The Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) has submitted a formal complaint to Europe over the Scottish Government’s failure to comply with European law which aims to protect Atlantic salmon populations in Scottish rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive.
The lack of progress was graphically exposed during last week’s Thirty-First Annual Meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) in Saint-Malo, France. The meeting heard that coastal salmon netting is actually increasing in Scotland and that, in stark contrast to almost all other Atlantic salmon producing nations, it has almost no management regime in place to prevent this, nor is there any adequate mechanism to limit catches – whatever the strength or weakness of local populations.
During the NASCO Special Session on salmon netting on June 4, Scotland’s stand-in representative conceded that there had been a quantum leap in the coastal salmon netting catch in 2013, that in the last three years Scotland’s largest netting company had acquired the fishing rights to an additional 12 miles of coastline and that dormant netting stations had been allowed to re-open without the Scottish Government carrying out an appropriate assessment on the likely impact on salmon rivers with Special Area of Conservation status.
Furthermore he accepted that it was simply impossible to determine whether the weakest stocks were being protected from indiscriminate killing in nets as Scotland, in contrast to most members of NASCO, has yet to set conservation limits for individual rivers.
Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TA(S), commented:
“It is disappointing that Marine Scotland’s senior civil servant with responsibility for coastal salmon netting was unable to attend the NASCO meeting. Had he been there, he would then have appreciated that Scotland is now widely recognised as a pariah because of its lamentable record on salmon protection and that it is widely perceived as not taking its international obligations seriously. It is the only major producer of wild salmon in the North Atlantic that is actually presiding over an increase in coastal salmon netting”.
Mr Campbell Adamson added:
“The situation in Scotland is being closely watched. It is helping to fuel pressure by Ireland’s salmon netsmen on the authorities there to be permitted to re-open their coastal fisheries. The Irish nets used to take significant quantities of Scottish fish. In addition the Faroese, which used to catch large numbers of migrating Scottish salmon, have noted with interest Scotland’s increase in netting. Given Scottish Government’s intransigence on dealing with coastal netting, we have been left with no viable option but to take the matter to a higher authority and submit a complaint to Europe”.
The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is adamant that, on the basis of the advice it receives from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), management actions with regard to net fisheries, “should aim to protect the weakest of the contributing stocks”.
Paul Knight, S&TA CEO and Co-Chair of the NASCO NGOs, commented:
“Coastal netting stations exploiting mixed stock fisheries are anathema to sound evidence-based salmon management. Such indiscriminate exploitation should have no place in the 21st century as they have no way of discriminating between weaker or stronger stocks. It is absolutely clear that Scotland, by failing to protect weaker stocks, falls far short of its international obligations under the NASCO treaty”.
The formal complaint to the Commission specifically charges the Scottish Government with failing to:
1) put in place sufficient statutory controls to protect salmon populations in SACs in Scotland in respect of exploitation by commercial coastal netting.
2) comply with the relevant articles of the Habitats Directive by not establishing a statutory licensing system for coastal netting stations to allow proper management of all run-time components of SAC stocks, including spring stocks, by way of a quota or limit on the number of fish from each component of SAC stocks that can be killed.
3) comply with the requirements of the Habitats Directive by not treating the re-opening of long dormant or semi-dormant netting stations as “new plans or projects” and by not therefore appropriately assessing, at that time, whether their operation adversely affects the integrity of the SACs in respect of salmon.
Following last week’s meeting, NASCO President Mary Colligan said:
“Mixed-stock fisheries pose particular management challenges, especially in ensuring that the weakest of the contributing stocks is protected. Newly available genetic methods should support rational management of these fisheries in the future and our goal must be to ensure that harvesting activities do not exacerbate the serious conservation situation already facing the wild salmon at sea”.
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