Wild Fisheries Review Failure

thTo our early ancestors, the Atlantic salmon must have seemed like divine bounty, reaped without sowing, returning year on year from an unknown place in the ocean in spite of the nets and spears and gaffs. And indeed time has proven its resilience, with salmon surviving the stench of the industrial revolution and the chemicals of the twentieth century in all but the most polluted of rivers. Yet despite a general improvement in the water quality of our rivers over the last fifty years, humanity’s efficiency to harvest has outstripped its intelligence to conserve, and salmon numbers have finally tumbled.

In an effort to mitigate the situation, many governments, such as those of Nova Scotia and Northern Ireland, have removed the fate of salmon from anglers and estates, imposing legal limits on the number which may be killed, and on occasion closing rivers completely until stocks are deemed to be at a sustainable level. Scotland, in comparison, has lagged. Although there was some sort of unimaginative bill passed by a forgettable Labour administration in a year that isn’t even worth looking up, the current Wild Fisheries Review is the first genuine, meaningful, state reform of the way fishing has been ran since the it took off as a sport. At its heart, mercifully, is the conservation of the Atlantic salmon.

Yet despite an outright ban on killing Atlantic salmon looking a certainty, the Wild Fisheries Review this week backtracked, after the consultation period saw numerous objections. Although opposition came from anglers of all incomes and backgrounds, its rejection hints somewhat at surrender to threats from sections of wealthy visiting anglers and the estates they patronise who have, from the outset of the review, wallowed in puerile and baseless scaremongering to avoid any change. That those sporting a mindset of Victorian vintage would no longer grace our rivers to fish should killing be curtailed was perhaps seen as a bad thing for business, and so the salmon must be sacrificed.

In the stead of an outright ban comes analysis of rivers’ catch returns – annual reports declaring the number of fish caught which all anglers are legally obliged to submit – over a five year period, which will in turn establish whether the number of returning fish is sufficient for some to be harvested. Despite this dulling of the initial proposals, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a huge step forward in comparison to how the Atlantic salmon has been previously treated by anglers, with now a mere handful of systems on the west coast permitted to kill salmon.

It is, however, problematic in its methodology: more fish caught increases the value of the fishing and brings a subsequent upturn in rent for the tenant association or day angler. It comes as no surprise that on occasion certain estates are rumoured to massage catch returns upwards to maintain their laughably expensive prices and, far more frequently and to a greater extent, downwards by angling associations keen to avoid a rise in rent. Thus it is not with a cold and unflinching scientific eye on parr and fry levels with which the new era of Scottish fisheries management arrives, but amid a haphazard, conjectural numbers game based on the word of fishermen, a section of the population which has coined more clichés concerning untruths than politicians themselves. Indeed, should some anglers in Ayrshire be believed, then not only is the future of the Atlantic salmon secure in the county, but also that of the giant trevally and reef shark.

A look at the map showing the status of the nation’s rivers and whether or not fish may be killed on them highlights the financial divide: the rivers Tay, Tweed, North Esk, Doon, Helmsdale, and those of west Harris, which all command healthy fees to fish, are allowed to continue their existing practice, having been deemed to have achieved the conservation limit – or in other words that they have a sufficient number of fish returning to the river. Although these river systems are to be commended for actually filing catch returns and implementing policies – such as catch and release and various environmental improvements – which have maintained salmon runs, those who can afford to fish them regularly at peak season were never in any danger of losing out should the price increase, unlike those at the lower end of angling’s financial scale. Thus for the wealthy guests of many rivers, a visit to Theme Park Highlands retains its authentic nineteenth century charm: the Scotch and their mountains, a tip for Jock the ghillie who did ever-so-well, and retirement to the lodge to wash down a freshly killed trophy under a spate of sycophancy and the disconcerting gaze of a dead stag.

Not so, however, the association angler, who has cannily lied on his catch returns to prevent his club’s eviction at the expense of the Knightsbridge elite. Stretches on Crown Estate waters are a classic example, where over and above the annual rental of the salmon rights comes an additional fee of fifty pounds per salmon caught, whether killed or returned, should it be reported. Loyalty to the Crown on association water is, unsurprisingly, somewhat lacking, something of which the Wild Fisheries Review is patently aware. This is not only a huge weakness to the current proposals with regards to accurately recording what exists in our rivers, but something which could become a striking definition of class within the sport. For many working class anglers, to catch, kill, and eat a salmon again means a period of honesty and the prospect of losing their river entirely, or turning to the poacher’s pocket of the Sunday salmon fisherman. Of course, this could all have been circumnavigated had the Land Reform Review Group recommended a security of tenure for tenant angling associations and a cap on pricing, but then as its critics hint, the next ice age is more likely to change the pattern of land ownership in Scotland than the SNP.

Despite its faults, the fact remains that the Government is on the cusp of introducing some radical legislation to protect the Atlantic salmon. Claim and counterclaim of humanity’s vested interests aside, the only consideration in all of this – not association anglers still intent on killing every fish they touch or estates’ profiteering – must be the conservation of the fish itself. The Atlantic salmon is an iconic species, with a place in the folklore of the nation perhaps more prominent than any other animal – even its patron saint is a Glaswegian – yet up until now, despite decline across the whole of the North Atlantic since the beginning of 1970s, it has been offered scant legal protection outwith outdated laws on tackle and a harassment-free Sabbath.

It would be foolhardy to suggest that by implementing an outright ban on killing rod-caught salmon alone, the Wild Fisheries Review would have secured the future of the fish. The continued ecological barbarism of salmon farming – which has all but wiped out runs in many West Highland rivers – netting of estuaries, pelagic trawlers destroying their food source in the North Atlantic, and the comparatively insignificant impact of anglers on rivers which have escaped an outright ban have two common threads: money, and the rank immorality of humanity towards a natural world it so naively believes to have mastered. While the conclusions of the Wild Fisheries Review thus far cannot be seen as anything but positive, the salmon’s true salvation lies outwith its remit.

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Unfortunately Atlantic Salmon are just another of many steps along the road to losing all diversity of wildlife. Here in UK we’ve killed off the wolf, the bear, wild boar and many others. In the wider world it will be rhinos and tigers followed by elephants.

    We worry about global warming but do nothing about it in real terms. China opens a new coal fired power station every week and the rainforest in both Africa and South America is rapidly being cut down. The little we do here will make no difference to any of these facts and the inevitable destruction of many species.

    If we worry about loss of species we worry about something that is inevitably a lost cause. Those with the money and power will continue their selfish ways so best look forward to improving those things that we can influence.

  2. Finlay Macleoid says:

    We simply cannot forget that those who owned the river Spey in Morayshire were taking 3,000 fish each year from the river for over 50 years. And this was only one river.

    Industrial fishing which could not survive and almost all of the catch was being transported to London Billingsgate Market for sale over the following days.

    1. David Fleetwood says:

      I would suggest that your figure of 3000 fish per annum is somewhat understated .

  3. john young says:

    Completely off topic guys but watching the 2nd round of the rugby it is to me striking the difference in physique/athleticism shown by most of the nations compared to Scotland it is the same in most if not all sports,does anyone have a theory as to why.If you take the British Isles England/Wales/Eire all produce bigger/stronger more athletic sports people,my theory is that after Culloden the best were killed those that survived were shipped out and we haven,t recovered.

    1. Bruce-Ard says:

      John Young, your comment is not so off-topic as it might appear. My conclusion is that not only the wild and wonderful animal species are marked for destruction in the name of profit and tyranny, but also the best of humankind. And what country has been more marked for destruction than Scotland? When weak and incompetent people take control of nations and governments, it becomes to them an imperative to eliminate the strong. This would be the reason for the creation of places like Nova Scotia and New Zealand. The strong simply left and went elsewhere, as the weak and incompetent ascended through the use of fiat money, secret assassinations and mind control. Certainly the strong and competent remain in all countries, Scotland and Ireland, included. But where they remain, their only chance of survival is to lay low. Gladio is as effective in eliminating our best humans, as present fishing laws are effective at eliminating our best salmon. Farmed fish or farmed people, what’s the difference to incompetent control freaks? Then the strongest and most able of Scotland, those who created Nova Scotia, moved elsewhere yet again when the weak and incompetent made use of bribes, subterfuge and the silence of the weak-minded, to take over the government of those places also, the places now known to us as Canada, America and Australia. The weak make every effort to avoid open warfare in a field of battle, for they know better than anyone that they’ll loose. So any wise, competent and strong person any place on this planet is well advised to lay low and not exhibit their abilities publicly in any field of endeavor, including soccer, or else be made a target. In this laying low, if one searches, one will find great endeavors in the fields of urban farming, local energy production, mortgage-free lifestyles and other low-key and unsung accomplishments that will eventually take us into the new era. But, like the song of Cosby, Stills and Nash, it appears to be a long, long, long, long, long time…before the dawn.

    2. Broadbield says:

      Sounds a bit like eugenics. Oh dear.

    3. Shona McPherson says:

      More likely poverty, poor diet, heavy smoking, excessive drinking, poor housing conditions, high unemployment, restricted access to social services and high emigration of the youngest and brightest that many in urban Scotland suffered from until relatively recently. All under the tories and labour’s watch.

      Black Reoprt 1979 on health and inequality is an excellent place to start.

      1. Gordon says:

        I would agree partially, Shona, but the main reason was the shift from the rural/highland/farming life where brawn and size determined success to the urban life for work in factories, shipyards and steelworks, where size was irrelevant. The overcrowded housing conditions meant that only the small survived to adulthood – the ones that could survive on the poor nutrition, cramped living conditions and diseases prevalent in tenement living at the time. It was the same in all the large cities then, including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and others, but Scotland was the last to gain prosperity and decent housing conditions and proportionately lost most of its country folk through the Clearances. It was a form of social selection where only the wee survived.

  4. Ewan Kennedy says:

    You may be interested in what I sent in to the Review. Anyone interested in becoming involved in saveseilsound can contact me on ewangkennedy@gmail.com. Here goes:

    Submission by Ewan G Kennedy to the Scottish Government Wild Fisheries Review

    I welcome the opportunity to offer my views as a lay person with a long term interest in our maritime environment. The inclusive approach adopted by the Review contrasts very favourably with the attitude of, for example, SEPA, who seem to regard members of the public as extremely unwelcome intruders on their otherwise comfortable relationships with industrial fish farming companies.

    My interest in the sea started with childhood holidays in coastal villages in the 1950s and has continued ever since. In the last forty years I have spent as much time as possible in Argyll and have had a house here since 1984. In my spare time I sail and row small open boats, having built several over the years. My recreations do not include fishing.

    Around the mid-1990s I realised that industrial fish farming was beginning to impact negatively on the environment in the inshore waters of mid Argyll. I recall studying the Fish Farming Structure Plan promoted by Strathclyde Regional Council in 1995, which recommended that sites be rotated, using short term leases, to give the seabed time to recover from the inevitable pollution. Of course this never happened and the Crown Estate now grants leases virtually in perpetuity, effectively turning them into rights of property.

    I took part in the consultation regarding the introduction of planning control, which took place in 2005, being the main author of the submission presented by the then Loch Melfort Trust. Our main point was to recommend that instead of the eight local authorities affected by fish farms duplicating their efforts there should be a single planning unit dedicated to these issues, in order to combine skills and resources. Subsequent experience has shown that this would have been better than the current fragmented approach.

    More recently I have been involved as a member of the saveseilsound campaign group in opposing the relentless spread of fish farms in the stretch of water comprising Seil Sound, Loch Shuna, Shuna Sound and Loch Melfort (Seil/Shuna/Melfort). We are currently assembling complaints to the European Commission concerning failures by the UK Government through its agents for these purposes the Scottish Government and bodies such as SEPA and Argyll & Bute Council to comply with the European Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Directives. While such issues appear to bear on your aim of “ensuring that international obligations and domestic policy objectives of the Scottish Government are met” I suspect that they are truly beyond your remit and so will not address them here. Instead I wish to address just one issue, where I believe that your Review can quite easily make a real difference.

    Current Scottish Government planning policy is against the placing of new fish farms and the expansion of existing one in inshore sea lochs and voes. The scientific and economic reasons are pretty obvious. The former include:

    • Pollution by excessive nutrients and fish faeces dumped in shallow waters with limited tidal scouring
    • Heavy metals such as zinc (a component in fish food) accumulating year on year
    • Plumes of sea lice eggs attaching to outgoing migratory salmon and locally resident sea trout

    Of these the most relevant to your review is the last. Your members will be aware that government scientists have been advising politicians for decades about the impact of sea lice on wild fish. Everything was kept secret until recently, when some now retired scientists have decided to speak out. Sea trout are especially vulnerable, because once out of the fresh water where they hatch they never return to avail themselves of its cleansing effect.

    The latter include:

    • Deterioration of the landscape quality by placing large industrial structures in places of great natural beauty
    • Bays and other sheltered spots becoming out of bounds to small boats, yachts and canoes
    • Wholesale shooting of seals making wild life trips unattractive
    • Anoxic seabed making diving pointless

    All of these latter can be evidenced from local experience around Seil/Shuna/Melfort, where there are now about ten large fish farms hosting in total the equivalent of two million mature salmon. Very few bays remain clear and available to visitors. On Poll na Gile alone 14 seals were shot in 2013. Video taken at the same site shows an anoxic seabed, evidence that was duly ignored by SEPA (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDAT4MK-sNo)

    The current policy seems to date from 2000 (SEPA policy document 40). Reading this over it is difficult to see how SEPA can continue to grant consent for operators to pollute in highly sensitive areas.

    For years I have been trying to discover why the published policy guidelines are not applied in the area where I live, despite clear evidence of the damage that is being caused. The reason appears to be the cynical, or perhaps just fortuitous classification that most of Seil/Shuna/Melfort is unclassified, i.e. open sea. Only if a stretch of water is described as a “sea loch” does it get full protection. But the description seems to depend on the map, not any scientific assessment. When I asked SEPA to explain the basis for the classification they were unable to do so. It seems possible that historically someone just compiled a list from an atlas.

    Along with this submission I am sending you the comments I submitted to SEPA in connection with the recent Poll na Gile CAR licence application. Anyone looking at the map which forms part of my document will see that everything North of a line from Ardluing to Craignish is enclosed and effectively one big “sea loch”. SEPA choose not to see things this way, treating only Loch Melfort East of a line from Degnish to Arduaine as such.

    Neither I nor the others known to me who made similar points ever got a response, so we don’t know if our science was unsound (or the basis on which it was found to be so) or if our comments just went unread. Previously the same had happened with the Ardmaddy CAR application, which was also granted. It seems that SEPA is a black hole as far as public comments are concerned.

    In the course of campaigning I have had some useful conversations with some senior persons within the industry. I have learned that the intention of the more respectable operators is to move sites further offshore as technology permits, with bigger farms in deeper waters. I actually agree with this approach, which seems to offer the possibility of healthier fish stocks within the industry as well as in the wild. Coastal fish would have a better chance of survival and local economies would not suffer so brutally.

    Sadly one consequence would be that instead of closing down the polluting inshore sites companies would progressively dispose of them to less scrupulous operators. A proper policy with teeth would need to ensure that instead they were shut down.

    In conclusion it seems to me that we have a Scottish Government policy that is based on good science but defective geography. Correcting this wouldn’t resolve all the problems wild fish are facing, but it would be a good start.

  5. Broadbield says:

    The problems for the salmon begins at sea where they have been caught by the million. There is also a new theory (maybe a fact) that catching large fish (in general, not just salmon) is also the problem, because by doing so we remove the breeding stock which take years to develop.

  6. Ann Rayner says:

    Time control of the Crown Estates was handed over to the Scottish Government as recommended by the Smith Commission. Then there might be a chance we could lobby Holyrood to do something about this, as both the rivers and fish-farms need to be regulated. If only!

  7. john young says:

    Agree with your re-ply Bruce-Ard,after Culloden all that was left were the weak and squeamish,the subservients and losers,we as a nation haven,t recovered we rally to the flag of those that conquered us we revere them and bow to them how bad is this,go to Afghanistan and they can tell you to this day of how they wiped out 2 Empire armies a good many of them Scottish divisions,they tried and could not conquer the Irish they could not quench their spirit/pride/culture/history they remain standing tall/proud,this I think is part of the reason that the Irish are hated here,they would not bow before them,it really gets to me when you encounter them waving English flags,I have no dis-like of the English in fact admire that they have pride in their country and would not be rolled over like us,I lived in England and married an English girl but I can tell you that through our obsequiousness they detest us.

  8. Broadbield says:

    One point hasn’t been mentioned and that is the ethics of fishing, but particularly angling. Imagine this scenario. I set a lure on a hillside in a remote highland glen and settle down in a hide. Eventually a large bird arrives, 6 foot wingspan, huge talons and sharp beak and takes the lure which lodges in it’s gullet. The bird flies off screaming and I “play” the bird for a couple of hours until the stressed, exhausted creature gives up the fight and I reel it in.

    I’d be jailed. Yet that’s what we do to fish. If Joe and Joanna public regularly saw fish in their natural habitat and the fish on the end of a line screamed like a rabbit angling would be finished.

  9. John Craig says:

    Such a shame that the body politic took over this most important of articles. The defence of Scotland’s natural resources is probably among the most important tasks we have at this time. Future generations of young people will wonder just where we had our heads stuck, or why political point scoring was more important than their inheritance. To the vast majority of people, a fish in itself means very little unless battered and with chips, but those who have a genuine love of this country see our Salmon as an integral part of everything that Scotland has to offer. Whatever your views on all that ails the Scottish salmon, surely a united front against it’s demise is what is called for.

  10. David Fleetwood says:

    I think it’s about time there was a few home truths spoken about the way we exploit wild salmon in Scotland . On the River Tweed ( supposedly the best salmon river in Europe ) , I would think a few fishers in Norway would laugh at that one !! . We have a situation here where money is getting in the way of rational action . We should be actively shortening the season by one month ie finish on last day of October , this would allow the existing gravid fish spawn in peace and go some way stop this stupid carry on of “fisherman” netting/landing spawning fish to have photo’s taken etc. What pleasure and ego trip are some of these so called fishers on . Also the publishing of these photo’s on Fishpal etc is a disgrace . Ban all spinning for the entire season . No triple hooks and all hooks to be barbless. Only the cleanest of fish ( and I mean tide liced and/or a bar of silver ) be considered for killing . I am afraid that money will speak louder than words and judging by the sharp practice on some beats and the lure of big tips from the clients this will not happen . On the subject of the fishing websites ie Fishpal and Tweedbeats , it is about time that in their returns they should also add whether the fish was caught on fly or lure, clean or coloured, killed or returned and if possible cock or hen . Too much to ask for ? I think not if we are to show by example we are serious about conservation ,maybe things will improve next season but even then we should do all we can till the situation improves . On a parting shot forget what all the so called scientists say , 50 years ago we only knew about 10% about salmon , its still the same !!!

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