Atlantic salmon has long been one of the icons of British rivers, but population numbers have rapidly deteriorated. In the latest species reassessment by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, released at COP28 this week (11th December 2023), Atlantic salmon have been reclassified from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Endangered’ in Great Britain (as a result of a 30-50% decline in British populations since 2006 and 50-80% projected between 2010-2025), and from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near Threatened’ in terms of global populations (as a result of global populations declines of 23% since 2006). English Chalkstream salmon and the Leven subpopulation in Scotland are given a separate regional assessment and are now classified as ‘Vulnerable’ and ‘Least Concern’ respectively.

The IUCN have identified a number of key pressures faced by Atlantic salmon including climate change, poor water quality, dams and barriers, salmon farming, exploitation at sea, and invasive non-native species.

Removing barriers, improving spawning and juvenile fish habitat, bolstering river climate change resilience, and reducing water pollution can help support the restoration of wild Atlantic salmon. As can more protections in the marine environment. The Missing Salmon Alliance, including the Atlantic Salmon Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland, Rivers Trust, Angling Trust, and Fish Legal, are working together to ensure that our wild Atlantic salmon have free access to cold, clean, water.

The MSA is focused on the conservation of Atlantic salmon through various workstreams including research, restoration, advocacy, policy, regulation and the law, what is clear from the latest IUCN classification is that Governments and Regulators must now do much more to secure a future for this iconic species.  This new IUCN classification of “endangered” must lead to the UK and devolved governments giving salmon a much greater priority as part of its commitments to restore biodiversity in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework signed in December 2022.

In making its assessment the IUCN drew heavily on the work of the MSA and its member organisations.

When assessing UK wide interventions and actions, it commented on organisations focused on the conservation of Atlantic salmon, noting:

One example is The Missing Salmon Alliance, which is a collaboration between the Atlantic Salmon Trust, The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Angling Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland, and The Rivers Trust, with the joint aim for halting and reversing the decline in Atlantic Salmon. [This includes] The Likely Suspects Framework and parallel initiatives to identify and prioritise pressures facing Atlantic salmon, tracking initiatives to understand how our salmon utilise the marine environment, work to address the impacts of aquaculture and develop a regulatory system that is fit-for-purpose, and projects to restore habitat and increase resilience in the face of climate change. The Likely Suspects Framework is working to mobilise available physical and biological data to help address key scientific questions on what is driving salmon mortality.

While in Scotland it cited:

… a number of non-statutory bodies are working to conserve Scotland’s wild salmon, with Fisheries Management Scotland representing Scotland’s District Salmon Fishery Boards, Rivers and Fisheries Trusts, and the River Tweed Commission. Activities of these bodies include working with the farming sector to help advise on reduction in agricultural impacts, such as pollution and sedimentation, re-opening of river catchments through barrier removals, restoration of wetlands, cleaning of spawning gravels, and engagement with schools.

And in England and Wales referenced:

… the Angling Trust, has recently (2023) launched a manifesto in parliament in which it includes calls for a renewed focus on delivering an updated and fully funded Environment Agency Salmon Five Point Approach and for a more coordinated approach from both the Westminster and Welsh governments to protect salmon and to take action to support their recovery.

The rivers of England and Wales are also covered by many of the 65 UK Rivers Trusts, each of which aims to ensure wild, healthy, natural rivers valued by all. Rivers Trusts [deliver] a range of activities including working with the farming sector to help advise on reduction in agricultural impacts such as pollution and sedimentation, re-opening of river catchments through barrier removals, restoration of wetlands, cleaning of spawning gravels and engagement with schools.