 27 at which unanimous dismay at the decisions of Scottish Ministers was expressed. Scottish Government declined to attend.

Scottish Government has turned down the EDSFB’s application for a delay to the start of the salmon netting season in the South Esk District for a period of five years. Consequently Usan Fisheries, Scotland’s largest netting company and operators of the major mixed stocks coastal fishery south of Montrose, will be able net and kill spring salmon throughout May, many of which are destined for the South Esk, a Special Area of Conservation for salmon. The South Esk is currently in breach of the EC’s Habitats Directive in that early-running salmon stocks continue to decline.

Scottish Government is also considering a licensed extension to the South Esk netting season to September 14 for three years from 2012; the statutory close date for netting is August 30. Fish killed during this period will represent payment to Usan Fisheries for allowing Marine Science Scotland access for tagging and releasing fish and taking genetic material for research purposes throughout the netting season and the extension.

Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the EDFSB, commented: “It was clear from the depth of feeling at the meeting that stakeholders share our surprise at these decisions. Despite the explicit support for controls in May from both Marine Scotland Science and SNH, the Government’s advisers, Ministers are permitting netting in May. We are also perturbed by the Government’s unilateral intention to allow netting in September – without any discussions with the Board, Trust or other stakeholders. We are urgently seeking further information and clarification from Scottish Government”.

Guy Linley Adams, lawyer for the Salmon and Trout Association and advisor to the EDSFB, said: “The Board has duties under statute and European law to protect salmon stocks and so has little option but to question the Scottish Government’s failure to support the Board’s application to end netting in May. In my opinion the Government has given undue weight to the private property interests of the netsmen and has failed to appreciate that the Habitats Directive requires action to protect Atlantic salmon in the wider public interest”.

Bill Balfour, Vice President of Brechin Angling Club, said: “It is anathema that the Government should propose that Usan Fisheries be allowed to kill even more fish – as a reward for their co-operation with Marine Science Scotland’s research programme. Anglers are constantly exhorted by Scottish Government to reduce exploitation through catch and release and yet it is now actually sanctioning increased exploitation by the nets. This is hardly a consistent approach to conservation. Furthermore the proposed research would seem to be of dubious benefit and surely there are better ways of targeting £150,000 per annum”.

Orri Vigfusson, Chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, added: “The refusal of Scottish Government to reduce salmon netting and the new proposal to extend the netting season enabling even greater exploitation are contrary to the basic internationally-accepted principles of good salmon management. These decisions are also highly provocative to those fishing communities – notably the Greenlanders and the Faroese – which play host to Scottish salmon during their marine feeding phase and which have refrained from commercial netting of these stocks for many years in the interests of conservation. The latest actions by Scottish Government will only increase local pressure to re-open these fisheries. If this came to pass, then the implication for stocks of Scottish salmon would be very serious indeed”.