Salmon conservation dealt major blow by EU grant to salmon netting company

News release from the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association

Wild fish organisations have accused the EU and the Scottish Government of blunder in light of their failure to apply consistent policy on salmon conservation. This follows the announcement last week of a £100,000 EU grant to Scotland’s biggest salmon netting concern in order to make it more efficient at catching fish. Usan Fisheries, based south of Montrose, is a mixed-stock coastal salmon fishery, indiscriminately exploiting fish destined for numerous rivers on Scotland’s east coast including three Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for salmon.

Both the EU and Scotland (through the EU) are signatories to the NASCO Convention which stresses that salmon fisheries should only target stocks which are at “full reproductive capacity”. The mixed-stock nature of the Usan operation means that by definition the viability of the individual stocks being exploited is unknown. The Scottish Government is on (recent) record as saying that it recognises the advice from NASCO/ICES “that fisheries on mixed stocks, either in coastal or distant waters, pose particular difficulties for management.” It is also relevant that the nearest river to Usan’s nets is the South Esk which is a SAC for Atlantic salmon under the EU’s Habitats Directive. The EU and the Scottish Government are legally obliged to protect the integrity of SACs.

Alan Williams, new Chairman of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), commented: “It beggars belief that public money is being used to improve the effectiveness of a major mixed-stock salmon netting operation given the international consensus that exploitation of fish outside their river of origin is poor management practice. This grant amounts to a major slap in the face to all those who have worked tirelessly on salmon conservation over the last two decades to ensure a sustainable future for one of our most iconic species.”

Mr Williams continued: “Although the grant emanates from the EU, there can be no doubt that Scottish Government bears considerable responsibility as it advises on, vets and signs off applications for fisheries grants from Scottish companies. On the one hand Scottish Government pays lip-service to salmon conservation, whilst on the other it gives financial and marketing support to those who seek to maximise commercial exploitation of our wild salmon before they reach their river of origin.”

Tony Andrews, Chief Executive of the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST), said: “Populations of early-running salmon in all three affected SAC rivers – Tay, Dee and South Esk - are not as abundant as they were only thirty years ago. In the South Esk in particular the spring salmon population, which enters the river before 31st May, is below full productive capacity. The AST’s position is that uncertainty on the viability of stocks in these three rivers, from which the Usan mixed-stock fishery kills large numbers of salmon, dictates the necessity of applying the precautionary measure of closing this net fishery with immediate effect.”

Paul Knight, Chief Executive Officer of the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA), added: “This episode only goes to prove what wild fish organisations have suspected for many years; that there is no political commitment to protect one of Scotland’s most iconic natural resources, the wild Atlantic salmon. A recent major official report made recommendations as to the future management of mixed-stock fisheries, but several months later has yet to receive a response from the Scottish Government. Yet the Government has seen fit to support this EU grant for Scotland’s major mixed-stock fishery. Is it any wonder that wild fish interests feel discriminated against?”

NASCO has defined mixed-stock fisheries as fisheries exploiting a significant number of salmon from two or more river stocks.

Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association