Legal Exploitation

In Scotland, declines in the number of returning salmon to our coasts have been offset by reduction in coastal netting (through buy-outs and statutory measures), and through a significant increase in voluntary and statutory catch and release.

Legal 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

Even where rivers are assessed as being above their conservation limits, voluntary measures mean that only a very small proportion of fish are killed in Scotland. The vast majority of fish which are caught are safely released to continue their spawning migration. It is important to emphasise that rod and line fisheries tend to be an inefficient means of capturing fish and therefore only a relatively small proportion of the overall stock are likely to be captured.

Coastal netting is no longer permitted in Scotland, and only a small number of in-river and estuarine nets are in operation.

Catch and Release

One of the simplest means for anglers and ghillies to make a positive and significant contribution to increasing fish populations is through catch and release.

The proportion of the rod catch accounted for by catch and release has increased dramatically since 1994, when such information was first recorded in Scotland. In many cases, this has been achieved through voluntary action, but more recently the Scottish Government have introduced mandatory conservation measures in some rivers.

Numerous angling and radio-tracking studies have demonstrated high survival rates and successful spawning for salmon released after capture – up to 100% under certain conditions. However, the longer a fish is out of water, or poorly handled, the less chance it has of survival and therefore it is vital that best practice is followed when catching, handling and releasing fish.

Scotland’s wild fisheries organisations have combined with their counterparts south of the border to produce an angler’s guide on Catch and Release for Salmon. The guide’s primary purpose is to provide practical advice and guidance to anglers to maximise the survival of salmon which anglers choose to release for conservation purposes.

Illegal Exploitation

Poaching of salmon is an important wildlife crime and District Salmon Fishery Boards employ a network of water bailiffs who have powers to protect and preserve Atlantic salmon and sea trout.

Fisheries Management Scotland and our members work closely with Police Scotland, Marine Scotland, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Natural Heritage to address illegal activity. [Add links as appropriate] We are working to raise awareness of fish crime within the wider context of wildlife crime. Some of our members have identified, and shared with Police Scotland wildlife crime officers, potential ‘hot spots’ for poaching within river catchments.

Gill netting very close to the shore is a recurring problem for migratory fish stocks and associated enforcement, because the existing regulation allows operators to target species other than salmon and sea trout. This means that a) illegal operators are able to claim that they are targeting marine species, and b) that legitimate operators will inevitably capture non-target migratory fish. Due to the nature of gill nets, the return of such fish, in line with legal requirements, is not possible, thus compromising conservation objectives. We are seeking to prohibit the use of gill nets except in very specific circumstances where they are unlikely to capture wild salmon.

In some circumstances illegal exploitation can be exacerbated by decisions taken by regulators in Scotland. For example, there are many areas in which SEPA’s decisions have the potential to exacerbate existing issues, or create new issues relating to illegal exploitation. Any structure which causes a delay to fish migration has the potential to create a poaching ‘hot-spot’, and this potential is greater still where maintenance works further delay or trap fish. We have highlighted these issues to SEPA and are seeking a greater degree of consultation with District Salmon Fishery Boards at an early stage of SEPA’s consenting processes.