In Scotland, estimated returns of salmon to our coasts have fallen significantly at least since the 1970s – see graph below. This decline had been offset by reduction in coastal netting to stabilise trends in rod catches and numbers of spawning fish. However, now that coastal netting has ceased in Scotland, we can expect any continuation of the downward trend in returns to the coast to result in diminishing numbers of spawners. The timeframe in which we must meaningfully act for salmon is short. At current rates of decline, wild Atlantic salmon will be largely lost from Scotland within the next few decades.
In recognition of the wild salmon crisis, exploitation of salmon is tightly regulated through the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016. These regulations:
- prohibit the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters
- permit the killing of salmon within inland waters where stocks are above a defined conservation limit
- require mandatory catch and release of salmon in areas which fall below their defined conservation limit following the assessment of salmon stocks
More information on the status of Scottish Rivers and catchments in relation to their conservation limit can be found on the Marine Scotland Shinyapp.
In addition to these adult salmon assessments, a range of information is also available to understand areas where juvenile production is less than should be expected. Members of Fisheries Management Scotland are working in partnership with Marine Scotland Science to collect data on juvenile populations as part of the National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland. This allows Marine Scotland Science to assess whether the observed juvenile numbers are as expected for a healthy salmon population given local river characteristics. To do this, observed salmon numbers are compared to a “benchmark” (an indicator of what should be present). Where outputs indicate that local populations are lower than would be expected (less than the benchmark), this can indicate a problem to local managers which merits further investigation.
More information on the outputs of the National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland can be found on the Marine Scotland Shinyapp.