In an unprecedented move Brechin Angling Club (Brechin AC), supported by the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA), has submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission over the Scottish Government’s failure to protect salmon stocks in the River South Esk Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This follows the Government’s refusal, contrary to the advice of its own scientists, to back the Esk District Salmon Fishery Board’s application for conservation measures restricting salmon netting in the spring.

The complaint, prepared by lawyer Guy Linley-Adams, cites numerous breaches by Scottish Government in relation to the requirements of the EC Habitats Directive in protecting salmon in the South Esk – not only in relation to spring salmon stocks, which are in long-term decline, but also later running fish that will be impacted by the unparalleled proposal by Scottish Government to extend netting into September. In addition the complaint identifies Scottish Government’s general failure to “establish appropriate management plans specifically designed for those SACs designated for Atlantic salmon to address the particular threat posed by mixed stock fisheries”.

Byron Pace, spokesman for Brechin AC, said: “From our perspective, we could not in all good conscience sit on our hands, as the sustainable future of the South Esk came under this increased threat; to do so would have been irresponsible and unforgivable. Due to the Scottish Government’s dismissal of the proposed conservation measures, we have been forced to take this to Europe, in the hope we can prevent the damaging effects of increased netting on an already fragile water course”.

The complaint has been filed in conjunction with the Salmon & Trout Association and further details are available at  Paul Knight, S&TA CEO, commented: “We view the Esks case as an example of a national malaise. It is indicative of a lamentable lack of political commitment to protect a wild natural resource in line with our international obligations”.

Guy Linley-Adams added: “The Scottish Government has placed far too much emphasis on the interference in the property rights of the netsmen and not enough on its obligations to protect the South Esk SAC’s spring salmon stocks. I believe the European Commission will follow long-established European and indeed UK law that has repeated confirmed that the private property rights of individuals are subject to the wider need to conserve species and habitats in the wider public interest.

The proposal to extend the netting season into September appears to be a ‘gift’ to the netsmen and will itself require appropriate assessment under the Habitats Directive”.

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BBC Website (21 Dec 2011)