The official Scottish Government catch statistics for 2019 were released today. Whilst these were marginally higher than the previous year’s historic low, Scotland’s salmon and sea trout populations remain at crisis point. 47,515 Atlantic salmon and 16,899 sea trout were caught in 2019, which are the fourth and third lowest catches respectively since records began in 1952. These figures are announced at a time when the fisheries management sector in Scotland is experiencing unprecedented challenges as a direct consequence of COVID-19.
Dr Alan Wells, Chief Executive of Fisheries Management Scotland said, “Salmon catches in Scotland remain at historic low levels, and there is now a collective recognition that this iconic species is in crisis. Despite the immense challenges posed by COVID-19, Fisheries Management Scotland and our members are continuing to operate to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to save Scotland’s iconic salmon and sea trout populations.
“But income to fisheries across Scotland is currently non-existent which is having a serious impact on our ability to fund crucial fisheries conservation and management work. Our immediate and pressing short-term priority is to ensure that existing COVID-19 financial support is accessible to the fisheries management sector and that new forms of support are made available in the critical situation where existing schemes don’t apply. This is with a view to maintaining the resilience of local fisheries management structures and ensuring continuity of employment for the dedicated and professional members of staff across Scotland.
“Despite the current challenges, our district salmon fishery board enforcement teams continue to operate in many areas in close co-operation with Police Scotland – and have detected and reported a number of offences in past weeks. It is vital that this enforcement and management activity can continue under the current circumstances. Equally, given the increased risk of threats to our freshwater environment in the current COVID-19 circumstances, we ask that the regulatory authorities continue to monitor our water environment to ensure that breaches of pollution regulations are dealt with promptly and enforced rigorously”.
District Salmon Fisheries Boards are funded through the fisheries assessment, a form of non-domestic rate which is primarily based on catch performance. However, as this is not a business rate, and because fisheries owners and angling clubs do not qualify for the small business bonus scheme, the current support mechanisms largely do not apply to the fisheries management sector. Fisheries Trusts are independent charities and their ability to undertake fieldwork, commercial contracts and fundraising is currently heavily impacted.
Declining rod catches have a knock-on effect on fragile rural economies and reduce the ability of managers to raise money to support management and restoration activities. The most recent Scotland-wide economic impact assessment of wild fisheries indicated around £135m of angler expenditure, 4,300 full-time equivalent jobs and £79.9m Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2014 – the monetary value of the contribution to the economy made by an industry.